A number of proposed pipelines in western and northern Canada have highlighted critical path social risks associated with effectively engaging and consulting with impacted Aboriginal rightsholders along pipeline rights-of-way. Opening up new markets for Canada’s oil sands, shale and off-shore gas resources will require an expansion of the pipeline system in northern British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. While navigating the regulatory approval process can be a formidable hurdle, a far greater challenge is how proponents manage the process of building relationships and consulting with affected Aboriginal communities. Failing to earn Aboriginal support for proposed projects can be a “show-stopper”.

Exploration of new basins in Canada, driven by increased demand for energy in Asia, may compete with other land uses and constitutionally-protected rights and practices of indigenous peoples. Public, media and environmental response to new pipelines is often lead by the reaction of impacted communities. The task of identifying the social risks to a project, understanding the engagement process, fulfilling the regulatory consultation requirements of different jurisdictions, balancing impacts with benefits, managing issues and resolving disputes, communicating with the public and media effectively all require improved skills and approaches.

The paper surveys the stakeholder engagement experience and differences in approaches for recently proposed major arctic gas and western oil pipeline projects, as well as pipelines to service Liquefied Natural Gas export facilities on the Pacific north coast, providing practical insights with possibly international application. Utilizing decision and risk analysis and scenario planning methodologies, applied to development of an Aboriginal engagement and consultation strategy, the paper examines how multi-billion dollar investments in new pipelines can be better secured by integrating stakeholder engagement into a project’s risk management design. With greater precision and improved approaches proponents can effectively manage social risks, reduce stakeholder conflict and associate project uncertainties.

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