First Nations expertise will be "what guides us moving forward" as Canada ramps up natural resources development, including the expected approval of the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project next month, the minister in charge says.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford acknowledged that many First Nations communities along the British Columbia interior and coast oppose the $6.5 billion project, which would transport Alberta crude to ports in Kitimat, B.C. for shipment overseas. Opponents fear the impact of increased tanker traffic on ocean wildlife, and the increased risk of oil spills.

Last week, the federal government made two announcements to strengthen pipeline regulations in a move that appeared to signal that cabinet will green-light Northern Gateway. A decision is expected sometime next month.

Asked repeatedly on CTV's Question Period if the new measures were designed to give Northern Gateway a boost, Rickford said he would not comment on a specific project that is before cabinet.

He did acknowledge, however, that the announcements apply not only to existing pipelines, "but for those that are contemplated in the future." While oil pipelines are the focus of much attention due not only to Northern Gateway, but also the proposed $5.4 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and the Energy East project, regulations also apply to other forms of energy transported by pipeline, he said.

"Last week's announcements have an application for pipelines across the country, both the existing and the future ones, and we know that First Nations communities are participating in the economic interests and benefits potentially of things like liquefied natural gas," Rickford told Question Period. "And pipeline safety is an important part of that narrative because we're talking more than just bitumen, crude oil or diluted crude oil."

Meanwhile, First Nations communities are keen to participate in "all aspects" of resource development, he said, from the environmental assessment stage to project planning.

"Last week's announcements around pipeline safety were explicitly built around First Nations engagement in the design and the planning of the most effective training, education and awareness tools that we can provide around pipeline safety," Rickford said.

First Nations groups can contribute "certain expertise" on issues such as marine safety, he added, as well as planning and mapping.

"Traditional land-use planning and cultural mapping are two important elements of any responsible resource development and in so the environmental assessment processes," he said. "So we want this inclusion to be what guides us moving forward."

Rickford announced last week that pipeline companies will be liable for the full costs and damages related to oil spills, will be required to hold a minimum amount of cash on hand to pay cleanup costs. Also, the NEB will have the authority to order companies to cover losses associated with the spill.

The day before, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt announced new measures to strengthen Canada's response plan to an oil spill.