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