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Canadian Review Panel Approves Northern Gateway Pipeline

Environmentalists, First Nations vow to keep fight against controversial pipeline going

For years, a battle has raged over the proposed $6 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would see 525,000 barrels of Alberta Tar Sands bitumen transported nearly 750 miles to Kitimat, British Columbia where it would be loaded on supertankers and on to markets in Asia.

photoname Photo courtesy Environmental Defence CanadaThe review panel found that the 750 mile pipeline project would have "significant local,
regional, and national economic and social benefits."

On Thursday, Dec. 18, the Joint Review Panel set up by the Canadian government’s National Energy Board (NEB) released its recommendation for the project after an exhaustive process that included public input by thousands of Canadians and Americans at hearings and via submissions.

The panel found that "the project would bring significant local, regional, and national economic and social benefits," and provided a list of 209 conditions of support. It noted that "opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society," and recommended that the federal government approve the project.

But its decision isn't sitting well with the vast number of people and groups opposed to Northern Gateway.

"We are disappointed with the NEB's decision, but this is far from the end of the story —really what happened today was more like throwing fuel on a fire," Ben West, Tar Sands campaign director for ForestEthics Advocacy, said the day the decision was made public. "Opposition to this project is widespread and passionate. This NEB decision will only anger British Columbians and inspire more people to get involved, to make sure this project isn't built."

Reaction from a number of British Columbia's First Nations was swift and definitive, including comment from the Gitga'at Nation, located in Hartley Bay on the northwest BC coast near Kitimat.

“We are disappointed in the Joint Review Panel’s recommendation,” Arnold Clifton, Chief Councilor and Hereditary Chief of the Gitga’at First Nation said in a statement. “We presented solid evidence to the Joint Review Panel of the severe and irreversible harm that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project would bring to our territory, resources, and way of life.”

Dogwood Initiative, one of the more vocal and effective grassroots environmental groups opposing the project, too, was quick with its response to the recommendation. “British Columbians will not stand by and let Ottawa force a project on our province that puts our coast and economy at extreme risk,” said Will Horter, the initiative’s executive director. “People across the province of all political stripes are ready to do whatever it takes to keep more crude oil tankers out of our waters. No JRP decision will change that.”

The panel does state that "the environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant," but according to them that’s a risk worth taking.

Included in the panel's list of conditions are:

Develop a Marine Mammal Protection Plan
Implement the TERMPOL Review Committee Recommendations
Prepare a Caribou Habitat Restoration Plan
Develop a Training and Education Monitoring Plan
Prepare an Enhanced Marine Spill Trajectory and Fate Modelling
Develop a Research Program on the Behaviour and Cleanup of Heavy Oils
Conduct Pre-operations Emergency Response Exercises and Develop an Emergency Preparedness and Response Exercise and Training Program.

 Although British Columbia Premier Clark is not a vocal supporter of the project, she has said she will give it the okay should it meet “five principles” for pipeline developments in the province. The principles include:

1. Successful completion of the formal environmental review processes.
2. World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for British Columbia.
3. World-leading practices for land spill prevention, response and recovery systems for British Columbia.
4. Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights must be addressed and First Nations be provided with the opportunities to benefit from these projects.
5. British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of proposed heavy oil projects that reflect the risk borne by the province.

“I am hopeful that as work continues on process to support a national energy strategy, there will be consideration of British Columbia's five principles with respect to heavy oil pipelines,” Clark said in a statement.

The panel’s support of the project is a huge boost to the fortunes of Enbridge's pipeline, especially after it seemed as though the project was all but dead in the water. The First Nations of British Columbia were seemingly united against Northern Gateway and, most importantly, the clear frontrunner of the 2013 provincial elections, New Democratic Party Leader Adrian Dix, was a staunch opponent of the pipeline.

That was then, and that particular clear frontrunner went down in shocking defeat to the incumbent Chrissy Clark in the May elections. Perhaps that was the game changer the project needed.

The panel's recommendation, however, is not final. That final power to approve the pipeline lies in the hands of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal government following legislation they passed earlier this year. Of course, his conservative crew has made it no secret that they not only support, but openly lobby at home and abroad for numerous pipeline projects including Northern Gateway and Keystone XL.

“The Panel’s report represents a rigorous, open and comprehensive science-based assessment," said Joe Oliver, Canada’s minister of natural resources. “Now that we have received the report, we will thoroughly review it, consult with affected, Aboriginal groups and then make our decision. We also encourage everyone with an interest to take the time and review the report. Our Government will continue to improve the safe transportation of energy products across Canada. No project will be approved unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment,” he said.

Elizabeth May, Green Party of Canada Leader and Member of Parliament for Saanich-Gulf Islands, called on the federal government to reject the proposal.

“It is not acceptable to have the Harper administration pushing for the project as though it is an economic boon, for which environmental concerns are an impediment to progress,” May said. “As economist Robyn Allan has pointed out, the whole project represents a threat to Canada’s economy and to our region’s ecological health. The project’s large-scale risks need to be weighed against the economic reality that the benefits are to multinationals and other countries’ refineries,” she said.

The government now has 180 days to okay or deny the project. But there is little doubt of the outcome of that particular decision. But, according to environmental groups and others opposed to the project, the fight is far from over.

"If Harper tries to push a dangerous pipeline on a province that doesn't want it that will cost him heavily,” said Ben West of Forest Ehics Advocacy. “Canadians don't like a bully, and when you see this push for Enbridge in the context of the muzzling of scientists, the senate scandal, the shredding of environmental protections and big cuts to public services, it adds up an appetite for change.

"The organizing to unseat Harper has begun already; the Enbridge pipeline is Harper’s pipe dream but the project will never be completed. This issue is bigger than politics, or an NEB process; it's become one of the most important social movements of our generation and if they don't stop this pipeline, we will."

Ron Johnson
Is based in Toronto, Canada, where he is an editor for Post City magazines and contributes to The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, The National Post and the London Business Times.

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