Lheidli T’enneh First Nation (LTFN) elder Phyllis Seymour remembers hearing a loud explosion, watching a fireball across the field from her shaking house, and rushing door to door to evacuate her community as ash fell like “black petals.”
The scene was caused by a natural gas pipeline explosion less than a kilometre away from the nation’s reserve, and within its unceded territory, about 13 kilometres north of Prince George, B.C., on Oct. 9, 2018. The pipeline is owned by Calgary-headquartered fossil fuel giant Enbridge, which refers to the explosion as the Shelley incident because of its proximity to that community.
“Everybody was shouting and screaming and scared, but we didn’t know what to do,” Seymour said at a press conference Tuesday.
“My granddaughter Emily (was) screaming and crying, the look in her eyes I will never forget,” she said. “When she saw me leaving and going back into the reserve to help members, she kept screaming at me, ‘Grandma, come back, come back, let’s go,’ but I knew I had to go back to help our elders, (and) our membership (who) didn’t have vehicles to get out to safety.
“My message to Enbridge is simple: We want that pipeline to be moved so our members can sleep better at night knowing they’re going to be safe,” she said, calling the explosion traumatic to the community.
People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism
On Tuesday, the LTFN sent letters to both B.C. Minister of Natural Resources Katrine Conroy and federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett calling on the two Crown governments to support its request to have Enbridge’s T-South pipeline routed off its reserve territory.
“To this day, the giant fireball, flying debris, shaking of buildings, and remnant burn crater weigh heavily on the minds of many members. It has left them living in fear due to their homes’ proximity to the Enbridge pipeline,” the letter reads.
As the three-year anniversary of the blast marches closer, LTFN Chief Dolleen Logan says she is tired of “being put on the back burner” by Enbridge.
“They have patience, but I’ve finally lost mine… We want this ended,” she said.
“I strongly believe that it’s time Enbridge got with the reconciliation program and started treating our nation with respect.”
Enbridge says it values its relationship with the LTFN and is committed to strengthening that relationship, but the company did not answer questions about if it would comply with the nation’s request to reroute the pipeline off its reserve.
“Following the Shelley incident, we undertook a comprehensive pipeline integrity program on our natural gas pipeline system in B.C. to significantly improve pipeline safety,” the company told Canada’s National Observer.
“As always, we are happy to meet with the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation or any government agency to discuss the safety of the pipeline system or any other matter, including the small segments of pipeline that traverse their reserve.”
LTFN’s lawyer Malcolm Macpherson said the nation is pursuing a strategy of trying to compel the B.C. government to revoke Enbridge’s permits, citing public safety. It’s a strategy inspired by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who pulled Enbridge’s permit that allowed the Line 5 pipeline to cross under the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Michigan to Lake Huron.
“Human life could’ve been lost on Oct. 9, 2018, and indeed, within two years of the explosion, a woman was killed in an Enbridge gas pipeline explosion in Kentucky,” Macpherson said.
Macpherson said the nation simply doesn’t trust Enbridge to operate the pipeline safely, and said, “It’s time for you to leave, and soon.
“If Enbridge continues to act with impunity, the reality is that it risks further erosion of its brand and social licence to operate in British Columbia,” he said.
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir and Xatśūll Development Corporation (XDC) both wrote letters of support for LTFN. The XDC is a limited partnership between the Xatśūll First Nation and industry stakeholders, like Suncor, CIF Construction, and others.
“The XDC has had similar concerns and frustrations in dealing with Enbridge. The T-South line runs through the heart of Xatśūll reserve land and traditional territory,” wrote XDC CEO Howard Campbell.
“XDC is currently exploring legal options … regarding Enbridge’s seemingly lack of interest in hearing First Nation concerns and actual follow-through on items which are important to First Nation organizations and their people,” he added.
Conroy’s office confirmed it received the letter and said it was reviewing it, but called it a federally regulated pipeline.
Bennett did not return a request for comment by deadline.
And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).
As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.
Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 3,500 members.
The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.
We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.
If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.
Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters are occupying a Coastal GasLink pipeline worksite on Gidimt’en clan territory in northwest B.C. in an effort to prevent drilling...Continue reading
Whether it’s organizing fundraisers or volunteering as a Big Sister, Kathryn’s passion for community-building is...
Canada’s biggest city is overdue for a public transit expansion, but residents of Leslieville-Riverside and...
For our budget to add up, we need to reach 3,700 members by Oct. 31. Will you help make our independent environmental journalism available to thousands of others? Bonus: all our members get charitable tax receipts.