First Nation demands northern gov enforce benefits agreement for oil & gas work

The Northwest Territories Supreme Court in Yellowknife. A lawyer for the Acho Dene Koe First Nation says benefits plans are a condition of compliance with licences to carry out exploration and development work. The territorial government has discretion on whether to use that power. (Chantal Dubuc/CBC)
The Acho Dene Koe First Nation says an oil and gas company that has been licensed to do work on its traditional land should be held accountable under a benefit plan it submitted to the Northwest Territories, Northern Canada government in order to get that licence.

But what exactly is in that plan?

A lawyer for the First Nation said in N.W.T. Supreme Court Wednesday that he isn’t quite sure — that’s because the plan itself was redacted from the record, filed under “privileged information.”

This came out during a judicial review of the territorial government’s decision not to enforce a community investment agreement Acho Dene Koe First Nation entered into with oil and gas company Paramount for work it carried out in the area around Fort Liard, N.W.T.

Last year, the First Nation asked the territorial government to enforce aspects of this plan.

The government refused, saying the community investment plan is a private agreement between two parties, and the government does not have the authority to intervene.

Crucial info not available, lawyer says

Douglas Rae, the lawyer representing Acho Dene Koe, argued the contents of the community investment plan must be in some way related to a benefit plan the company was required to submit to the government in order to get its licence to carry out work.

Therefore, he said, the community investment plan should have been considered in assessing whether Paramount was in compliance with its licence.

Rae argued in N.W.T. Supreme Court on Wednesday that he doesn’t know whether the two plans are one and the same, or if the benefits plan submitted to the government was merely informed by what the company directly negotiated with the First Nation.

“We only know what we know, but we don’t know what was submitted,” said Rae.

Plan not enforceable

Sandra Jungles, lawyer for the territorial government, said the community investment plan is completely different from the benefit plan, and is merely a plan — it’s not enforceable.

Furthermore, she said, the territorial government has power to revoke or suspend a licence, but that power is discretionary.

This spurred Justice Karan Shaner to ask what the point is of requiring a benefit plan in order to secure a licence, as well as subsequent reports on its implementation.

“I can’t answer that question,” Jungles said.

Shaner also asked why the benefit plan is considered to be privileged, pointing out the N.W.T. Oil and Gas Operations Act’s definition of what constitutes privileged information doesn’t seem to line up with this type of document.

“Community members, it would seem to me, would have an interest in what benefits might flow from … Paramount,” she said.

The lawyers will reconvene on Nov. 5 to discuss this issue.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: MLAs in Canada’s Northwest Territories approve updates to decades-old oil ans gas laws, CBC News

Finland: The Arctic railway: Building a future… or destroying a culture?, Eye on the Arctic special report

Russia: Rosneft announces more offshore drilling in Arctic Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Randi Beers, CBC News

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