The liquefied-natural-gas dream has always been an abstract concept for most of B.C. The plants and pipelines were far away. The billions promised in benefits would go more to governments than directly to individuals.
But to numerous First Nations near the proposed processing plants and pipelines, the benefits were much more real. They signed legal contracts with the government that quantify hundreds of millions of dollars that are set to start flowing once the gas starts shipping.
The deals based on the now-abandoned Petronas proposal look to be defunct. And the Petronas retreat raises obvious doubts about the future of all the other proposals, as well as their corresponding benefits agreements.
The one consolation to bands that are now writing off millions in anticipated long-term payments arising from the Petronas cancellation is that some got signing bonuses. That money has already been paid out, despite the fact the project is dead.
The benefits deals were one of the key selling points over the years as the B.C. Liberals extolled the virtues of creating the new industry. The vision included lifting remote First Nations out of poverty, dealing them into the employment scene and setting them up for success, all by way of LNG money.
While there was a high-profile narrative about bands objecting to LNG developments because of environmental concerns, there was a brisk but lower-profile trade with numerous First Nations who weighed the risks and bought into the projects.
It was only a few months ago that two key First Nations came to the legislature for a signing ceremony in which they committed to backing the Petronas project and sharing significant benefits. It was a full-scale production with cabinet ministers, Pacific NorthWest LNG executives and leaders of the Lax Kwa’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations all showing up to sign on the dotted line.
The government valued the Lax Kwa’alaams deal at $98.5 million.
It included millions in payouts from a trust and $7 million payable the day the final investment decision was made. There were milestone payments during construction and an annual $590,000 payment plus a share of production benefits once shipping began. Some land transfers were also in the package, along with the promise of $50 million worth of road and infrastructure improvements.
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