Beyond Consultation: First Nations and the Governance of Shale Gas in British Columbia




Garvie, Kathryn Henderson

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As the province of British Columbia seeks to rapidly develop an extensive natural gas industry, it faces a number of challenges. One of these is that of ensuring that development does not disproportionately impact some of the province’s most marginalized communities: the First Nations on whose land extraction will take place. This is particularly crucial given that environmental problems are often caused by unjust and inequitable social conditions that must be rectified before sustainable development can be advanced. This research investigates how the BC Oil and Gas Commission’s consultation process addresses, and could be improved to better address Treaty 8 First Nations’ concerns regarding shale gas development within their traditional territories. Interviews were conducted with four Treaty 8 First Nations, the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, and provincial government and industry staff. Additionally, participant observation was conducted with the Fort Nelson First Nation Lands and Resources Department. Findings indicate that like many other resource consultation processes in British Columbia, the oil and gas consultation process is unable to meaningfully address First Nations’ concerns and values due to fundamental procedural problems, including the permit-by-permit approach and the exclusion of First Nations from the point of decision-making. Considering the government’s failure to regulate the shale gas industry in a way that protects ecological, social and cultural resilience, we argue that new governance mechanisms are needed that reallocate authority to First Nations and incorporate proposals for early engagement, long-term planning and cumulative impact assessment and monitoring. Additionally, considering the exceptional power differential between government, industry and First Nations, we argue that challenging industry’s social license to operate is an important strategy for First Nations working to gain greater influence over development within their territories, and ensure a more sustainable shale gas industry.



Shale gas, Environmental justice, Treaty 8, First Nations, Consultation, Governance