Re-scaling Governance: First Nations and the Challenge of Shale Gas Development in British Columbia




Murray, Mathew

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The government of British Columbia faces a host of challenges as it attempts to establish a liquefied natural gas export industry and reignite unconventional shale gas production in northeast BC. Not only must it contend with a competitive and saturated global marketplace, but it must also address conflict with Treaty 8 First Nations whose treaty rights and traditional territories were impacted by early development. Shale gas impacts are intensely local, but First Nations have struggled to gain meaningful influence in colonial decision-making processes to ensure development decisions respect community values and authority. This research, conducted in partnership with Fort Nelson First Nation, explores the challenges and opportunities faced by the Nation in their efforts to reshape governance of the shale gas industry in their territory to address its environmental impacts. The research is situated within a review of multiple literatures including political economy, Indigenous governance, and critical studies of natural resource governance, social conflict and co-management in Indigenous-settler contexts. Through interviews and participant observation with the Fort Nelson First Nation, the thesis documents how those involved in shale gas governance at the local level perceive existing processes, and investigates under what conditions a more localized governance might resolve shale gas conflict in northeast BC. It develops an argument that shale gas governance must be rescaled to address landscape scale impacts and enhance the authority of local First Nations interests and knowledge. While collaborative governance reforms like co-management may not wholly eliminate deeply seated colonial authority, they can be effective and empower local First Nations communities under certain conditions. However, this case poses a unique set of context-specific challenges to governance reform, which the Fort Nelson First Nation are confronting as they work towards their governance and land use goals for their traditional territory. As the Nation continues to move forward, it is uncertain how they will negotiate the non-renewable industry’s political economy, and the current pro-development shale gas politics in BC. As such, this case offers a rare lens into local community experience with this relatively new and contentious global energy industry.



Shale gas, Unconventional energy, First Nations, Governance, Conflict, Co-management, Resource extraction