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The First Nations Alternative to Enbridge

When the Yika-Dene Alliance recently passed a resolution forbidding the Northern Gateway pipeline from crossing its territory, anti-oil zealots rejoiced. The pipeline, they insisted, is dead. More than that, there will be no pipeline of any sort.

The former is unlikely. As for the latter, Eagle Spirit Energy has a thing or two to say about that.

A project backed financially by the Aquilini Group (they also own the Vancouver Canucks), and spearheaded by Calvin Helin, the company -- a First Nations owned-and-operated firm -- plans to build not only a pipeline, but an entire energy corridor. It would include power transmission lines, pipelines for liquified natural gas, and a pipeline to transport upgraded crude oil and refined petroleum products.

It's ambitious. It includes not just a pipeline, but encapsulates plans by First Nations bands in Alberta to build oil refineries. (Unfortunately to date at least one of these proposals has been rejected, at least for now.)

The Aquilinis have sweetened the pot: they'll underwrite the cost of the pipeline and a heavy oil upgrader if the project is approved. The project has the potential to create desperately-needed jobs for thousands of aboriginals.

This is where Helin has differed from the radicals who lead the Yika-Dene Alliance: while they focus on grievance mongering and obstructing economic development, he's focused on tangibly making life better for aboriginals by giving them the opportunity of gainful employment.

As it turns out, Enbridge and Eagle Spirit Energy both currently boast the support of 60% of the First Nations whose territory their projects will have to cross. Eagle Spirit insists that they've attracted some defectors from Enbridge -- First Nations who have withdrawn support from Enbridge in support of Eagle Spirit. (Enbridge claims no knowledge of this.) As a First Nations owned-and-operated firm, presumably Eagle Spirit has an advantage in this department.

If one treats this as a zero-sum game, the first group to 100% will get their pipeline (or energy corridor, as it were). Either way, the celebrations of anti-oil radicals are premature: one way or another, Canadian ethical oil will get to market.

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