Kitimat, BC

Kitimat by Sam Beebe \ CC-BY-2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The federal government has approved the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project from Enbridge, to carry 525,000 barrels of crude oil each day from Bruderheim in northern Alberta to the port town of Kitimat along British Columbia’s rugged Pacific Coast. 

RELATED: Disasters Foretold – What Enbridge already knows about where and how much Northern Gateway will leak

Prime Minister Stephen Harper signalled his approval for the project late Thursday after the controversial pipeline received regulatory approval from the National Energy Board in December 2013. 

Ottawa has hinged its blessing for the project on Enbridge consulting further with BC’s First Nations and their ability to meet the 209 requirements placed on it by the Joint Review Panel in December. The JRP called on the energy giant to continue its work with affected Indigenous communities, developing a marine mammal protection plan and research heavy oil cleanup in case of oil-tanker spills, in addition to conducting emergency response exercises. 

"After weighing the evidence, we concluded that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project,” the panel concluded in its 400-plus page report in December. They gave Ottawa 180 days to reach a decision on whether to green light the project.

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.
– Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford

On Tuesday, Canada’s Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford stated that "After carefully reviewing the report, the Government accepts the independent panel’s recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Pipelines’ proposal."

Rickford goes on to state: “Today constitutes another step in the process. Moving forward, the proponent must...also have to apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments.... 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.”

In April, residents of Kitimat voted 58 per cent to 42 per cent against approving the project in a municipal plebiscite. Until then, Kitimat had stayed neutral on the project during NEB panel review hearings that heard from over 1,400 participants in 21 communities over many months.

On rejecting the project, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said “The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process,”  she said. 

Opposition is also strong among First Nations communities, whose use-of-land rights under the charter are increasingly looking to be a final, and potentially promising, stronghold against environmental degradation from resource development.

RELATED: Canadian Judiciary Poised to Redress Environmental Degradation

An informative read from CBC News Tuesday reminds us that Northern Gateway is simply the latest in a long line of pipelines snaking across Canada. Keystone XL from TransCanada awaits regulatory approval from Barack Obama’s State Department, while Energy East, stretching from Albertan oil fields to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick is still seeking regulatory approval.

Line 9, a controversial pipeline project to carry crude oil from Western Canada and the Bakken region of Montana from Sarnia, Ontario to Montreal received NEB approval in March. The TransMountain and Flanagan South/Seaway pipelines are also in the works and set to expand the volume of oil flowing out of Alberta by many thousands of barrels daily.

The conditions Ottawa has placed on Enbridge “are not real conditions” and only account for three per cent of possible spill volume. 

After the news broke, federal Green party leader Elizabeth May told reporters she was not shocked at the announcement. “There was no suspense in this decision,” May said. 

“It’s no real surprise,” echoed federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair. “Harper approved it three years ago.” The NDP leader said the conditions Ottawa has placed on Enbridge “are not real conditions” and only account for three per cent of possible spill volume. 

Calling the approval "a threat to social order and social peace," Mulcair also promised his government would sideline this decision if elected in the 2015 general election.

Andrew Reeves is an environmental writer completing a book about Asian carp in North America. He is a contributing editor at Alternatives Journal and This Magazine’s environmental columnist. His work has also appeared in the Globe & MailSpacing and Corporate Knights.

Follow him on Twitter.

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