Reaction is rolling in from across B.C. to the federal government's decision to approve the Northern Gateway Pipeline project proposed by Enbridge, which will carry petroleum and condensate from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, B.C.
The decision, which came down on Tuesday, is subject to 209 conditions recommended by the National Energy Board, and further talks with aboriginal communities.
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A Joint Review Panel that heard from communities along the proposed route ended six months ago with the NEB‛s approval of the project, giving the federal government 180 days to decide on its fate.
Although this could be the final step in the regulatory process that began in May 2010, the B.C. provincial government has the power to grant or deny dozens of other permits needed for its construction.
'Our position remains unchanged: it is no'
In a live teleconference after the announcement, B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the federal government's decision was not a surprise but that the provincial government had not altered its position.
“Our position remains unchanged: it is no,” said Polak. “So far this project has only met B.C.’s first condition, there are four other conditions that have not yet been met."
The four outstanding conditions are:
- Deploying world-leading marine oil-spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.'s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments.
- Using world-leading practices for land oil-spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines.
- Addressing legal requirements regarding aboriginal and treaty rights, and ensuring First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project.
- Ensuring British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.
The fifth condition — a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed — was met today.
“It is adherence to these five conditions that has driven this process forward. If there’s going to be any further progress, it will be based on those five conditions,” said Polak.
Polak also emphasized the need for Enbridge to show the pipeline would have no adverse environmental effects in order for the provincial permits required to build the pipeline to be issued.
“We understand the economic benefits the Northern Gateway pipeline will bring, but it will not be at the cost of our environment.”
She also acknowledged that many First Nations and environmental groups have vowed to block the pipeline's construction through legal action, protests and a possible referendum.
“We know from the expressions of concern from First Nations that there’s a tremendous amount of work still to be done,” she said.
“The reaction of First Nations is an important concern of ours, and one of the reasons why dealing with First Nations has been placed as one of our five conditions.”
“It’s certainly up to citizens if they wish to put forward a referendum initiative…but it’s impossible to speculate on what impact it might have.”
'I am deeply, deeply disappointed'
Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said he was deeply upset and angered by the decision.
"In spite of the fact we expected the Harper government to pander to 'big oil', I sit here deeply, deeply disappointed with the Harper government,” he said speaking to the CBC’s Evan Solomon on Power & Politics.
“[It is] absolutely dismissing the rights and interests of First Nations people in the province of British Columbia, not to mention the overwhelming opposition of ordinary British Columbians to this ill-conceived heavy oil project.
"It's just absolute arrogance on the part of the Harper government."
'Worse odds than playing Russian roulette'
In a press release, the B.C. Green Party called on the provincial government to stop the pipeline.
"The Federal Government continues to ignore the will of British Columbians," Deputy Leader Andrew Weaver, MLA was quoted in the release.
"The fact is, Kitimat is opposed to this project. First Nations are opposed to it. British Columbians are opposed to it. It’s time for the provincial government to draw a line in the sand, and reject the Northern Gateway project."
Environmental organizations Nature Canada and B.C. Nature echoed the B.C. Green Party's sentiments.
"It is most disconcerting that the federal government has chosen to gloss over the risk of oil spills and the environmental harm that such spills would cause," said Stephen Hazell, interim executive director of Nature Canada.
"The expert evidence before the panel was that there is one in four chance that a pipeline has a major spill in its lifespan – those are worse odds than playing Russian roulette."
The $7.9-billion project proposes to build two pipelines stretching 1,177 kilometres from Alberta to B.C.
One of the lines would carry around 525,000 barrels per day of petroleum west to Kitimat, allowing Canadian oil producers to reach the emerging markets of Asia.
The other line to Bruderheim, Alta, would carry around 193,000 barrels per day of condensate — a toxic mix of liquid hydrocarbons that forms during the extraction of natural gas and is used as a thinning agent to dilute and help transport heavy oils such as bitumen.
The majority of the pipeline would be buried underground.