If Enbridge Inc. plans to operate its planned pipeline in British Columbia the way it did in Michigan, where millions of litres of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River, the company can "forget it," B.C. Premier Christy Clark said Wednesday.

The premier's statements are her strongest yet in connection with the Northern Gateway project, but she is still refusing to take a position on the proposed 1,170-kilometre pipeline between Alberta's oil sands and the B.C. coast.

The province has said it plans to remain neutral on the pipeline proposal until the ongoing environmental process is complete, and Clark's comments on Wednesday did not represent a significant shift from what she and her Liberal government have already said.

Still, Clark had strong words for the Calgary-based energy company when asked about a report by U.S. investigators that concluded Enbridge handled a July 2010 oil spill in southwestern Michigan like the "Keystone Cops." Clark called the company's actions "disgraceful."

"I think the company should be deeply embarrassed about what unfolded — we saw that in the report," Clark told reporters in Kamloops, B.C.

"If they think they're going to operate like that in British Columbia, forget it."

Cleanup still underway

The head of the U.S. National Transportation Safe Board was highly critical of Enbridge's response to the spill, allowing oil to gush into the area for 17 hours before it was stopped.  Enbridge is still cleaning up the heavy crude.

Clark said she has safety concerns about the proposed B.C.-Alberta pipeline, and she said the company must alleviate those concerns if it wants to do business in the province.

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Crews in Marshall Township, Mich. clean up oil from the Enbridge pipeline leak in July 2010. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

"I think Enbridge has some pretty important questions to answer, because the results of that report are absolutely unacceptable."

She said her government is watching the review process currently underway at Canada's National Energy Board.

Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier said the company is committed to learning from the Michigan spill to ensure something similar never happens again.

Nogier said the company has made numerous changes to its procedures and training.

"I think the report underlines the importance of continuing the dialogue with all British Columbians, to hear their concerns with respect to the Gateway project, but also to have conversations around our plans around safety and environmental protections," Nogier said in an interview.

Mulcair opposes project

The spill fouled more than 50 kilometres of waterways and wetlands. About 320 people reported symptoms from crude oil exposure. Enbridge's cleanup costs have exceeded $800 million.

In Vancouver Wednesday, federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair said the Northern Gateway project is too risky and his party opposes it.

"I don’t think it’s ever made sense to have those super tankers going along that pristine coast, those extremely delicate ecosystems," Mulcair said.

The NDP leader also cited Tuesday’s report on the Michigan spill.

"As far as we're concerned, the final nail in the coffin of Northern Gateway was the damning report from senior American officials."

B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins said Wednesday that his party supports the pipeline proposal.

"We believe and support the notion of the Enbridge pipeline. We think it would be good for B.C. and good for Canada to get a better price on the world market for oil."

 

With files from the CBC's Tim Weekes