OTTAWA (NEWS1130) – The federal government is giving a conditional green light to Enbridge Inc.’s controversial $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project between the Alberta oilsands and the BC coast.
A joint federal review panel recommended approval of the 1,177-kilometre pipeline in December, with 209 conditions; the Conservative government has made it clear that finding new markets for Canadian oil is an economic priority.
The decision is contingent on Enbridge satisfying all 209 of those conditions and embarking on more consultations with affected aboriginal communities.
The project, which would move an estimated 525,000 barrels of petroleum products each day, still faces legal challenges from several First Nations and environmental groups.
Those include a half-dozen Federal Court applications for judicial review of the panel report. The Gitxaala and Coastal First Nations are also preparing broader lawsuits against either the federal government, Enbridge, or both.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair rejects the decision saying these conditions aren’t good enough. “You’ll find that many of them have absolutely nothing to do with protecting the environment, they’re not real conditions, just a long enumeration of things.”
“Today’s decision sets a dangerous precedent for resource development in this country,” says Mulcair. “Conservatives are telling Canadians that they will not be heard. Projects like Northern Gateway can happen anywhere, without consideration for First Nations rights, the environment, the risks or the will of the people. This decision is wrong for BC and for Canada. Allowing supertankers into the Douglas Channel would be madness and a spill would be catastrophic for the economy of the entire region. In 2015, an NDP government would set aside the approval of this project.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promises if he becomes Prime Minister, Northern Gateway will not go ahead.
He predicts the pipeline will be a ballot box issue next year, especially in BC. “British Columbians are certainly not opposed to economic development, they just want it done right. This government has actually hindered our ability to get our resources to market by not doing its homework.”
Trudeau says the Conservatives have been cheerleaders for the project, when what Canadians really need is a referee.
BC Premier Christy Clark, meanwhile, has said the project does not meet the province’s five conditions for its own approval of any oil pipeline, including aboriginal consultation and a “fair share” of revenues for the province.
Enbridge President Al Monaco says the government approval isn’t the final step, but one more step in the process. He says from now on, the focus will be on three priorities. “First, completing the work to satisfy the Joint Review Panel conditions. Second, continue to work with the province of BC to respond to their framework for supporting oil pipelines. Third, and equally important, continue to engage with BC communities and Aboriginal bands to build further trust where we haven’t been able to to that to date.”
Monaco says it will take 12 to 15 months to meet the 209 conditions that come with the approval. “There are over 100 or so that need to be met before construction can begin. If you think about it, that’s really the gating item here, or the critical path, if you will.”
The BC Business Council supports the announcement but says there’s a lot of work to be done. Greg D’Avignon with the group says it will bring big economic benefits across the country, including job creation. “Create jobs in professional services, manufacturing, engineering, and transportation.”
Environmental groups not surprised with conditional approval.
Ben West with Forest Ethics says Stephen Harper’s government has been singing from the same hymn sheet as industry for some time when it comes to Northern Gateway.
But he says this conditional approval doesn’t mean the pipeline will go ahead. “I think at the end of the day this is something the Harper government is going to regret. It’s one thing to make a decision in Ottawa, it’s another thing to actually complete a pipeline project in British Columbia.”
Torrance Coste with the Wilderness Committee says the decision only increases his group’s energy in its efforts to prevent the pipeline’s construction. “It’s sort of what we expected coming down, this government has been a cheerleader for the Northern Gateway pipeline. It’s still a letdown, it’s still a government that I don’t feel represents the needs of the majority of British Columbians.”
Coste says five legal challenges have been filed against this pipeline.