Thursday, June 6, 2013

BC Opposes the Northern Gateway Pipeline

The provincial government of BC has indicated that it is opposing the Northern Gateway heavy oil pipeline project due in part to environmental concerns. Although environmental concerns and aboriginal rights factor prominently, part of B.C.'s decision appears to be an attempt to sue for a bigger slice of the economic pie.

After reviewing all of the evidence B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake said, "our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings."

B.C. is dissatisfied with the responses offered to questions related to five areas of concern which serve as the province's conditions for acceptance:

  • Environmental review needs to be passed.
  • World-leading marine oil spill prevention, response.
  • World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response.
  • First Nations opportunities, treaty rights respected.
  • Fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits for B.C.

"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."

The president of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipelines project, John Carruthers, has indicated that he will attempt to allay B.C.'s concerns. While Enbridge does indicate they will try to address environmental concerns they invariably try to pitch the idea by talking about jobs and the economy.

The $5.5-billion Northern Gateway project involves the construction of two pipelines covering a total of 1,177-kilometres that will run from the Alberta oilsands to a tanker port on the North Coast of B.C. The capacity of the pipelines is expected to be 525,000 barrels of heavy oil per day.

B.C. will present its final arguments to the joint review panel on June 17. The review panel is scheduled to present a report to the federal government by the end of the year.

Alberta, which is banking on the project, tried to minimize B.C.'s opposition. Alberta's Environment and Sustainable Resource Development Minister Diana McQueen said the process will continue emphasizing that the federal government will ultimately decide the fate of the pipeline, "This is an ongoing, federally regulated review and I expect that the concerns brought forward by the government of British Columbia will be discussed and addressed through that forum," McQueen said.

These sentiments were echoed by the Federal government in Ottawa. After providing the usual environmental assurances, he indicated that he will wait until the end of the year to make a final decision, federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said, "we look forward to continued engagement with all provinces on market diversification for oil and gas."

Given the ruling federal Conservatives efforts to silence debate on the Northern Gateway project, Oliver's assurances are little more than lip-service. Support for the Northern Gateway project can be expected from both the federal government in Ottawa and the provincial government of Alberta as both are stalwart champions of big oil.

The government of B.C. has made it clear that its opposition does not constitute a final decision. "The position adopted by B.C. on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project as currently proposed is not a rejection of heavy-oil projects." Lake said.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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