Proponents behind Northern Gateway ask for 3-year extension

The proponents behind the Northern Gateway pipeline are asking the National Energy Board for three more years to start building the controversial project.
The project would see the Northern Gateway Pipeline travel 1,177 kilometres and deliver bitumen from Alberta to B.C.'s coastline. (Enbridge/Canadian Press)

The proponents behind the Northern Gateway pipeline are asking the National Energy Board for three more years to start building the controversial project.

Northern Gateway and 31 aboriginal equity partners say they need the time to secure legal and regulatory certainty and continue consultations with First Nations and Metis communities.

"From the beginning, Northern Gateway should have done a better job of building relationships with First Nations and Metis communities," Northern Gateway president John Carruthers​ said in a statement Friday.

"While we had the right intentions, we should have done a better job of listening and fostering these critical relationships and developing our plans together as true partners," he said.

Currently, Enbridge is required to start construction by the end of this year as one of the 209 conditions attached to the 2014 federal approval of the project.

The $6.5 billion pipeline would carry an average of 525,000 barrels of oil from near Edmonton to the deepwater port of Kitimat, B.C., and help open up Alberta oilsands crude to international markets.

"Northern Gateway has changed," Carruthers said. "We know this process requires time and we are committed to getting it right."

The project has secured the support of 18 First Nations and Metis communities in Alberta and 13 in British Columbia, all of which are members of the aboriginal equity partners.

But the pipeline has faced stiff opposition from some First Nations groups and others who have voiced environmental concerns, citing the potential for leaks and the likelihood of increased carbon emissions.

A court challenge brought forward by the Gitga'at First Nation and Coastal First Nations, which represents nine aboriginal communities along B.C.'s northern and central coasts, won a legal victory in January against the pipeline.

The British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the federal assessment that gave a green light to Northern Gateway didn't consult enough with the plaintiffs and that B.C. must conduct its own consultations and decide independently on whether the project can go ahead.

Kelly Russ, chairman of the Coastal First Nations, said they don't support the pipeline in any form. He said Enbridge can apply for its extension, but the extra time isn't going to sway their position.

"The reply from us is going to be no different," he said.

"We're of the view it will have a severe impact on First Nations traditional territory in the event of a spill and we just don't support it at the end of the day."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to formalizing a ban on tanker traffic on B.C.'s north coast that some say could derail the project.

The aboriginal equity partners that have supported the pipeline said they met with Transport Minister Marc Garneau in January and "vigorously communicated" their position that they expect to be consulted on the proposed ban.