The Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline Will Never Be Built
Rumor has it that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper may make a decision about the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline on Monday. But whatever his decision, there is little chance this pipeline will be built, in large part because opposition from First Nations and British Columbians will trump the federal approval. The pipeline would transport 525,000 barrels per day of tar sands from Alberta to Kitimat, on the British Columbia coast, traversing sensitive, hard-to-access ecosystems, important salmon rivers, First Nation territory, and culminating at the ocean, where large oil tankers could transport the crude anywhere in the world, threatening the BC coast with tar sands spills. The pipeline itself is too risky, and the tar sands it would transport are more carbon-intensive than conventional oil and would increase land and water pollution and human health challenges in Alberta--a giant step backwards at a time when we are beginning to embrace a clean energy future. The reality is that the tar sand industry desperately needs pipelines to expand its tar sands industry and the lack of pipelines like Northern Gateway and Keystone XL will prevent industry from developing this carbon-intensive resource. Here’s what you really need to know:
- More than 130 First Nations, many of whom have land and water that the pipeline and associated tanker traffic would traverse, have banned tar sands pipelines including Northern Gateway from crossing their lands and waters. This has strong legal significance, as a decision to build the pipeline would infringe on the BC First Nations’ constitutionally-protected Aboriginal Title and Rights.
- The British Columbia Government has formally opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline, concerned about the pipeline and tanker safety risks, and the ramifications of a tar sands spill. This is because the pipeline does not meet – and cannot meet – the 5 conditions laid out by BC Premier Christy Clark needed for BC to support the project. In addition to requiring the land and coast to be protected from oil spills, another requirement is to address the legal requirements regarding aboriginal and treaty rights. Given the unwavering opposition of First Nations to the pipeline, the only way to address this condition is by rejecting the pipeline. Premier Clark has indicated that there are 60 permits that BC has the power to grant or withhold, so that without BC support, this pipeline cannot be built. This week, more than 85,000 people from across North America have written to Premier Clark, asking her to stand strong and continue to oppose Northern Gateway and protect British Columbia’s coast.
- Multiple polls have shown that a strong majority in BC do not want to see Enbridge build the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. Just this week, a Bloomberg-Nanos poll showed that 67 percent of respondents either wanted the pipeline blocked or delayed for further review. Other polls have found similar levels of opposition. And in a Kitimat, BC plebiscite last month, 58.4% of voters voted “no” against the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline.
These multiple walls of opposition are so strong that financial analysts and the U.S. State Department in its environmental report about Keystone XL [see p. 2.2-34] have said that it is uncertain or unlikely to be built.
President Obama and Prime Minister Harper seem to be growing farther apart on climate every day. President Obama and the U.S. EPA just issued landmark draft carbon pollution standards for existing power plants, which set us on track to meet our international climate commitments. In contrast, Prime Minister Harper and the tar sands industry are pushing for an expansion of tar sands to 6 million barrels per day and for the infrastructure necessary to transport it including Keystone XL, which would pull Canada even further away from the carbon pollution reduction goals it is already missing. The Harper government is more concerned about tar sands expansion and not serious about meeting their international climate commitments.
Some people have suggested that the United States should approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to bring 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands to the U.S. Gulf Coast because if we don’t, the rhetoric goes, the tar sands will be sent to Asia via Northern Gateway instead. This couldn’t be more wrong. First, the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline will not be built, and there is growing opposition to all proposed tar sands pipelines. Second, it is time to embrace a clean energy future, which means rejecting all tar sands pipelines, limiting emissions from power plants, and rejecting dirty fuels categorically while transitioning quickly to clean energy.
Still, the fight against Northern Gateway isn’t over yet. Prime Minister Harper may approve Northern Gateway on Monday, but you can add your voice to stand with the more than 130 First Nations who have opposed Northern Gateway and ensure an approval does not mean it will ever get built.
Kermode Spirit Bear fishing for salmon in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia ©Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinski/iLCP. The magnificent spirit bears could be threatened by a tar sands pipeline or tanker spill from Northern Gateway. This photo was produced in an iLCP RAVE.
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