First Nations leaders, local politicians and conservation groups say an oil spill at an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin proves the proposed Northern Gateway project is too risky to be approved.

Last week, about 190,000 litres of oil seeped out of an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin, which was delivering Canadian crude to Chicago-area refineries.

"Premier Clark is right that we need to stand up to Alberta's aggressive oil agenda, but selling our coast and rivers out from under us is not the way to do it," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said at a news conference in Vancouver on Monday.

"First Nations right across B.C. have vowed we will never allow Enbridge's pipeline and tankers, and non-natives are united with us in a growing groundswell of unity to protect all of us from oil spills. The right move for Premier Clark is to take decisive action and join us in slamming shut the door on dangerous oil tanker and pipeline projects."

Northern Gateway is at the centre of an argument between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford over how to fairly divvy up the project's risks and rewards.

At Monday’s press conference, opponents said the pipeline would cross hundreds of B.C. rivers and streams, and pave the way for tankers to pass "through whale habitat, fishing grounds and other sensitive marine areas.

"Protecting our salmon streams and our ocean coast from oil spills is not negotiable," said former B.C. Liberal leader and former federal environment minister David Anderson.

"No amount of money can protect our coast, and no amount of money can repair the damage of a spill of heavy Alberta crude oil…. It is high time for the Enbridge Northern Gateway application to be rejected."

'Not for sale'

Numerous municipalities have formally opposed the project, as has the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

"British Columbians have made clear that our coast and our communities are not for sale," said Jennifer Rice, a city councilor in Prince Rupert.

"Our issue isn't the money — it's about risking our fishing and tourism economies for oil tankers and pipelines. Of course Premier Clark should stand up for B.C., but the only responsible stand is to say no to oil tankers and tarsands pipelines, period."

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Pipeline opponents at a press conference Monday morning said their concerns about the Northern Gateway project go beyond money. (Terry Donnelly/CBC)

Last week, the province laid out five new requirements that all new crude oil pipelines would have to meet before getting provincial approval, including completing the environmental review process, deploying world-leading marine oil-spill response systems for B.C.'s coastline, and ensuring B.C. receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project.

"The government's pipeline pre-conditions will not protect B.C. from oil spills, as evidenced by Enbridge's latest spill, just three days ago," said Josh Paterson, staff lawyer at West Coast Environmental Law Association.

"As the premier has recognized, government pipeline and tanker safety requirements can't eliminate the risk of pipeline ruptures or ship accidents. That's why so many people in B.C. have said we won't accept oil tankers and pipelines under any conditions."

Tremendous safety record

Enbridge, meanwhile, says people need to start considering its pipeline proposal based on facts — not emotion.

"We have a tremendous safety record notwithstanding the occasional accident," said spokesperson Paul Stanway.

Stanway calls much of the opposition to the project inflammatory.

"This debate should be carried on a factual level. People need to understand we have good answers to a lot of the concerns that have been raised," he said. "It's pretty hard to have a constructive dialogue when their starting position is, 'We don’t want your project.'"

The pipeline must pass a National Energy Board review, which is currently underway and expected to wrap up in 2013. B.C. will get its chance to cross-examine Enbridge this fall.

The $5.5-billion, 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway project would bring bitumen to Kitimat from the Alberta oilsands. The company recently announced a slate of safety improvements, including thicker pipe and better monitoring, that pushed the project's cost by $500 million to $6 billion.