Northern Gateway pipeline project: 6 things to know

An independent three-member panel is set to hand down its final report today on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, a decision that will include recommendations to the federal government on whether the project should be approved.

Federal review of proposed crude oil pipeline to be released on Thurdsay afternoon

A protester holds a sign shaped like a whale during a November demonstration against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver. An independent three-member panel from the National Energy Board is set to hand down its final report today on the project. (Canadian Press)

An independent three-member panel is set to hand down its final report today on the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, a decision that will include recommendations to the federal government on whether the project should be approved.

If approved, the report will include a number of terms and conditions Enbridge must follow, but the federal government will have 180 days to make the final decision on the project.

The $7.9-billion project proposes to build two pipelines stretching 1,177 kilometres from Bruderheim, Alta., to Kitimat, 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 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,

1. Public hearings, environmental impact all part of the panel decision

The panel held hearings for more than a year throughout Alberta and B.C., listening to issues raised and information submitted by a number of people, including business leaders, environmental and aboriginal groups and members of the public.

Danny Nunes holds a sign in support of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project outside hearings in Kitimaat Village, B.C., in January 2012. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The panel's decision is supposed to be based on the information learned from those hearings, its examination of the potential environmental effects of the project and their significance. It also looked into issues relating to routing and land matters, safety and economic feasibility and whether the project is in the Canadian public interest.

As well, the panel was to determine what technically and economically feasible measures could be implemented to mitigate any adverse environmental effects.

2. Environmental and First Nations groups oppose the project

Environmental groups and aboriginal communities oppose the pipeline for a number of reasons, including the risk of oil spills and leaks, the effects on the environment and the risks from increased tanker traffic through B.C.'s Douglas Channel.

The B.C. government told the panel it did not support the pipeline as initially proposed, and more than 130 aboriginal bands signed a declaration against the project.

Opponents are also against the increased production from the oilsands, which they say will just further increase greenhouse gases and pollution.

3. Why Enbridge says it's safe and economical

Enbridge claims the pipeline will create over 3,000 construction jobs and 560 long-term jobs in B.C, which it says would translate to $32 million per year in earned income flowing into local economies.

As for safety issues, Enbridge says a team of over 200 experts and scientists conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment of the project route, and that 70 per cent of the route will go through previously disturbed land.

The pipeline itself will be made from steel that is 20 per cent thicker than required, Enbridge says, and will be monitored around the clock from its control centre.

4. The panel has already laid out 199 conditions for the project

In April, the panel laid out nearly 200 conditions (199 to be exact) that the project had to meet in order to proceed. These conditions included rigorous pipeline inspections every two years to check for cracks and almost $1 billion in liability coverage in the event of a catastrophic oil spill.

The company must also have a plan for monitoring the pipeline's effect on the environment and submit plans for monitoring species at risk, including proposals for caribou habitat restoration

5. The project sparked a fight between Alberta and B.C.

The premiers of B.C. and Alberta clashed over dividing the revenues from the project. B.C. Premier Christy Clark had insisted that since her province was taking on the majority of the environmental risk, it should be compensated. But Alberta Premier Alison Redford rejected sharing the revenue, suggesting the province would have to look to the federal government for a transfer payment if it wanted a larger share of the pipeline revenue. 

In November, a deal on moving energy resources to new markets was reached between the two leaders, which included B.C. agreeing to leave revenue sharing from the Northern Gateway project off the table.

6. The pipeline could be ready by 2018

In an interview with The Canadian Press in October, Enbridge senior vice-president Vern Yu said the company expects a decision from the federal government by mid-2014, meaning the pipeline could be moving oil by 2018.

"We expect that there would be some appeals to that decision and that would take us into early 2015, and at that point we would be able to start construction, which would allow for somewhere around a 2018 in-service date," Yu said.

With files from The Canadian Press