FORT NELSON, B.C. - The mayor of Fort Nelson, B.C., has issued a public apology to provincial bureaucrats and gas industry officials expelled from a First Nations summit on liquefied natural gas, saying there is too much at stake for his community to keep silent.
Last week, the Fort Nelson First Nation asked both parties to leave its LNG summit over the province's decision to change environment assessment rules for gas plants.
In an open letter, Bill Streeper, mayor of the Northern Rockies Regional Municipality, which includes Fort Nelson, said he understands the frustration of the aboriginal community but calls the expulsion a "knee-jerk" reaction.
"This town is 100 per cent depending on the LNG and the gas industry for its existence," Streeper said in a telephone interview Thursday.
"We have no forest industry here. It has been shut down for over four years now. We don't see any revitalization in the forest industry for the next four or five years. We're a one-industry town.
"If LNG fails, this town will fail."
Fort Nelson Chief Sharleen Gail asked the government and industry representatives to leave the summit after learning that the province had quietly revised environmental assessment rules to exempt so-called "sweet" gas from automatic environmental assessment.
Gail said her community, at the heart of a potential natural gas boom, was deeply insulted.
"At a time when B.C. has said it wants to reset the relationship with First Nations as part of the LNG strategy, the province has acted in bad faith," she said in a statement.
Gail was not available for comment Thursday.
Environment Minister Mary Polak quickly reversed the decision after the Fort Nelson incident, saying government would consult with First Nations.
The broader community is very supportive of the natural gas industry, Streeper said.
He also said he's met with many First Nations communities who are fully supportive of LNG and he's concerned that one incident could divide support.
In the letter released Wednesday, Streeper called the expulsion "discriminatory exploitation" and apologized to those "booted" from the room.
He said the region welcomes the sustainable economic opportunity offered by shale gas extraction, which he says will benefit the entire region, including the Fort Nelson First Nation.
Streeper said he has heard from industry officials that they are growing frustrated at the hurdles to doing business in B.C.
"Specifically, that there is a lot of gas in Alberta that could go into their projects and not necessarily B.C. gas," he said.
The mayor, whose municipality incorporates the city of Fort Nelson and environs, said he's also tried to speak to Premier Christy Clark about the delay on taxation regime for the industry, which is another obstacle for industry.
Clark has said LNG is potentially a trillion-dollar industry for B.C. Her provincial jobs plan has a target of three LNG facilities up and running by 2020, but no potential projects have been finalized.
Already behind schedule, Clark has said she hopes there will be final approval from some major proponents by the end of the year.
"Let's get it done," Streeper said.
-- By Dene Moore in Vancouver.
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