Pipeline Receives Conditional Approval

Pipeline Receives Conditional Approval

By Nicole Halseth & Tyson Kelsall

After years of debate and discussion, the Northern Gateway pipeline has received conditional approval from the panel conducting an environmental assessment of the project on 19 December 2013. The pipeline will connect Alberta’s oil sands with a port in Kitimat, and has long been a controversial topic among the various interest groups. The Northern Gateway pipeline project is a proposal to carry bitumen mixed with condensate from just outside of Edmonton, AB to Kitimat, BC. The conditional approval by a federal joint review panel, composed of only three members, has concluded that the $7.9 billion project is in Canada’s best interests, and the risk of severe environmental harm is minimal. However, they also concluded the pipeline might have serious impacts on grizzly bear and caribou populations, though they also concluded this damage could be mitigated.

The Vancouver Sun reported that only two out of 1161 people spoke in favour of the pipeline, meaning 99.8% of community members spoke against it. Luanne Roth, the Save Our Skeena Salmon campaign’s coordinator, finds it unbelievable that the JRP managed to put their own opinion above basically every testimony, especially considering that many of the speakers were experts in a variety of areas.  Many have questioned whether or not the JRP was doing legitimate, honest work, or whether it had already made its decision from the outset, based on the federal Conservatives’ blatant support.

According to an article by CBC News, with this tentative approval comes the recommendation for 209 conditions to be imposed on the project. These conditions cover a variety of issues, from the technical design of the pipeline to the completion of pre-construction studies.

According to an article by The Prince George Citizen website, Enbridge, the company that owns the project, has said that “the project is needed to give Canadian oil producers access to Asian markets and reduce dependence on selling to the United States, which is ramping up its own domestic production.” However, opponents to the pipeline have vowed that they will not cease pressuring governments to reject the plan. Opposition to the pipeline largely centers on potential harm to wildlife and habitats, as well as infringements of First Nations’ rights.

Josh DeLeenheer, spokesman for the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance said in regards to the plan: “We believe that in order for this project to proceed it would require First Nations approval and social license – neither of which it has at this point.”

In response, Enbridge president and CEO Al Monaco claimed the company still plans to reach out to opponents in the coming months to listen to their concerns, despite the approval. In a conference call, Monaco said “it’s hard to expect you’re ever going to get full support with this kind of project…I think we’ve seen that dynamic play out in our history in Canada for many years around projects that are nation-building like this.”

The panel that approved the project covered numerous issues. The most important of these was the issue of diluted bitumen in water, in regards to potential oil spills in freshwater or off the coast. Should an oil spill occur, it would be necessary for clean-up crews to understand any potential effects. This would be vital in assessing the potential risk of the project. In regards to this issue, the panel concluded further research was needed.

The Prince Rupert Environmental Society, a main opponent to the pipeline, has taken on serious projects before; they took part in the creation of the local recycling depot and worked diligently on putting a moratorium on fish farming around the north coast of BC. However, Luanne Roth says that none of these projects feel big in comparison to the scale of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Roth also points out the importance of local knowledge. The people that live in Prince Rupert, around the coast, and near the Skeena know the value of their homeland. According to Roth, since container ships started coming into the Prince Rupert harbour seven years ago, there have already been two serious accidents; including one ship running aground. She said that local people have seen and experienced boating accidents over the years, and know the realities of rogue waves: they are rare, but they happen.
This campaign focuses on salmon and other seafood. Roth says that the annual average for wild BC seafood harvesting is 200 million kilograms. Theoretically, that could be about two billion meals a year. The campaign challenges the idea that the damages caused by a spill or tanker accident could be fixed by the capital earned by tar sands emergency fund money. The concern is grounded in reality; 25 years after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, there are still lingering environmental concerns. The Exxon Valdez was a crude oil spill, which, with current technology, is less damaging than the bitumen that Northern Gateway is proposing to transport.

Proponents of Northern Gateway praise the economic boom that it will bring, but is the risk worth it? As of now, most local, concerned citizens stand in solidarity, saying that it is not.