Enbridge’s B.C.-Alberta oil pipeline faces uphill battle First nations, environmentalists oppose it

VANCOUVER — The business case is sound for a new $4.4-billion oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, but the politics appear likely to kill it.
Enbridge envisions its 1,170-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline as a conduit for crude oil from the Alberta oilsands to a deep sea terminal at Kitimat, where it would be loaded into supertankers and transported to foreign refineries.

The Alberta-based pipeline company promises substantial economic benefits including 4,000 construction jobs and an unspecified number of permanent jobs at pipeline and seaport terminal operations.

Northern Gateway is likely to come up for discussion in Calgary on Wednesday at the company’s annual general meeting, where a handful of B.C. environmentalists and aboriginal leaders plan to use their right as shareholders to remind Enbridge’s senior executives and board of directors that they can expect to get their noses bloodied if they choose to proceed with the project.

A glance at the website of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency tells the story — a computer printout of the index of public comments to date on Northern Gateway runs to 107 pages. Most of those comments are in opposition to the pipeline — and that’s before Enbridge files what is expected to be a massive environmental impact statement.

But already, Enbridge is steeply at odds with aboriginal groups including all coastal first nations, and interior groups including Carrier Sekani, Gitsxan and Wet’suwet’en – the latter two are responsible for defining modern aboriginal rights through their landmark Supreme Court of Canada victory in Delgamuukw versus the Queen.

Mike Ridsdale, environmental assessment coordinator for the Wet’suwet’en, said the pipeline “will be crossing about a thousand streams. There will be breaks.
“Should a break occur in one of these headwater streams, it will affect all the way down. That’s a lot of [the] salmon streams that we look at and are caretakers of and so our responsibility isn’t just for ourselves on our territories, we are looking to protect it for our children as well.”

Officially, the company is targeting 2015 as the year in which the project will be complete and commence shipping oil from Alberta to B.C., while a related product called condensate flows in a twin line from B.C. to the oilsands.

Enbridge chief executive officer Pat Daniels last week discussed the troubled project with the editorial boards of the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail.
Daniels raised hackles among B.C. aboriginal leaders with a comment to the Globe that first nations “don’t have a veto” over the project — even though an absence of land claims settlements along the pipeline route means that aboriginal rights in most of B.C. have yet to be clearly defined.

In an e-mail statement Monday to The Vancouver Sun, Enbridge said it appreciates that some aboriginal groups have concerns.

“We would like the opportunity to address those concerns and identify solutions. We are pleased to have entered into over 30 formal protocol agreements with aboriginal groups along the proposed pipeline corridor. The agreements define the working relationship between the aboriginal groups and Northern Gateway and provide capacity funding to enable the aboriginal groups to participate in discussions on the potential effects and benefits of the project relative to their unique interests.”

Eric Swanson, a campaigner with pipeline opponent Dogwood Initiative who will attend the shareholder meeting, believes Enbridge’s strategy will be to use the federal environmental assessment “as the panacea for all this controversy.”

“I don’t think Pat Daniels has a thorough understanding of the history in B.C. of first nations leveraging their title and rights to gain more control over resource development,” Swanson said in an telephone interview from Calgary. “That’s a detriment to the company because they are seemingly picking a fight that from my perspective they don’t have a huge chance of winning.”

Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, said the risk of a spill is too great to allow the project to proceed — especially at a time when members of the coastal groups are developing an economic strategy that includes both traditional seafood harvesting and new aquaculture projects.
“We are in a major partnership with a Chinese company,” Sterritt said in a telephone interview. “We are going to be building a shellfish hatchery to grow scallops. We’ve been doing pilot projects from Rivers Inlet to Haida Gwaii for seven years.

“We’ve got all of our environmental assessments done. We are moving forward on business plans. We’ve got all of the financing in place. We are talking about starting up an industry with anywhere from 25 to 50 jobs per community coming out of the gate, in processing, in marketing, you name it.
Josh Patterson, legal counsel for West Coast Environmental Law, said the process could be dragged out for many years in the courts.

“There is so much opposition that Enbridge can count on legal challenges, it can count on delays and ultimately those delays are going to cost the people who invest in the project.”

Back to News index page