Will the push to export “green hydrogen” and critical minerals from Canada to the European Union impact Mi’kmaq and Innu rights?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: European Council President Charles Michel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyon meet in St. John’s.

The launch of a “green alliance” and an invitation to join a “critical raw materials club” at the European Union-Canada summit held in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on November 23-24 could have implications for Indigenous rights in this country.

Just prior to the summit, the Canadian Press reported: “Hydrogen energy will be a big topic of discussion, as Atlantic Canada angles to become a major supplier of hydrogen fuel to European markets, particularly Germany, [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau said.”

Now the CBC reports: “While the details are mostly vague promises to work together in fighting climate change, the location of the summit was chosen in part because of Newfoundland and Labrador’s burgeoning green hydrogen and critical minerals industries.”

That article adds: “Newfoundland and Labrador has five active green hydrogen proposals… The projects are massive, each requiring billions of dollars in investments, and the end products are largely destined for European markets. “

In St. John’s, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “We want to boost transatlantic hydrogen trade.”

Project Nujio’qonik wind-to-hydrogen megaproject

The Canadian Press notes that “seafood tycoon John Risley”, the Chairman of World Energy GH2, “was among the crowd watching Trudeau’s speech” to European leaders at a brewpub in St. John’s on November 23.

Photo: As Risley, Trudeau and Von der Leyen were inside the Quidi Vidi Brewery, activists outside called for a ceasefire and an end to Israel’s assault on Gaza.

The Social Justice Co-operative NL has previously explained that World Energy GH2 is proposing Project Nujio’qonik, which is also known as the Port-au-Port & Stephenville Wind Power & Hydrogen Generation Project.

The SJC says: “It’s a wind-to-hydrogen mega-project being proposed … for construction on the Port-au-Port peninsula and in the area around Stephenville. The project, if approved, would see 164 wind turbines built on the Port-au-Port peninsula and a Hydrogen Generation Plant built in Stephenville.”

Signalling the controversial nature of this megaproject, CBC reported earlier this year: “Five Mi’kmaw chiefs in southwestern Newfoundland are seeking Indigenous mediation to try to resolve conflicts that have arisen from the wind energy proposal for the Port au Port Peninsula. The five bands in southwestern Newfoundland, acting together as the Newfoundland Association of Rural Mi’kmaq Nations, or NARMN, also hope mediation might rebuild relationships within the communities that they say were damaged over the wind turbine project.”

At a protest this past September, Jude Benoit, longtime Two Spirit Mi’kmaq activist, co-founder of the Indigenous Activist Collective and member of the SJC, also shared concerns about the impacts of Project Nujio’qonik on their home and family.

Then earlier this month, CBC reported: “A verdict for World Energy GH2’s proposal to build at least 328 wind turbines on the Port au Port Peninsula and Codroy Valley along with a hydrogen-ammonia plant was put on hold Wednesday [November 1], as [Newfoundland and Labrador] Environment Minister Bernard Davis told the company to provide more information on a series of potential impacts.”

Seemingly confident the project could still proceed, Risley says: “Nobody should read anything into it other than exactly what the government is saying.”

Pipeline on Innu territory?

Also in September, journalist Justin Brake tweeted: “@GovNL [the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador] ‘signalled’ to investors at #worldhydrogen2023 [in Rotterdam, Netherlands this past May] the potential for a hydrogen pipeline in Labrador on unceded Innu lands. ‘Our Aboriginal rights are not merely to be considered, they must be honoured’, said Innu Nation @ntesinan Grand Chief Simon Pokue.”

Brake further reported in The Independent: “A handout prepared for the [Department of Industry, Energy and Technology] marketing team suggests the potential for hydrogen production at the Churchill Falls, Muskrat Falls, and proposed Gull Island hydroelectric dams, which the government suggests could be transported via pipeline to the island.”

In that article, Grand Chief Pokue said: “Any new hydroelectric, green hydrogen or wind energy development in Innu territory, including green hydrogen production plants, potential pipelines or transmission lines, will require the agreement of the Innu Nation.”

Photo: Innu Elder Tshaukuesh (Elizabeth) Penashue and Grand Chief Pokue.

Is hydrogen even green?

Green hydrogen is understood as hydrogen that is produced from renewable energy, such as wind or solar power.

In his article in The Independent, Brake highlighted that: “Documents [from the Department of Industry, Energy and Technology that reveal the Liberals are using a scheme developed by energy consultant Wood Mackenzie that puts oil and gas at the centre of the green transition] refer to Newfoundland and Labrador as the ‘World’s First Net-Zero Potential Energy Super Basin’. They suggest the province’s emerging hydrogen industry could facilitate the expansion of fossil fuel development, including offshore oil and liquefied natural gas.”

Julia Levin, Associate Director of National Climate at Environmental Defence, has warned: “Carbon capture and hydrogen are great for greenwashing oil and gas, but they won’t deliver meaningful emissions reductions.”

And Robert Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University, has commented: “There may be some small role in truly green hydrogen in a decarbonized future, but this is largely a marketing creation by the oil and gas industry that has been hugely overhyped.”

“Critical raw materials club” to be launched at COP28

In her statement at the conclusion of the Canada-EU summit in St. John’s, European Commission President von der Leyen also stated: “I want to extend a warm invitation to Canada to join our critical raw materials club, which we will launch at COP28. Canada is indeed in pole position for what critical raw materials are concerned. You are today the only country in the Western hemisphere with all the raw materials required for lithium batteries. Canada exports 90% of its mineral products. And the European Union is Canada’s second largest export market. So I would say that this is a perfect match, let us work on that.”

The potential mining of critical minerals, notably in the Ring of Fire area 500 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ontario, has been contentious.

The area is rich in the minerals used in electric vehicle batteries and energy storage systems, including cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, graphite and copper.

But Chief Wayne Moonias of the Neskantaga First Nation has stated: “There is going to be opposition [to mining in the Ring of Fire], if this continues the way it is and the [Ontario premier Doug] Ford government or any future government doesn’t recognize the rights of our people, it’s going to be a strong stance.”

Photo: Chief Wayne Moonias.

We continue to follow this situation.

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