The leader of a First Nations oil and gas council thinks common ground can be found within the country’s indigenous communities to get the long-delayed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion built.

“I’m optimistic because industry wants a pipeline, Canada needs a pipeline and our members who are oil and gas-producing, we need the pipeline, too,” Stephen Buffalo, CEO of the Indian Resource Council, told BNN Bloomberg in an interview on Wednesday.

First Nations leaders gathered at the Tsuut'ina Nation outside Calgary on Wednesday to discuss potential financial models to possibly take ownership of the embattled project.

Canada purchased the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion from Kinder Morgan Inc. in August 2018 and pledged to complete the expansion project, which would nearly triple capacity to 890,000 barrels a day. Indigenous groups mulled acquiring a stake in the project as far back as September, 2018 despite a court ruling that halted construction of the pipeline expansion, citing insufficient consultation with First Nations communities and a failure to assess the environmental impact of marine traffic.

The National Energy Board is currently reviewing the project to further examine the environmental impact it could have on B.C.’s marine life and is expected to be completed by next month.

Buffalo said he hopes the IRC can produce a proposal to present to the federal government, despite the absence of federal ministers at Wednesday’s conference.

“At the end of the day I’m hoping that we work towards leaving something on the table for either Minister Sohi or Minister Morneau or the prime minister or the prime minister’s advisors,” Buffalo said. 

“I’m optimistic still. When the prime minister says ‘nation to nation,’ well, this is one of those issues. There’s a lot of work that’s going to be required after this.”

Fivars Consulting’s Barrie Robb – who helped broker two Albertan indigenous communities’ $545 million investment in a Suncor Energy Inc. storage tank in November of 2016 – told The Canadian Press he would advise interested parties to wait until construction on the Trans Mountain expansion is complete before investing to eliminate regulatory and construction risk.

Buffalo expressed confidence the pipeline project could get funded, adding that Wednesday’s conference was focused on getting the best plan to put forward to potential financial partners.

“We know that there’s money out there,” he said. “We know that Canadian banks are very interested in this project. It is in the national interest and I’m quite confident something’s there.”

The next step for the proposal, however, may involve getting those within Canada’s First Nations previously opposed to the pipeline expansion on-board with the IRC’s new plan.

“I know there are a tonne of issues that even I need to understand: The salmon and the killer whales definitely, you have to take that into consideration,” Buffalo said.

“But in the same set, though, we talk about consultation with industry, we talk about consultation with government, now we’ve got to start doing consultation with each other, which I think is important [and] should be part of a national indigenous strategy for dealing with these energy infrastructure projects.”