Pledge to improve Northern Gateway safety fails to impress environmental groups
Enbridge’s pledge to take extra steps to improve the safety of its proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline will not soften opposition to the project, a Greenpeace Canada spokesperson says.
“They’re meeting a wall of opposition in B.C. from First Nations and just regular people who don’t want this project to go ahead,” said Keith Stewart, coordinator of the environmental group’s climate and energy campaign.
“At the moment they’re trying anything they can think of to build support for it but I think public opinion has hardened against them and I don’t think that this announcement today’s going to change that,” he told the Straight by phone.
In an announcement today (July 20), Enbridge outlined proposed changes to how the pipeline system would be designed and operated. Among other steps, the measures include increasing the thickness of pipeline walls at river crossings, increasing how often inspections occur system-wide, and staffing remote pump stations around the clock to ensure a quick response to any problems.
"After years of consultation with stakeholders and after personally attending many regulatory hearings for Northern Gateway, it has become clear—we have to do everything we can to ensure confidence in the project," Janet Holder, Enbridge’s executive vice president of western access, said in a statement.
"We've listened. We have often been asked if we could guarantee that we would never have a significant pipeline failure over the years on Northern Gateway. These initiatives will put the project closer than any pipeline system in the world to providing that guarantee," Holder said.
The extra measures are expected to cost the Calgary-based energy company up to $500 million. The entire pipeline project has previously had an estimated pricetag of $5.5 billion.
The Northern Gateway proposal would see a 1,170-kilometre-long twin pipeline system built between the oilsands in northern Alberta and a coastal terminal in Kitimat, B.C., where tankers would ship the oil overseas.
Amid fears about the potential risk of an oil spill in inland B.C. waterways or along the coast, First Nations groups, environmentalists, and politicians have been rallying against the project, which is currently being assessed by a federal joint review panel.
“This is just the wrong project. If Enbridge were investing these billions into the wind and solar energy that we need to power the 21st century, Greenpeace would jump up and down and say ‘yay’,” Stewart, the Greenpeace Canada spokesperson said.
“But they want to build a new tar-sands pipeline so we can have tar-sands mines so we can accelerate climate change. And that’s not good for Canada. It’s not good for our kids. And it’s the wrong direction to take the country,” he said.
Ben West, with the B.C. environmental group the Wilderness Committee, said Enbridge’s latest pledge is clearly a response to a recent report that criticized how the company handled an oil spill in Michigan in 2010.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said Enbridge took 17 hours to react to the Kalamazoo River spill and had failed to address a corrosion problem known about for years.
West said no amount of safety measures can guarantee there will not be risk of a spill from the Northern Gateway pipeline.
“Even with the proposals that they’re putting forward, you know, there’s no such thing as a safe pipeline. Even if all this stuff was in their initial plan, I don’t think that would really change anybody’s feelings about the pipeline,” he told the Straight by phone.
“There’s still landslides, floods, natural disasters, earthquakes, fires—any number of things that can have an impact on a pipeline. There’s still human error. People can still dig in the wrong area and hit the pipeline or any number of other things can happen that could cause a spill.”
Enbridge officials have said the company has strived to learn from the Michigan spill and avoid any such incidents in the future.
"We recognize that there are concerns among Aboriginal groups and the public around pipeline safety and integrity. We had already planned to build a state-of-the-art project, using the most advanced technology, safety measures and procedures in the industry today," said Holder, the Enbridge spokesperson.
"With these enhanced measures, we will make what is already a very safe project even safer in order to provide further comfort to people who are concerned about the safety of sensitive habitats in remote areas."