Deciding whether or not the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project will become a reality is now up to the federal government—it has six months—after having been approved by a joint panel review. There are, however, 209 conditions that have to be met, such as developing a marine mammal protection plan, a caribou habitat restoration plan, a plan to deal with marine spills and a research program involving the cleanup of heavy oils. The decision comes as a slap in the face to the many Canadians who have been voicing concerns about the impact this project will have on the environment, the economy and to First Nations land rights.
The project features two pipelines traversing 1178 kilometres from Alberta to BC—one carrying bitumen to Kitimat and the other carrying condensate from the coast to Bruderheim (condensate is used to thin the bitumen for easier pipeline transport)—as well as a marine terminal at Kitimat to ship the oil to the Asian market. Just where the bitumen will be refined hasn’t been answered and neither has the question of how this project will create lasting employment? Sure, Enbridge says 1850 construction jobs will be created, but by 2018, when this pipeline is supposed to be up and running, those men and women will be out of work. Only 228 permanent jobs will be created compared to the 10 times that amount that a refinery would permanently employ.
From the point of view of environmentalists, this project shouldn’t happen at all. Pipelines need constant flow, which, according to Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, means a “massive expansion of the [oil sands]” to ensure the pipes are full. The oil sands are already a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and increasing the output with a pipeline project, significantly exacerbates that problem. Josha MacNab, director of the Pembina Institute, says, “Our analysis shows the greenhouse gas pollution generated by filling the Northern Gateway pipeline would be equivalent to adding more than three million cars a year to Canada’s roads.”
Other environmental concerns include oil spills, both from leaks in the pipes and during ocean transportation. The tankers would be going through the Hecate Strait, which is a very difficult body of water to navigate. The pipelines themselves would cut across salmon-spawning streams and natural wildlife habitats. Even the panel admitted certain populations of woodland caribou and grizzly bear would be affected, though not significantly. What constitutes significant seems to be a grey matter here as billion-dollar industries don’t usually appear to consider environmental impacts a top priority. The panel also said the burdens of a large oil spill would be significant but unlikely. Seem like nice, pat answers to ease the concerns of Canadians.
But Canadians are not at ease about this pipeline. More than 130 First Nations have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration to ban the Northern Gateway Project cutting through their land for environmental reasons and because the project disregards aboriginal land rights. There is still time for Canadians to make noise and make it known that this pipeline is not welcome here.