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Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

Canada Approves Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline, But This Doesn't Mean It Will Be Built

Elizabeth Shope

Posted June 17, 2014

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Today, the Canadian Federal Government approved Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, kicking off a provincial decision-making process about the pipeline that will likely result in rejection of this risky project. The pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels per day of tar sands from Alberta to Canada's west coast, presenting huge spill risks in hard-to-access places that have mobilized First Nations and the majority of British Columbians against the project. Those two constituencies, representing a politically-powerful front, make Northern Gateway a long-shot at best, no matter what spin we may hear out of Ottawa.

Today's federal approval is conditional on Enbridge meeting the 209 conditions laid out by the Joint Review Panel in December. Even if the Government of Canada determines that these 209 conditions have been met, this approval does not mean that the pipeline will be built. It does, however, signal that the Canadian government is not serious about meeting its climate commitments—an issue of seemingly growing concern and one that will further harden hearts against Northern Gateway.

As I wrote in my June 6 blog, what you really need to know about this pipeline is that there is incredibly strong opposition from more than 130 First Nations and from the people of British Columbia, both of whom have the legal authority to stop the pipeline. Unlike in the United States, where federal approval is the final approval needed for Keystone XL to begin construction, in Canada, federal approval of Northern Gateway is a preliminary step that kicks off a long process including application for dozens of provincial permits – meaning that approval to begin construction is far from guaranteed. What’s more, BC Premier Christy Clark has laid out 5 conditions that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline through British Columbia must meet, including that the land and coast must be protected from oil spills, and that the legal requirements regarding aboriginal and treaty rights must be addressed.  Just yesterday, BC Premier Christy Clark stated that “on the five conditions, none of the proposals have met the five conditions yet.  And therefore none of them would be approved by the Province of British Columbia…Enbridge has not met them yet, and they need to if they will be approved by our province.” British Columbia has 60 permits that they can grant or withhold from Northern Gateway, so without provincial support, the pipeline cannot be built.

Art Sterrit, of the Coastal First Nations said in a statement today:

Regardless of this decision, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline will be never be built, because First Nations and others in British Columbia won't allow it, and they have the legal power to prevent it. This pipeline is doomed because it is highly risky and provides no reward to the people being asked to bear that risk.

The Northern Gateway pipeline presents not only a risk of pipeline spills in hard-to-access places that could contaminate important salmon rivers and traditional First Nation territory, but also the threat of oil tanker spills along the BC coast, where tankers have to navigate challenging passages, sometimes in extremely hostile weather conditions.

What’s more, tar sands oil is more carbon-intensive than conventional oil and is a step backwards at a time when we are working to move toward a clean energy future.  Even as the US is taking important steps to address its largest source of carbon emissions, this pipeline is designed to boost Canada’s—putting the Harper Administration further away from international commitments and the broader effort to confront global warming in North America. Similarly to Keystone XL, Northern Gateway presents an unacceptable risk to land, water, communities and climate and should not be built. Thankfully, the opposition is so strong, it probably won’t be… You can add your voice and call on BC Premier Christy Clark to reject this dangerous tar sands pipeline at

Enbridge Thumbs Up Firsts Up Graphic.jpg

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Michael BerndtsonJun 18 2014 10:19 AM

I'm not sure if this falls under shameless promotion, but I put together a crude oil pipeline map through Illinois using EIA mapping data. Did this on my spare time, like, Kramer made pasta sculptures (fusilli Jerry) on Seinfeld. Transcanada's Keystone is doing fine with or without Keystone XL. Canada lines are Canada's problem. Enbridge is already feeding refineries with diluted bitumen from tar sands at an ever increasing rate. And with pipeline modifications, new projects and reversals, there will be more pipeline capacity than what can be mined. For awhile, at least. Tar sands are already flowingly swimmingly to the gulf and beyond. I'm guessing Enbridge benefits from Transcanada's permitting problems.

A Proud CanadianJun 18 2014 11:59 PM

As I wrote in my June 6 response to your June 6 blog.........

So your opinion is noted. Great. The Joint Review panel overseeing the analysis of this thinks otherwise.
To say that it never will be built is plain wrong. If our federal government approves it. It will be built. It will likely take longer though …. This is known as well.
You will be glad to know that although the NRDC’s desire for the US to continue using OPEC oil might come true with a cancelling of Keystone, Canada will eventually get its oil to market and allow others to reduce their dependency on those villans.

Wow.Did you just call the decision on carbon pollution “landmark”.
30% by 2030 …….So in the meantime the word will produce 36-42Bt/yr*16yrs or 576Bt-672Bt of CO2. And only after that it will stop 540Mt CO2/yr or about 1.2% of world CO2 emissions per year.
Repeat. It will save 1.2% on world CO2 emissions after the world releases 1200 times that savings over the preceding 16 years.
Is this all that your country is prepared to do? Where is the ACTION?
Why don’t you guys get serious.

One more time….
Your State department has shown no big increases in CO2 emissions by Keystone (you need to update your understanding of the issue).

Michael BerndtsonJun 19 2014 01:14 PM

Proud Canadian, NRDC's position is correct on pipeline takeaways for feeding the world Alberta goo. They sort of have missed showing much concern about existing US/Canada cross border pipelines. Why? I have no clue. I just enjoy reading this blog.

You may want to revisit your mass and energy balances. There's only one atmosphere upon which to define the system. Oil gets around and burned within the system, regardless of country of origin. And to conclude in two words: Rob Ford.

A Proud CanadianJun 19 2014 06:48 PM

My point is that Alberta “goo” is the same as the rest of the world’s “goo” (including the US) yet those are not actively harvested for enviro-profit. I just wonder why.
Also, why are your typical replies to me structured:
-Incorrect statement
-Irrelevant statement
-Semi-science cryptic statement
-Adolescent statement?

In any case here is a question for you (assuming that you live in the US)………
You need to fill your car with gas…. You pull up to a gas station and they have 2 pumps. One says “refined in the USA from Canadian oil”. The other says “refined in the USA from Saudi oil”. Which do you choose?

P.S. Nice link and good work on the pipeline info. Including real (and relevant) info to the conversation is always welcomed. Many here do not do that.

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