Oil and Gas Consultation and shale gas development in British Columbia
As northeast British Columbia (BC) undergoes rapid change with the development of a globally competitive shale gas industry, the provincial government has a duty to consult First Nations on any developments that have the potential to infringe on their Aboriginal and treaty rights. This research investigates how the oil and gas consultation process is addressing, and might 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, oil and gas companies, and representatives of the government of BC. In addition, participant observation was conducted with the Fort Nelson First Nation Lands Department during the summer of 2012. Research indicates that there are two overarching problems with the consultation process: the permit-by-permit approach, and the exclusion of First Nations from the decision-making process. In the absence of adequate provincial environmental regulation, lands departments are working to fill the governance gap, but lack the authority and capacity to do so. We conclude that resolving emerging conflict over the BC shale gas industry will require a restructuring of the governance system that includes early engagement, long-term planning, and cumulative impact assessment and monitoring, as well as meaningful engagement with First Nations in the decision-making process.