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Gitwilgyoots and Lelu Island (Lax U'u'la) vs proposed Petronas LNG export facility, Canada


Petronas, a Malaysian fossil fuel company, has a proposal for a $40 billion natural gas export facility on Lelu Island (Lax U'u'la in the Tsimshian language). The current BC Liberal party government headed by Christy Clark has been 100% behind all energy development, especially fracked gas.  The current federal Liberal party (led by Justin Trudeau) has fallen in line, supporting oil and gas against First Nations wishes, both generally and in this specific case. While fracking has widespread resistance in Canada, this project is particularly resisted because of its location.  Around Lelu Island is an eel grass habitat (the Flora Banks) which is essential for the transition of salmon from freshwater to saltwater.  Approximately 90% of the salmon of the Skeena River (the third largest salmon river in the world by number of salmon) spend their transition phase in this habitat, which scientists have shown would be obliterated by the changes in tidal flows caused by the construction of this export facility. The salmon population of the Skeena would be devastated. Because of its inevitable impact on the salmon, there is widespread resistance from communities and activist groups throughout the Skeena watershed and amongst fishermen of the region, the majority of whose salmon come from the Skeena.

Lelu Island is the traditional territory of the Gitwilgyoots  clan, one of the Tsimshian nations of Lax Kw'alaams. The clan, speaking through their spokesmen, Simoyget Yahaan (Don Wesley) and Ligitgyet Gwis Hawaal (Ken Lawson) have declared their complete opposition to the project and have initiated what is now an ongoing re-occupation of Lelu Island to prevent survey work in support of the facility , which has involved regular evictions of Petronas-employed workers from the territory.

To an outsider, First Nations politics in Canada can be very confusing, and this confusion is itself used strategically by industry.  There are parallel governments for First Nations: the traditional 'hereditary' system  and the imposed colonial Indian Act band councils.  The Canadian Supreme Court, in the 1993 Delgamukw ruling established that the hereditary leadership is the proper authority in cases like the Tsimshian, where no treaty was ever signed surrendering sovereignty.  Still industry and government attempt to work through band councils (or whoever will be coopted) in 'Divide and Conquer' tactics.  The current Indian Act government of Lax Kw'alaams is headed by a family that is heavily invested in oil and gas expansion and has given their approval to Petronas, which government and industry use to attempt to represent themselves as having necessary First Nations buy-in. The Divide and Conquer tactics run deep.

-- update... on July 25, 2017, Petronas announced that it would no longer be pursuing the project, a victory for salmon, the Skeena River, Gitwilgyoots, and the people of BC!  Now resistance is moving to the parallel Chinese Aurora LNG project on neghboring Digby Island.  This is the other primary proposed LNG export facility in the area, representing a parallel threat to the salmon of the Skeena.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Gitwilgyoots and Lelu Island (Lax U'u'la) vs proposed Petronas LNG export facility, Canada
State or province:British Columbia
Location of conflict:Lelu Island
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas refining
Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Ports and airport projects
Shale gas fracking
Land acquisition conflicts
Aquaculture and fisheries
Gas flaring
Water access rights and entitlements
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Invasive species
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Natural Gas

Project Details and Actors

Project details

CH4: The facility would produce as much as 19.2 million metric tons a year of LNG and open up a new trade route for Canadian gas to be shipped to Asia.

CO2 Emissions: Petrons's Pacific Northwest LNG would annually emit between 11.5 and 14 megatonnes, including upstream emissions

The plant has been demonstrated in the company's own tidal flow models to destroy the critical eel grass salmon habitat of the Flora Banks, one of the largest salmon rivers in the world. 90% of salmon leaving the Skeena spend their transition phase in the Flora Banks. Between 300 million and 1 billion juvenile salmon leave the Skeena each year, and 3 million to 10 million adults return each year.

(Note, the "100,000 people affected" to the right is a ballpark number of the people who have direct connections in terms of food, business, or identity to the salmon of the Skeena River. The actual number of people affected by this project is much larger, in terms of both impacts on the salmon and impacts on climate change, among other impacts.)

Project area:100
Level of Investment for the conflictive project40,000,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:100,000
Start of the conflict:01/09/2015
End of the conflict:25/07/2017
Company names or state enterprises:PETRONAS from Malaysia
Relevant government actors:BC Liberals (Christy Clark- premier)
Liberal Party (Justin Trudeau - prime minister)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Gitwilgyoots clan of the Tsimshian:
Skeena Wild:
Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition:
Friends of Wild Salmon:

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
The Tsimshian First nation
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Noise pollution, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Other Environmental impactsMany concerns, but the biggest concern specific to this LNG plant is its placement on critical salmon habitat for the 3rd largest salmon bearing river in the world.
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Other Health impactsThese boom/bust projects have many health and social impacts associated with temporary man-camps
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Land demarcation
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Withdrawal of company/investment
Petronas announced a decision to not pursue the project on July 25, 2017
Proposal and development of alternatives:The First Nations communities don't want the project. "Life as is is just fine."
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:It has mobilized Gitwilgyoots to firmly claim their territorial rights. It is a crime that Gitwilgyoots and activists had to waste so much resources to prevent the project, but they were successful in preventing it. In a more just world Petronas would have to reimburse the community for forcing them to waste so much of their lives in resistance.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Delgamuukw v British Columbia Supreme Court ruling 1997: most BC First Nations never signed treaties and are recognized as having sovereign rights. The proper representatives are the traditional governments, not the imposed Indian Act band council governments. The government mus consult with these nations before any development happens on their land

Tsilhqot'in Nation v British Columbia 2014: Consultation means prior free and informed consent'in_Nation_v_British_Columbia

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Carr-Harris, C., Gottesfeld, A. S., & Moore, J. W. (2015). Juvenile Salmon usage of the Skeena River estuary. PLoS ONE, 10(3), 1–14.

details juvenile salmon use of the Flora Banks and its critical nature for Skeena salmon

Kelly, A., & Brielle Morgan. (2016). Divide and Conquer: The Threatened Community at the Heart of the PNW LNG Project. Discourse Media, pp. 1–13.

website on interconnecting issues of First Nations sovereignty and environmental fights against extractivist industries in BC, Canada.

Desmog blog on dynamics of the conflict and Petronas final decision to cancel

CBC article on final Petronas decision to withdraw

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

site for the occupation of Lelu Island and how to support

Meta information

Contributor:Karl Frost, PhD, Institut de Ciencia i Tecnologia Ambientals, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2554



Sockeye Smolt in Eelgrass

by Brian Huntington