I’ve blogged in the past about the very controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, planned to connect the controversial oil of the tar sands of northern Alberta to a port on the coast of British Columbia. British Columbians are reluctant to have the pipeline, fearing environmental catastrophe, while the Canadian government has been pushing the pipeline heavily, even attacking critics as agents of foreign influence on occasion (!). The pipeline is politically controversial, and it has just been approved.
First comes CBC’s report.
The federal government has agreed to let Enbridge build its Northern Gateway pipeline, subject to 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board and further talks with aboriginal communities.
Enbridge wants to build the pipeline from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called it “folly” and “pure madness” to think anyone can put supertankers in British Columbia’s Douglas Channel.
Both Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said they would reverse the decision to accept the National Energy Board’s pipeline approval. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, environmental groups and First Nations reacted quickly to news of the federal approval, releasing statements opposing it.
[. . .]
Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford, whose office announced the decision to allow the pipeline, wasn’t available for interviews on Tuesday. The announcement was made in a news release with no ministerial press conference.
Next comes National Geographic‘s reaction.
The $7.9 billion pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands in the east to the British Columbia coast, where it could be exported to markets abroad. As part of the project, the port of Kitimat, located on a coastal inlet, would be expanded to accommodate about 220 oil tankers every year.
Canadian oil producers are seeking new markets for their oil, 99 percent of which goes to the United States. The Northern Gateway decision “is another important step for Canada to access global markets and world prices, and earn full value for our oil resource,” said Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, in a statement.
A joint review panel convened by Canada’s National Energy Board recommended approval for the project last December. But unlike in the United States, where many have been waiting for a verdict from the Obama administration on the Keystone XL project, an approval from the federal government does not amount to a green light for construction in Canada. Instead, Enbridge must meet 209 conditions—an exhaustive list covering everything from environmental impact to detailed filings about construction and operation—before it can start building the pipeline.
“Today constitutes another step in the process,” said Greg Rickford, Canada’s minister of natural resources, in a statement announcing the approval. “The proponent [Enbridge] clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route.”
Enbridge expects that the effort to meet required conditions for the project will take 12 to 15 months, said Janet Holder, the Enbridge executive leading the Northern Gateway effort, on a media call Tuesday. After that, the National Energy Board would need to review and approve Enbridge’s work. “We are working hard on those [conditions],” she said. “We are required to meet them, and we intend to do that.”
Finally, MacLean’s emphasizes the political controversy and the potential for it to bring down the Conservative government.
Harper claims there is a dire economic need to expand Canada’s energy markets beyond the U.S. to Asia, but the issue is certain to stick to his government like a giant ball of bitumen as it treads into the next election in 2015. For Harper, who cut his teeth as an Alberta Reform MP on the western alienation of the Ottawa-dictated National Energy Program of the Trudeau Liberals, Gateway is both a crisis and an opportunity. It is certain to win approval from his base in Alberta, pinched by generally low oil prices caused by an overreliance on U.S. customers. The decision is also consistent with his determination to win approval from a skittish Obama administration to green-light the 1,900-km Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Nebraska.
[. . .]
The political risks, however, are substantial. Both NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said they would kill the project if they win the next election. Mulcair said the 21 Conservative MPs in B.C. are already “hiding under their desks” fearing the electoral fallout. An array of well-funded environmental groups and dozens of B.C. First Nations vowed to fight the project in the courts and, for some, through civil disobedience. Already First Nations and environmental groups have five legal challenges of the NEB decision on hold in Federal Court—cases certain to be reactivated and expanded now that the cabinet decision has come down. “Today we unequivocally reject the Harper government’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker and pipelines project,” said a joint statement from many First Nations in northern and coastal B.C. They vowed to “vigorously pursue all lawful means” to kill the project.
Larger public opinion in B.C. is also tilting against the project. A recent poll by Nanos Research for Bloomberg News shows a majority of British Columbians favoured either blocking the project or delaying it for further study, while 29 per cent wanted it approved. A majority of residents of Kitimat, B.C., the proposed site of the shipping terminal, also rejected Gateway in a non-binding plebiscite earlier this year. The twin pipeline is only part of the concern; for many the greater threat is the risk of an oil tanker accident in the narrows of Hecate Strait fouling the coast.