Canadian Government Conditionally Approves 731-Mile Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline


Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper conditionally approved the Northern Gateway Pipeline Tuesday, a major hurdle for the 731-mile twin pipeline system that will carry tar sands oil from Alberta to the west coast of Canada.

The approval is contingent on Enbridge meeting the 209 conditions for the pipeline — some of which addressed environmental concerns but none of which addressed climate change — set forth by the National Energy Board in December. If Enbridge meets those conditions, Northern Gateway will transport up to 525,000 barrels of oil per day from Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia.

The Canadian government singled out discussions with First Nations as one of the major conditions that Enbridge needs to meet for the pipeline to be built.

“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,” a federal release states. “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.”

Nikki Skuce, Senior Energy Campaigner at ForestEthics, said Harper’s approval doesn’t mean the Northern Gateway is a done deal. ForestEthics and other groups — along with a majority of B.C. residents who say they want the pipeline either rejected or delayed for further review — will continue to oppose the pipeline. ForestEthics has launched a legal challenge to the National Energy Board’s December recommendation that the project be approved — a challenge that’s one of five of its kind, she said. It’s also pushing conservative members of B.C.’s government to reject Northern Gateway and pushing B.C. Premiere Christy Clark to refuse to grant permits to Enbridge if it doesn’t meet the five conditions she laid out in 2012.

“This is just such a high risk project that goes through some of the most incredible parts of the world,” Skuce said. “And for what? To ship unrefined tar sands to get to U.S. and Asian markets. It’s just politically and environmentally and socially a risky project.”

CREDIT: Enbridge,
CREDIT: Enbridge,

Harper’s decision to approve the pipeline — even conditionally — isn’t surprising, as the prime minister has voiced his support for Northern Gateway before and has pressed President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The prime minister is also a vocal advocate of energy development in Canada, referring to the country soon after he took office in 2006 as “an emerging energy superpower.”

“This Harper government has basically changed all environmental legislation to pave the way for pipelines,” Skuce said. “They completely gut environmental legislation to make it easier for these kinds of projects to be approved.”

But, as Skuce said, the pipeline is still bound to face significant opposition, despite government approval.

“Municipalities? Kitimat. Terrace. Prince Rupert. Smithers. They all say no,” New Democrat and Official Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair told the CBC Tuesday. “Over 130 First Nations across B.C.? They all say no. Three-hundred scientists? They all say no. The prime minister endorsed this pipeline publicly three years ago. No matter what evidence, how many people speak out, how many people stand up against him, he keeps pushing this project.”

B.C. Premier Christy Clark told CTV Monday that the five conditions she laid out in 2012, which include environmental protections, First Nations consultations and allowing B.C. to receive a “fair share” of the profits from the pipeline have not yet been met.

“None of the proposals have met the five conditions yet, so therefore, none of them would be approved,” Clark said. “I have said there are five conditions. Any proposal to expand heavy oil through British Columbia needs to meet the five conditions. Enbridge hasn’t met them yet and they need to before they would be approved by our province.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Chiefs, told CTV before Harper’s decision was made that he and other opponents of the pipeline aren’t planning on standing down if the pipeline is approved, and that they’re considering civil disobedience and lawsuits to try to halt the pipeline. About 130 of Canada’s First Nations signed on to the Save the Fraser declaration, which aims to ban all tar sands pipelines from First Nations territory and from the ocean migration routes of the Fraser River salmon.

“We fully expected the Harper government to make every effort to ram this project through,” Phillip said. “But…there’s enormous solidarity here in British Columbia between First Nations people, British Columbians, Canadians, and we’ll do what’s necessary and whatever it takes to stop this project.”

British Columbia’s Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group, is also working on a plan to stop the pipeline through a provincial referendum, a strategy that has worked once the past in the province but that’s “extraordinarily difficult” to get enough votes to carry out.