The Stephen Harper government has given its conditional stamp of approval to Enbridge's controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project.
The $7.9-billion project would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands across British Columbia to Asia. Twin pipelines would 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.
“In December 2013, the Joint Review Panel found that construction and operation of the Northern Gateway Pipelines project is in the public interest, subject to 209 conditions being met by the proponent. After carefully reviewing the report, the Government accepts the independent Panel’s recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Pipelines’ proposal," Minister of Natural Resources Greg Rickford said in a statement today (June 17).
“Today constitutes another step in the process. Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the NEB, how it will meet the 209 conditions. It will also have to apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments. In addition, consultations with Aboriginal communities are required under many of the 209 conditions that have been established and as part of the process for regulatory authorizations and permits. The proponent 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.”
Rickford said the National Energy Board will now issue certificates of public convenience and necessity to Enbridge.
B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan responded to the decision by stating that, in contrast to the liquefied natural gas "opportunity", the Enbridge proposal presents much risk but little benefit to the province.
“This is a bad day for British Columbians who believe, as I do, that B.C. needs to create more new jobs through resource development that benefits our communities and protects our land, air and water,” Horgan said in a news release. “We have consistently opposed this plan to transport Alberta bitumen to tankers on B.C.’s north coast because the risks to our environment, communities and economy are too great.”
A coalition of First Nations, including the Gitgaat, Haisla, and Tsleil-Waututh, issued a joint statement "unequivocally" rejecting the decision and promising to fight the project in court using "all lawful means".
"This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us to act," the First Nations stated.
The Coastal First Nations pronounced the project as "effectively dead".
“It’s an approval in name only. This project is dead,” said Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, in a release. “The project can’t proceed with these conditions. We’ve been clear there is no technology to clean up an oil spill and the dispersant that is used causes more damage than the oil itself.”
Environmentalists also wasted no time in criticizing the government's decision.
“Even if we were to avoid a tar sands spill along our coastline, we’ll still be burdened with the guaranteed spill of a hundred million tonnes of climate changing gases into our atmosphere every single year,” Eoin Madden, the Wilderness Committee’s climate campaigner, said in a release. “We know the true costs of this pipeline when it comes to our coast and our climate – and saddling British Columbians with these costs won’t fly.”
ForestEthics Advocacy vowed to make the pipeline a federal election issue in 2015.
“This isn’t over until tankers are filling up with Enbridge’s oil on the coast, and that is never going to happen - the people of BC have spoken and are steadfast against it,” said Ben West, tar sands campaign director for ForestEthics, in a release. “Prime Minister Harper will likely regret trying to push this politically toxic project on BC in the lead up to a close election.”
Ecojustice asserted that the decision doesn't mean that the pipeline will become a reality.
“Eighteen months of regulatory hearings made one thing clear: Northern Gateway is a risky and unnecessary project that does not serve the national interest of Canada or Canadians,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Barry Robinson in a release.
“We are deeply disappointed, but you need to look no further than the spate of legal challenges filed against this project to know that Cabinet’s approval is by no means a guarantee that this project will ever be built.”
In April, Kitimat residents rejected the Northern Gateway project in a non-binding plebiscite. 1,793 residents (58.4 percent) voted "no" and 1,278 residents (41.6 percent) cast "yes" ballots in the northwestern B.C. municipality.
“The Federal Government continues to ignore the will of British Columbians,” said Andrew Weaver, Green MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head, in a release. “The fact is, Kitimat is opposed to this project. First Nations are opposed to it. British Columbians are opposed to it. It’s time for the Provincial Government to draw a line in the sand, and reject the Northern Gateway project.”
In Vancouver, a "Stop Enbridge" rally is planned for this evening at 6 p.m. at 700 Hamilton Street, near the Vancouver Public Library and Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
The Dogwood Initiative is laying the groundwork for a Fight HST-style citizen's initiative seeking a provincewide vote on the Enbridge project.