Is the Northern Gateway Pipeline a good idea?

For the developers of the oilsands, the markets of Asia are an attractive final destination for Alberta's black crude. But the journey from Fort McMurray to China involves building a pipeline hundreds of kilometres long through some of the most untouched land in Canada, part of that pristine wilderness is hailed by the national geographic as "Paradise". Hearings begin this week on whether the Northern Gateway pipeline is a good idea.

Today's guest host was Nancy Wilson.

Part One of The Current


It's Monday, January 9th.

The owners of Mountain Dew say it's impossible that a man found a mouse in his pop, because the drink would have dissolved the rodent.

Currently, it's true. Doing the Dew just cost me a leg.

This is The Current.

Northern Gateway Pipeline - Natural Resources Defense Council

A federal hearing into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline begins tomorrow. If Enbridge gets the green light, the 5.5-billion-dollar project would carry half a million barrels of oil sands crude a day, over 1,170 kilometres through Alberta, the Rocky Mountains and northern British Columbia ... depositing it at a yet-to-be-built port in Kitimat, B.C. From there, tankers would ship the oil to Asia.

The Northern Gateway proposal raises great expectations of jobs and economic development. But it's also a source of high anxiety for those who worry about the pipeline's passage through the Great Bear Rainforest -- one of the world's largest intact temperate rainforests. As a result, this week might just mark the start of the mother of all public hearings with more than four thousand people registered to weigh in on the pros and cons of the pipeline.

There's certainly no shortage of opinions on the subject in Northern BC. Robert Lapointe is an engineer with his own firm in Kitimat, and Gerald Amos is a member of the Haisla First Nation and the conservation group, the Headwaters Initiative Project. And they shared their thoughts on a future with the Northern Gateway.

But the debate over whether the Northern Gateway pipeline should proceed is not confined to BC, or even to Canada, for that matter. As the hearings open this week, a lot more of the world will be watching. That includes European environmental activists. We heard from Suzanne Dhaliwal of the group, UK Tar Sands Network.

While groups like UK Tar Sands Network have been beating the drum from across the Atlantic, environmentalists in the United States - Canada's main customer for oil exports - have been helping to finance Canadian environmental groups in their anti-pipeline activism. That's irked Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who says his government will look into measures to prevent opponents of energy projects from "hijacking" the approval process. And Harper's not the only pipeline supporter raising concerns about foreign involvement.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, based in Washington, DC, is a vocal opponent of the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. The group is mobilizing its 1.3 million members -- including stars like Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio -- to fight the proposal.

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz is the International Program Director of the NRDC, and she was in our Washington studio.

Northern Gateway Pipeline - Wenran Jiang

Environmentalists aren't the only ones watching this project closely from afar. China, South Korea and Japan are the presumed destinations for the oil that may eventually flow though the Northern Gateway.

Wenran Jiang is a longtime observer of Chinese energy markets, and China's interest in the oil sands. He's a senior fellow at the Asia Pacific Foundation and he teaches political science at the University of Alberta. We reached Professor Jiang at his home in Edmonton.

We requested an interview with federal Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver, but he was not available to speak with us this morning.

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