Panel recommends approval for Northern Gateway pipeline, with conditions #oil
Panel recommends approval for Northern Gateway pipeline, with conditions
CALGARY — The Globe and Mail
Published Thursday, Dec. 19 2013, 4:33 PM EST
Last updated Thursday, Dec. 19 2013, 5:47 PM EST
A federal Joint Review Panel has given its blessing to Enbridge Inc’s Northern Gateway project, concluding the controversial pipeline is in the public interest, but will be subject to 209 environmental, safety and financial conditions.
The assessment of the panel — which will inform a final federal cabinet decision in about six months — said they were persuaded that the 1,178 kilometre pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast will meet an economic need by diversifying Canada’s oil market.
“After weighing all the oral and written evidence, the panel found that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project than without it,” the panel said in a news release.
The panel acknowledged the project is likely to hurt caribou and grizzly populations, and said a large oil spill would cause a significant environmental, societal and economic burden — although that large spill scenario is unlikely, and the effects would not be permanent.
The panel steered clear of larger First Nation concerns about constitutionally protected rights to traditional land, leaving those long-disputed issues to Ottawa.
The decision is a major step forward for the $6.5-billion project, and a win for the oil industry, which has been pushing for access to lucrative Asian markets. But with considerable First Nation and environmental opposition to the project, a final decision will be a difficult political test for the federal Conservative government.
Among the panel’s 209 conditions:
- Enbridge Northern Gateway must carry liability coverage of $950-million;
- Create a Gateway emergency response plan and lead research on how to deal with heavy oil spills;
- Develop a marine mammal protection plan;
- Prepare a caribou habitat restoration plan;
- Develop a training and education monitoring plan
The Northern Gateway Project team will work to meet the Joint Review Panel’s conditions, Janet Holder, leader of the project said in a news release Thursday afternoon.
“The Joint Review Panel conducted the most comprehensive and science-based pipeline review in Canadian history and their report reflects the input of thousands of Canadians,” she said. “Their report is an important step towards that goal.”
Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver said the government will review the National Energy Board report and consult with affected aboriginal groups before making a final decision. “No project will be approved unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment,” the minister said in a release.
University of British Columbia political scientist George Hoberg said he expects First Nations communities will fight against the Gateway project through the courts to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“The First Nations have been using this pipeline as a way to assert their claims. And this is how they’re going to continue pressing that test,” he said.
Mr. Hoberg added Ottawa may also face a political fight with British Columbia if it approves the pipeline.
“The question really is what the province of British Columbia does, and whether [Premier] Christy Clark chooses to dig in her heels on this. Will Mr. Harper choose to confront a significant political conflict with the province?”
Former cabinet federal industry minister Jim Prentice said the NEB report is “one of the most important regulatory decisions in modern Canadian history.”
“It’s a very important step forward, calibrating as it does the environment aspects and also dealing with some of the First Nations implications,” said Mr. Prentice, now vice-chair of the Canadian Imperial bank of Commerce, in an interview. “But as the report makes clear both the government and the proponent have continued work to do along the route and on the west coast.”
He said it will be up to Enbridge and Ottawa to reach accommodation with the aboriginal communities in order to avoid a lengthy court battle.
With files from Shawn McCarthy in Ottawa
Northern Gateway pipeline route
The following map shows the route of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, stretching from north of Edmonton, Alta., to the coastal city of Kitimat, B.C.