Federal Government approves Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline

Amid rancor, Enbridge’s pipeline set to become a 2015 election issue

Northern Gateway route map

The proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)

Stephen Harper’s government has approved Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, with 209 conditions.

Natural Resources minister Greg Rickford issued the following statement moments ago:

“In December 2013, the Joint Review Panel found that construction and operation of the Northern Gateway Pipelines project is in the public interest, subject to 209 conditions being met by the proponent. After carefully reviewing the report, the Government accepts the independent Panel’s recommendation to impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway Pipelines’ proposal.

“Today constitutes another step in the process. Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the NEB, how it will meet the 209 conditions. It will also have to apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments. In addition, consultations with Aboriginal communities are required under many of the 209 conditions that have been established and as part of the process for regulatory authorizations and permits. The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route.”

Both major opposition parties criticized the decision, with Thomas Mulcair saying an NDP government would “set aside” the decision and Justin Trudeau suggesting he would prevent the pipeline from going ahead if he were to become prime minister.

As it is currently planned the twin pipeline will carry 525,000 barrels of bitumen a day from the oil sands west to a terminal in Kitimat on the B.C. coast, where it could be shipped to Asian refineries, as well as refined oil products used to dilute the bitumen flowing east.

Northern Gateway received approval from a joint review panel in December, though it must meet 209 conditions, including $950 million in liability coverage. Matthew McClearn suggested that didn’t guarantee cabinet approval, however, since the pipeline could still become an election issue in 2015:

The timetable set in motion by the Joint Review Panel’s conditional approval of the project on Dec. 19 could prove troublesome for the Tories. Assuming the cabinet greenlights Gateway, proponent Enbridge Inc. would begin construction in the second half of the year. That raises the possibility of court challenges by First Nations, blockades along the pipeline route between Edmonton and Kitimat, B.C., and rallies in major cities during the run-up to a federal election that must be called by October 2015.

The Conservatives have little electoral advantage to gain in pro-pipeline Alberta, where they won all but one seat in 2011. But confrontation over Northern Gateway could put their 21 (out of 36) seats in British Columbia at risk—more than enough to erase their parliamentary majority. (Both provinces will acquire six new constituencies in 2015.)

READ: Why Stephen Harper will delay approving Northern Gateway

Provincial authorities in British Columbia did not look favourably on the project, with premier Christy Clark initially announcing her government would not support Northern Gateway or any other proposed pipeline unless a series of conditions, including a “fair share” of revenue for the province. She cited particularly the risk of a spill, which would threaten B.C.’s coastal tourism earnings.

The pipeline could add up to $300 billion to Canada’s GDP over 30 years. Tax revenue in the order of $80 billion over that period, of which only $6.7 billion would accrue to B.C. versus $36 billion to the federal government and $32 billion to the province of Alberta. But Peter Shawn Taylor suggested Clark’s stance was simply a cash grab:

Risk of an oil spill is clearly an important element for any pipeline decision. But tying pipe distance to total economic return is sheer misdirection. An empty pipeline is not much use, and the oil required to fill Northern Gateway belongs entirely to Alberta. Ownership is a concept entirely foreign to B.C.’s pipeline policy. Further, the paper makes it clear Clark expects Ottawa and Enbridge to pay the full bill for spill prevention and amelioration. All of which leaves B.C.’s position looking much more like brazen loot-seeking, not altruistic environmentalism.

READ: Northern Gateway pipeline proposal a shakedown by Christy Clark

The proposal has also faced opposition from First Nations groups, some of whom have threatened court challenges if the pipeline is approved. Northern Gateway’s proposed routes includes large areas of native’s traditional territories that were never purchased by or ceded to the Crown—one of six factors that could still impede Enbridge’s project. Pipeline opponents are training to resist construction:

This is the protesters’ objective: to stay in place, blocking the road, with as few arrests as possible, or to force the police to resort to violence for their removal. They learn about using the media to look like the victims of state violence, and about police tactics such as the use of “pain compliance”—holds that cause pain without causing injury that could result in an assault charge.

READ: Meet the protesters training to block Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline

Enbridge says the pipeline would create 180 permanent, direct, local jobs worth $17 million, and more spinoff jobs. But at least one set of potential beneficiaries are not sold; earlier this year residents of Kitimat voted against Northern Gateway in a non-binding plebiscite.