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Elizabeth Shope’s Blog

Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline to B.C. Will Never Be Built, Despite Support from Review Panel; Keystone XL is the Lynchpin for Tar Sands Expansion

Elizabeth Shope

Posted December 20, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Yesterday, the Joint Review Panel that has been reviewing the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline that would carry 525,000 barrels per day of tar sands from Alberta to the Northern British Columbia Coast issued a report recommending approval of the pipeline with 209 conditions. The response from First Nations and environmental groups in B.C. was swift and strong, issuing one clear message: this pipeline and the associated tar sands development and tanker traffic are not in the public interest, and it will never be built. These are not idle words. This project needs support from First Nations and social license to be able to proceed – neither of which it has. In fact, First Nations have said they are prepared to go to court in order to fight this project, and more than 15,000 people have signed on to a Solidarity Accord, pledging to stand with the Yinka Dene Alliance and, “with your voice, in the streets, or on the land. Whatever it takes, we will stop this project from ever being built, together.” This all goes to show that Keystone XL – not Northern Gateway – is the lynchpin for tar sands expansion, as Enbridge’s misguided project isn’t going anywhere any time soon.

The Joint Review Panel process was flawed from the beginning, failing to include many important impacts, such as from extracting and refining the tar sands the pipeline would carry, or from burning the fuel. If it weren’t dealing with such a serious issue, it would be comical. The report indicates:

Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities. 

Not a sufficiently direct connection? So, the tar sands that the pipeline would transport would somehow not actually be extracted from anywhere? What is this even supposed to mean? What’s worse, as Chris Turner from Desmog Blog points out, while the panel didn’t think the environmental and social effects from tar sands development made sense to consider because there’s supposedly no direct connection with tar sands development, they did consider the purported economic benefits: “We have taken into consideration that Western Canadian crude oil supply and the demand for imported condensate are forecast to grow significantly over the life of the project.”

The Panel’s report reads in other places somewhat like one of those drug advertisements that tell you that sometimes heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, liver failure, and even death may occur from taking the drug, but it’s really great, so you should take it anyways! Talking about the possibility of a large oil spill, the JRP writes:

In the unlikely event of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by Aboriginal groups. We found that these adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread. We recognize that reduced or interrupted access to lands, waters, or resources used by Aboriginal groups, including for country foods, may result in disruptions in the ability of Aboriginal groups to practise their traditional activities. We recognize that such an event would place burdens and challenges on affected Aboriginal groups. We find that such interruptions would be temporary. We also recognize that, during recovery from a spill, users of lands, waters, or resources may experience disruptions and possible changes in access or use.

Ian McAllister of Pacific Wild Alliance responded to this by saying, “It is inconceivable how the NEB could dismiss the impacts that an oil spill could have on the B.C. coast as being ‘significant’ but not ‘permanent’, while Alaskans are still living with the devastation to their coastal environment caused by the Exxon Valdez disaster more than 20 years later.”

Spills were just one of the many concerns voiced by the 1,161 people who spoke publicly at the hearings – where all but two people were opposed to the Northern Gateway project. In Section 2.3 of the Northern Gateway report, entitled “What were the public concerns?” the JRP notes that people had many concerns – about the likelihood and consequences of malfunctions and accidents; the effects of construction and routine operations on the environment; the economic soundness, costs, benefits, design, construction, and operations; and the effects of the project on society, culture, and Aboriginal people. Yet they brush it off, saying that “Northern Gateway made commitments during the hearings to address many of these concerns.” Never mind the fact that there is no way to enforce most of their commitments.

So the report is shockingly bad, which is disappointing, but not really very surprising – but it really doesn’t matter, because even if Prime Minister Harper goes ahead and approves the pipeline (approval or denial by the Prime Minister is the next step in this process), it’s still not going to be built. Chief Marilyn Slett from the Heiltsuk Nation said,

“It is us who will bear the risks to our economy, our environment, our way of life and to our cultural identity if the Project moves forward…. We will use any means necessary – including legal action – to protect our Aboriginal Rights and Title. That’s the message we delivered to the JRP and that’s the message we will continue to share until Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project is dead.”

The Lake Babine First Nation shared a similar message from their Chief Wilf Adam, disparaging the process and project:

“The JRP process simply isn’t designed to properly consider the full impacts of the pipeline on aboriginal rights, which are protected by the Constitution of Canada. The Federal Government has gutted Canada’s environmental laws and streamlined the environmental assessment process to the detriment of all Canadians, but it has not taken away the constitutional protection given to our aboriginal rights. The JRP recommendations have made it clear to us that we are being forced to go to the courts to protect our aboriginal rights.”

NRDC will continue to stand by the more than 130 First Nations opposing and fighting the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline, but right now, despite yesterday’s report, we think its chances are slim. We will continue to review the Joint Review Panel report over the coming days, but right now, it’s looking like this pipeline's chances are even lower than the also-misguided Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Financial analysts give this pipeline very slim chances of ever being built due to the strong opposition it faces from First Nations. In the mean time, Alberta is rapidly running out of pipeline capacity to export their tar sands. Those who try to say that Keystone XL will not affect tar sands production because the tar sands will just be sent to China have no idea what this pipeline is up against. I am proud to be standing with the Yinka Dene Alliance in opposing Northern Gateway, and you can, too, by signing on to the Solidarity Accord or writing to B.C. premier Christy Clark and asking her to stand up for B.C. She has rejected the Enbridge pipeline and we hope she will make it clear to Harper that she will not grant the permits necessary for this project to go ahead, no matter what the JRP says.

Rally at Burns Lake Credit Pat Moss.jpg1,000 Drums Rally at Burns Lake opposing Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. Credit: Pat Moss. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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