No Surprise: Panel finds in favour of Enbridge

No Surprise: Panel finds in favour of Enbridge

No Surprise: Panel finds in favour of Enbridge
Former Enbridge CEO and Northern Gateway champion Patrick Daniel

Updated 3:20 PM PST

CALGARY – A review panel has recommended that the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands to tankers on the British Columbia coast go ahead.

But the panel has attached 209 conditions, which cover everything from protecting caribou habitat to research into how the oil would behave in a marine environment.

The controversial proposal has pitted Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) against environmental groups and First Nations, who have raised concerns about potential oilspills on land or in the water off the B.C. coast. The panel says any environmental effects can be mitigated effectively if its conditions are met.

Supporters say the pipeline is critical if Alberta is to get its oil to emerging markets in Asia. The panel’s report says that opening up that market is important to the Canadian economy and the benefits far outweigh the risks.

The panel did suggest that Enbridge must be able to prove it would have the financial resources immediately available to respond to any cleanup of a spill or other damage.

“Northern Gateway must file with the (National Energy Board) for approval, at least nine months prior to applying for leave to open, a financial assurances plan … capable of covering the costs of liabilities for … cleanup, remediation and other damages caused by the project during the operation phase,” the report says.

The final decision rests with the federal government, which has roughly six months to respond.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said the government will thoroughly review the report and consult with aboriginal groups before making that decision.

The cost of the pipeline appears to have sky-rocketed. It had been pegged at more than $6 billion, but the report released Thursday used a $7.9-billion price tag, which includes pre-development costs and marine navigation enhancements.

Enbridge said in a news release that it will work toward meeting the conditions.

“We will closely analyze the panel’s conditions — many of which reflect commitments we put forward at the hearings — and continue to listen and be open to change,” project leader Janet Holder said.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province wants to assess whether the panel’s report addresses five conditions B.C. has set out before it will support the pipeline.

[quote]We are not yet in a position to consider support for any heavy oil pipeline in B.C.[/quote]

The Alberta government welcomed the panel’s recommendation that the pipeline go ahead. Environment Minister Diana McQueen called it a “critical milestone toward getting Alberta’s oil to new international markets.”

Reaction from opponents was swift.

The Raincoast Conservation Foundation said political and corporate agendas won out over the interests of the public. And David Miller of the World Widlife Fund questioned how the panel could acknowledge the environmental risks, but still support the pipeline.

“I think the case is very clear that there is a real risk to the environment, the local economy and the social well-being of people who live in this region,” Miller said. “The (joint review panel) agrees with that yet it’s full steam ahead.

“I think that decision is very unwise.”

Miller suggested it’s still important for people to voice their concerns.

[quote]It’s in the political arena now and it’s up to people to continue to speak up. Our First Nations friends have legal rights as well, and I’m quite certain that coastal First Nations and others will be looking to ensure that their legal rights are respected.[/quote]

If approved by the federal government, the pipeline will probably be just the first to put billions of dollars into the coffers of Alberta, Ottawa and other provincial governments — not to mention the bank accounts of Enbridge and the international companies with a stake in the project.

The pipeline faced an uphill battle in B.C. where the environmental movement was bolstered by a decades-old “War in the Woods” against old-growth logging.

Enbridge and the oilpatch drastically underestimated the power of Green Corp., the older, wiser and better-funded modern version of the tie-dyed denizens who were arrested trying to save trees in the 1990s. Flush with cash from green philanthropists largely from south of the border, groups such as Forest Ethics Advocacy, the Dogwood Initiative and Rising Tides mounted a relentless campaign in Canada and abroad.

Growing concern over climate change has been a factor.

Northern Gateway and other pipeline projects — Keystone XL to the U.S. Gulf Coast, the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 through Ontario and Quebec, and Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain line to Metro Vancouver — mean production in the Alberta oilsands could triple by 2035, also increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

But protests in B.C. have been more of the grassroots, not-in-my-ocean variety.

There are also concerns that the heavy, molasses-like diluted bitumen coming from the oilsands is more corrosive and difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

But perhaps the toughest hurdle for the project has been the simmering tension between B.C. First Nations and the federal government.

Unlike the rest of Canada, most First Nations in the westernmost province never signed treaties with the Crown. Decades of treaty negotiations have largely gone nowhere and aboriginal rights have been left to the courts.

Before Enbridge ever filed its application for the pipeline, Ottawa made the decision to let the joint review by the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency stand for its duty to consult with First Nations.

“The federal government would not support a process for aboriginal consultation separate from the (joint review panel) process…,” said an internal Aboriginal Consultation Plan obtained by The Canadian Press using an Access to Information request.

That didn’t go well.

“We’re treated as a stakeholder in this process,” Carrie Henchitt, a lawyer for the Heiltsuk Nation, said as the panel hearings became increasingly adversarial earlier this year. “We are not just stakeholders. We have specific rights very different from other interest groups.”

Many aboriginal groups opposed to the pipeline refused to take part in the review. Several indicated they were preparing court action should the project get the nod.

The political backlash was not limited to First Nations.

The Conservative government became defensive over oilpatch expansion and Oliver branded opponents as “foreign special interests groups” that threatened to “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

The government changed the rules to give cabinet the final say on approval and rewrote rules around waterways and environmental protections.

It wasn’t until after the project was mired in controversy that Oliver announced rules that began to address some of the concerns around tanker and pipeline safety, and over liability in the event of a spill.

— With files from Dene Moore in Vancouver


21 thoughts on “No Surprise: Panel finds in favour of Enbridge

  1. This is much more than a first nations story. It is a story about bankrupt governments desperately grasping for straws with which they hope to be a cure all to their gross fiscal mismanagement.
    Or failing that, a new, but short term spending spree with which to continue their propaganda campaign on how the economy is recovering, all thanks to their insightful leadership.

    The economy is not and will not recover, and with these incredibly foolish decisions BC is guaranteed to see some very harsh economic days ahead. Once lenders decide we are not able to sustain more debt, the party ends. That day is very soon.

  2. It is a sad day for BC when a government from thousands of kilometres away can decide , against our wishes, to put our natural resources at risk. The bounties off our coast feed thousands of people, not to mention the livelihoods of more. With 209 recommendations(changes) put forth by a panel that had zero BC representation, this tells me the pipeline proposal should not proceed. Does anyone wonder why there were no British Columbians on the panel? Originally there were 5 members, 1 from Ontario, 2 from Alberta and 2 from BC. The BC members stepped down after realising this process was a sham. The panel had their minds made up before the first meetings with locals. Should BC separate? I don’t want to see it happen, but………..

  3. I’m wondering how TILMA affects this.
    TILMA restricts the actions of the BC government, due to investor-rights provisions.

  4. This is a good day for BC…..We just learned a valuable lesson of the corruption that exit in this country..Alberta’s interest is more important then BCs Future? Well my friends BC will rise up like never seen before we will send a message to the world…..What we have in BC our Native culture and our beauty is worth fighting for till the end.

  5. BC just about didn’t make it into Canada. The formerly British territories of Oregon (which included the present states of Washington and Oregon) and the Alaskan Panhandle reduced BC’s coastline by more than half by being ceded to the USA. Freebooters and muleskinners from around the world, but mostly American, were flooding into the colony to strike it rich in the goldfields of Barkerville, Indians were getting restless at the affront, eventually sparking the Chilcotin War, fur bearing animals, such as there were, were getting trapped out and the colonial office was getting increasingly worried about this most remote possession in the realm, insolvent, far off British mercantile routes and becoming a general pain in the ass. At one point American miners outnumbered British subjects and inoculated the future province with a subliminal republican sentiment. And Indians outnumbered them all. Head Office must have been delighted that, through the agency of John A MacDonald, Canadian taxpayers and big rail companies would be financing a rail link in order to soliciting the distant Pacific colony to confederate with Canada, which rather regarded the provincial prospect as indifferent, ungrateful, extortive—even resistant. MacDonald pursued his strategic goal with almost fascistic zeal, vast tracts of land, rights-of-way and licenses were liberally granted and capital recouped through the pillage of the new province, freshly abandoned by its ancient inhabitants who had been nearly wiped out by smallpox some say was intentionally incubated in FN villages by way of infected blankets and supposed vaccinations. The indignities suffered by First Nations over the next century we now call, in aggregate, genocide; it allowed the virtual theft of their traditional territories while avoiding (with that one exception) overt warfare between them and the evolving parade of newcomers: first explorers and trappers, then American miners, then the rail companies and, finally, ordinary pioneers. The ten-or-so percent of FNs who survived the epidemic had, nevertheless, lost everything important, land, culture, children, mothers, fathers and grandparents.

    With the completion of the railway, BC became part of Canada, even though it would remain geographically discontiguous for the next three decades, ever sensitive to perceived sleights from eastern elites, ever demanding its share of prosperity generated in the eastern heartlands and ever reminding that it could have, maybe should have and maybe would seek its future with confederates other than Canada. Easterners’ point of view saw all of Western Canada as fundamentally different and problematic: in addition to the brats in BC, there were two rebellions on the prairies, both loaded with racial conflict. Foreign incursions by American whiskey traders and Sioux refugees from the US Cavalry necessitated treating with one of the rebel groups, the Metis: they got a province (Manitoba) but the Indians got tiny reserves, a type of extermination only a bit slower than that of their food staple, the buffalo. Acutely embarrassing was the inability for Canadian troops to move to the theatre of battle without asking the permission to travel via American road and rail. BC, as usual, complained only about the delay of the promised railway, but eventually it was finished and, as if a distraction from traditional grumbling, white society got down to exploiting BC’s rich resources as fast as possible while exploiting cheap Chinese labour as much as possible; the Indians were cut off completely, exiled internally, like they used to do in Russia, becoming doubly disenfranchised when the Numbered Treaty negotiators were told BC intended to remain the exception in Canada, where all FN claim to land would be extinguished without compensation( and worse). That exceptionalism goes hand in hand with BC’s self-percieved separateness; it explains, in part, why our brand of racism is so hard to get rid of and how we still haven’t complied with SCoC decisions that affirm FNs’ Constitutional right to treaties. The Northern Gateway pipeline proposal will now get a taste of some chickens who, despite every insult and injury have miraculously come home to roost.

    BC FNs know they have the biggest weapon against pipelines of all; broad anti-pipeline sentiment is relying heavily on this fact but it would be a mistake to presume FNs are holding back Northern Gateway as a favour to anti-pipeline people or that they share a common vision with MS BC. For many of us it’s all about the environment; for Enbridge it’s all about profit, for governments, royalties; but for BC FNs it’s about much more: it’s about their place in the universe, not in BC or Canada. They can’t treat with Enbridge, but it’s conceivable that one FN and/or another might consider allowing the pipeline if they can get a decent treaty out of it. Two things argue against this: first, Enbridge is offering a share of pipeline profits but that doesn’t hold a candle to a share of the universe. Second, there is currently solidarity amongst BC FNs, a very potent part of their collective power few if any are likely to forsake. They’ve already been through the glass bead thing and are unlikely in the extreme to repeat it.

    The review board determined Northern Gateway would be, on balance, in Canada’s best interest. ‘On balance’ means that even if the risk of a bitumen spill would be borne entirely by BC in terms of environmental degradation, the prosperity of the rest of Canada, the other 87%, would outweigh the negatives in BC. ‘On balance’ essentially means ‘unfair’ if you’re from BC.
    But since BC FNs, that is, the force that can’t be Constitutionally overturned, do not necessarily recognize any sovereignty but their own, or, put another way, do not necessarily calculate ‘balance’ in the context of a foreign nation called ‘Canada”, the concept should probably be regarded as rhetorical. It is supreme irony that in spite of the extreme oppression suffered by FNs at the hands of a sovereign Canada, BC FNs find themselves positioned to consider if it might be more efficacious to negotiate their rightful piece of the universe with a sovereign BC instead of a sovereign Canada. The extreme lopsidedness of support for Northern Gateway across Canada, where an near majority supports it at large but a strong majority oppose it in the province which must bear the risk—what the report called ‘on balance’—is just the sort of thing that always got BC pissed off. Maybe BC FNs would be better off negotiating shared sovereignties federated within a sovereign BC. That separateness, or in modern parlance, separatism, has been a part of BC from the get go; maybe the repugnance we feel toward Northern Gateway will give pause to reflect on that indelible aspect of ourselves as British Columbians and perhaps avail ourselves of an opportunity to abandon a stalled treaty process and begin a proper federative one that includes BC FNs as sovereign partners and eschews polluting bitumen from Albetar.

    BC always asked what Canada would do for us. It’s been a great ride—if you’re not aboriginal, that is—but now that we’re being told what Canada intends to do TO us, we shouldn’t wonder how or why it spurs BC separatism.

  6. “how the panel could acknowledge there are risks to the environment, yet still recommend the project.” … same mindset as … ““I determined that the designated project is likely to cause significance [sic] adverse environmental effects,” she said in her decision statement. Ms. Aglukkaq referred to the Tory cabinet which “decided that the significant adverse environmental effects that the designated project is likely to cause, are justified in the circumstances,” her statement said.”

  7. Sad day for BC but we can finally get on with what everyone knew was coming. The battles begin in the courts and on the grounds where Enbridge somehow thinks they have permission to be on the grounds doing their work. On the ground is where people will stand shoulder to shouder to help First Nations hold back the wall of colonialism.

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