Tanks but No Tanks shirt. No tankers on BC coast campaign. Alternatives Journal Tanks but no tanks. Photo by Kris Krug.

On Friday, May 31, the BC government made its final written argument to the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel (NJRP). The 99-page submission states that the province “cannot support the project as presented to the panel because Northern Gateway has been unable to address British Columbians' environmental concerns.”

Given the ecological dangers that are inherent to piping bitumen across some of Canada’s most geologically challenging terrain, combined with the hazards implicit in having oil-laden supertankers traverse the complicated coastal waters of northern BC, it is logical that the provincial government’s primary concerns relate to the likelihood of spills and the inability of Enbridge and the other operators to respond to the inevitable. The province's statement pointed out that “Enbridge had 11 releases greater than 1000 barrels between 2002 and 2012,” as a contributor to concerns about the likelihood of a spill event.

"British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project, including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents," said BC Environment Minister Terry Lake. "Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings."

The government of British Columbia established strict conditions to consider the construction of heavy-oil pipelines in the province, including:

  • Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Northern Gateway, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
  • World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.'s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines and shipments;
  • World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines;
  • Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
  • British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy-oil project that reflect the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.

"Northern Gateway has said that they would provide effective spill response in all cases. However, they have presented little evidence as to how they will respond," Lake said. "For that reason, our government cannot support the issuance of a certificate for the pipeline as it was presented to the Joint Review Panel."

It should be noted that BC isn’t turning its back on all heavy-oil projects. In the press release accompanying the written submission, the province stated that “(t)he position adopted by BC on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project as currently proposed is not a rejection of heavy-oil projects. All proposals –  such as Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion or the Kitimat Clean project – will be judged on their merits.”

A\J has followed the ongoing pipelines debates closely as they rage across North America. From a review of whether bitumen is beneficial to the Canadian economy, to one of our editorial board member’s practical thinking on pipelines, to a discussion with leading activists about rethinking civil disobedience, the A\J editorial team understands that pipeline battles are the leading theatre of operations for Canadian environmental warriors and pro-extraction defenders. Stop the pipelines and maybe the fossil fuel stays in the ground. Stop the pipelines and perhaps Canada will find another economic driver beyond the Dutch Disease-prone oil sector. Stop the pipelines and maybe, just maybe, we can hold the line on greenhouse gas emissions and keep rising global temperatures in check.

In the BC government's case, the rationale is less altruistic and in some ways much simpler to understand. The government and people of British Columbia do not believe that the potential fiscal rewards and economic benefits associated with Northern Gateway outweigh the tangible and demonstrated risks. Similar calculus is at play in the Keystone XL debate in Washington – and it is also being leveraged against the proposed Line 9 reversal across Ontario and Québec.

It should be noted that Enbridge is involved in all three of these battles and the company’s less-than-stellar reputation hasn’t helped it win friends and influence citizens. But even without Enbridge’s participation, the dangers implicit in piping bitumen across mountains and through old-growth forests and then supertanking it through pristine, sacred waterways should be obvious.

Which is why most Canadian environmentalists let out a small sigh of relief on Friday afternoon as they soaked in the news from BC. The rhetoric and the response was tempered and reserved, probably because this is simply the first step in a long fight against the Northern Gateway proposal, which in and of itself is simply another front in the battle against pipelines. Thus, there were no big parties or victory speeches. This is simply a moment to bask in the acknowledgement that, in spite of the pro-NG million-dollar persuasion campaigns, the fundamental logic of the cause is indeed just and has been validated by the people of British Columbia.

For their wisdom and their courage, A\J applauds and salutes the BC provincial government and encourages other Canadian and American jurisdictions to emulate their example in protecting and sustaining our priceless and irreplaceable natural inheritance.

Read more about the existing and potential pipelines criss-crossing the country in our special pipelines section.

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