APTN National News
CALGARY–The National Energy Board’s joint review panel gave the green light Thursday to Enbridge’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project to pump Alberta tar sands oil to the British Columbia coast.
The panel, however, issued its approval to the estimated $7.9 billion project with 209 conditions.
The pipeline would run 1,178 kilometres from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C, and pump 525,000 barrels per day onto tankers bound for Pacific markets.
The Harper government now has six months to respond to the review panel’s report. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the project is in the national interest. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the government would be reviewing the panel’s report on the project.
A showdown with Indigenous people in the region looms if the federal government gives final approval for the project.
The pipeline is facing some opposition from First Nations in British Columbia. So far, about 130 First Nations have signed a declaration in opposition to the pipeline.
“This project will never be built,” said Nadleh Whut’en First Nation Chief Martin Louie, who was speaking for the Yinka Dene Alliance. “We have drawn a line in the earth they cannot, and will not, cross.”
Enbridge, however, has signed about 36 separate protocol agreements with individual First Nations.
A camp, led by the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en people, has dug in for several years on the Northern Gateway’s proposed pipeline route about 1,000 kilometres north of Vancouver. The camp issued a statement to APTN National News Thursday pledging to stop the pipeline’s construction through their territory.
“The NEB decision of ‘yes’ does not matter to us…we will continue to say ‘no’ without compromise,” said the statement. “They do not have jurisdiction or decision making power over Unist’ot’en territory. We will not remove our gateway.”
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives praised the NEB panel’s decision.
“Over the next 20 years demand for oil will double in Indian and grow by 80 per cent in China,” said John Manley who heads the council representing the interests of corporate chief executives. “Canada, with the world’s third largest oil reserves, badly needs new pipeline infrastructure that will enable our country to attract and access global markets.”
The NEB’s joint review panel found that any threats to the environment by the pipeline were outweighed by the economic benefits.
“Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project than without it,” said the panel.
The panel found finding a market for Alberta oil in the Pacific market was “important to the Canadian economy and society.” The panel said the “project would bring significant local, regional and national economic and social benefits.”
The panel found that the pipeline project would have “no significant adverse environment effects.” The panel said the project would have “cumulative effects” on woodland caribou and grizzly bear populations, but they would be “at the low end of the range of possible significance” and could be mitigated.
“The environmental burdens associated with the project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated and that continued monitoring, scientific research and adaptive management could further reduce adverse effects,” said the NEB panel in a statement.
The panel found that the likelihood of “significant adverse environmental affects” from “project malfunctions” or accidents leading to things like oil spills was very low.
“The environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant,” said the panel. “Northern Gateway had taken steps to minimize the likelihood of a large spill through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems.”
Among its recommended conditions, the panel said the project needed to develop a marine mammal protection plan, a caribou habitat restoration plan, an enhanced marine spill trajectory and fate modelling, create a research program on the behaviour and cleanup of heavy oils and conduct pre-operations emergency response exercises.