Northern Gateway pipeline approval ignores massive public opposition

Calgary – The joint review panel (JRP) for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline released its recommendations today, making their case that the federal government should approve the controversial project.

The final report reviewed concerns raised during 18 months of panel hearings, including issues related to emergency response capabilities and the pipeline’s environmental impacts on the dozens of fragile ecosystems and communities along the 1,177-km pipeline route.

The decision would end a long-standing moratorium on new tanker traffic off Canada’s west coast, and allow more than 250 oil tankers carrying bitumen through the narrow passages of BC’s coastline — traversing vast stretches of undisturbed wilderness, and passing through the traditional territories of 40 First Nation communities.

Many conservation groups and First Nations throughout the region remain staunchly unconvinced by the review’s recommendations, and a staggering 96 per cent of written comments submitted to the review panel, including submissions by the Province of British Columbia, opposed the project.

Ecojustice and other groups they represent at the review hearings — including ForestEthics AdvocacyLiving Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation — argue the JRP did not consider important factors in their report. These include the inevitable impacts on upstream waterways in Alberta that oil-sands expansion would enable, as well as the recently released recovery strategy for the Pacific humpback whale, which shows a clear conflict between tanker traffic and the long-term survival and recovery of the whale population.

The panel’s recommendation to approve the pipeline is a major setback for science and democracy in Canada, Ecojustice lawyers said after the report was made public.

“We submitted hundreds of pages of scientific evidence on behalf of our clients that led to one emphatic conclusion: The Northern Gateway pipeline is an unsafe, unsustainable and unnecessary project, and it does not serve the national interest of this country,” argued Ecojustice staff lawyer Barry Robinson.

Enbridge was unable to prove that it has made any substantial improvements to its emergency procedures since its disastrous Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan; a spill that has yet to be fully mopped up even three years later. “There remain important issues that are simply not adequately addressed, especially concerning marine operations,” said Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society. “Enbridge closed its case insisting that conventional spill response technology will work on unconventional oil, when it is clear that it will not in many cases.”

Conservationists were not the only ones speaking out against the proposed pipeline. Prior to the panel’s decision, the Council of the Haida Nation released A Resounding Voice – the Haida’s clear argument against having these tankers in the waters off the coast of Haida Gwaii.

“The JRP has acknowledged the limitations of its review, and until the technological and scientific work is completed, the Enbridge project cannot go ahead,” said Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, an alliance of First Nations on BC’s north and central coast and Haida Gwaii. “It’s not good enough for the federal government to say we have world class oil spill clean up technologies. The fact of the matter is that no effort has been made by oil companies to improve clean up technologies in the last 25 years.”

Cabinet will now have three months to accept or reject the panel’s final decision, although this period could be extended if required. It will be Cabinet’s first major pipeline ruling since the federal government made sweeping changes to Canada’s environmental laws in the 2012 spring omnibus budget bill. Under the new framework, Cabinet assumes final authority over environmental decision-making.

The joint review panel is an independent body mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board to assess the environmental effects of the proposed project and review the application under both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act.