The federal panel reviewing the potential environmental impact of Enbridge’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project has issued its decision, and green groups are loudly voicing their disagreement.
In Calgary, the Joint Review Panel today (December 19) recommended that the federal government approve the $7.9-billion project, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands across British Columbia to Asia, subject to 209 conditions.
"The environmental, societal, and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant. Through our conditions we require Northern Gateway to implement appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities, so that the likelihood and consequences of a large spill would be minimized," the panel's report states.
The Northern Gateway project would see twin pipelines carry 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen and 193,000 barrels of condensate per day between Bruderheim, Alberta, and Kitimat, B.C., where the oil would be loaded onto 220 tankers per year.
However, First Nations are promising legal challenges and activists are threatening direct action if the Conservative government approves the project.
Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner for ForestEthics Advocacy, asserted the panel's decision shows "oil interests trumped science, facts, and the powerful opposition presented to the JRP".
"Overwhelmingly in the process, Enbridge proved that it does not have the competence to build Northern Gateway safely over our wild salmon watersheds, nor that the company, provincial or federal governments are prepared to handle oil spills on our coast," Skuce said in a news release.
Earlier this week, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation released a report criticizing "scientifically flawed studies and cursory reviews" by Enbridge of the project's potential impact on salmon.
“Salmon, and the ecological and human communities that they support, are the very soul of British Columbia and the lifeblood of our coastal ecosystem. The decision to approve Northern Gateway will ultimately come with irreparable costs in the long term. This pipeline should never be built,” Chris Genovali, executive director of Raincoast, said in response to the panel's decision, in a release.
The Wilderness Committee noted that the project faces opposition from First Nations and municipalities across B.C. Its policy director, Gwen Barlee, called the decision "extremely disappointing".
“Our federal government and industry have repeatedly assured us that they can mitigate the project’s risks and impacts, but ‘world-class’ slogans won’t protect our coast when the first tanker hits a rock,” Barlee said in a release. “The panel may have said this high risk project should proceed, but the people in BC will make the final decision – and they will put a healthy coast and a stable climate over oil profits every time.”
Ecojustice staff lawyer Barry Robinson maintained that the panel's decision "does not mean the pipeline is approved or will even be built". The organization's lawyers represented ForestEthics, Raincoast, and the Living Oceans Society during the review process.
“We submitted hundreds of pages of scientific evidence on behalf of our clients that lead to one emphatic conclusion: The Northern Gateway pipeline is an unsafe, unsustainable and unnecessary project, and it does not serve the national interest of this country,” Robinson said in a release.
In the same release, Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society, stated: "There remain important issues that are simply not adequately addressed, especially concerning marine operations. Enbridge closed its case insisting that conventional spill response technology will work on unconventional oil, when it is clear that it will not in many cases."
The democratic reform group Leadnow has posted a new online petition calling on Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to "say no this reckless project once and for all".
Along with TransCanada’s Keystone XL and Energy East proposals, and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain twinning plans, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway would enable oil companies to expand production in the Alberta tar sands.