Harper government okays Northern Gateway, over intense BC opposition

Aboriginal, northern, environmental and citizens groups are now gearing up for intense legal and protest actions to stop the pipeline, despite its federal approval.

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The federal government's decision on Northern Gateway, while a boon to the resource sector, is expected to cost the Conservative Party in BC, where there are 21 Conservative MPs and a dozen NDP MPs. Nearly half of those polled said they would refuse to vote Conservative if the pipeline was approved, which could potentially cost the Harper Conservatives the election. 

Map of proposed pipeline route from Enbridge

Over the past few months, the project suffered significant blows to its reputation.  In April, Kitimat -- the proposed site of the terminal -- decisively rejected the pipeline in a plebiscite. The result was viewed as a sign that Enbridge had lost its social license to build the pipeline, as Kitimat was poised to directly benefit from the project if approved. 

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen in Kitimat on day of Enbridge plebiscite defeat on April 12, 2014. 

A Nanos poll in June found that less than a third of British Columbians polled were in support of the project, despite heavy television, print and web advertising for the project over the last four years.  Last week, a group of 300 scientists signed a letter stating that the National Energy Board's federal review of the project was deeply flawed. 

Meeting the conditions

Enbridge has argued that the $6 billion pipeline is imperative to the Canadian economy, allowing land-locked Alberta to expand its customer base beyond the United States to Asia. The company argues it loses up to $8 per barrel by exporting to the U.S. instead of shipping it to more lucrative markets in Asia. The company argues that Canada will be vulnerable to economic disaster if the pipeline is built. 

The pipeline must meet 209 conditions, outlined by the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel report last December, prior to construction. BC Premier Christy Clark has also outlined five conditions -- including meaningful consultation with First Nations and marine spill response -- for the pipeline to meet. However, Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt warned the pipeline project will not be built, and that investor money for the project would "rot" because the project will be tied up for years by lawsuits. 

Art Sterritt - Coastal First Nations - Mychaylo Prystupa

Art Sterritt, exec. director of Coastal First Nations at Vancouver press conference Monday -- Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

"The project is over, dead," Sterritt said. "It's never going to receive the social license it needs from First Nations or British Columbians." 

Timeline of Northern Gateway approval:

March 6, 2002: Calgary-based pipeline giant Enbridge announces plans for an oil pipeline linking the Alberta oil sands to the BC coast.

April 14, 2005: The company announces a deal with PetroChina Co. to transport oil from Alberta to BC. The pipeline -- tentatively called the "Gateway Project" -- is expected to be in operation in 2010.

2006: Enbridge sends a contracting company, AMEC, to survey old growth forest in Haisla territory. Trees deemed sacred to Haisla culture are cut down, resulting in the first in a series of disputes between Enbridge and northern BC First Nations. 

Nov. 1, 2006: With the National Energy Board process already underway, Enbridge announces it will delay Northern Gateway and focus on expanding pipelines to the U.S..  

March 23, 2010: Coastal First Nations declares a ban on oil supertankers from the Pacific North Coast. It is the first aboriginal ban on the project.

May 27, 2010: Enbridge files its application to the National Energy Board to build the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker terminal.

Jan. 9, 2012: Then-natural resources minister Joe Oliver releases an open letter branding oil pipeline opponents "radicals" with foreign funding to undermine Canada's economic interest. 

Jan. 10, 2012: The National Energy Board's Joint review panel begins public hearings.

March and April 2012: With Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, federal government changes Navigable Waters Act and Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. 

July 11, 2012: The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board releases a damning report on a July 2010 spill of 3.3 million litres of diluted bitumen from an Enbridge pipeline into Kalamazoo River, likening the clean-up to Keystone Kops.

July 27, 2012: A few days after announcing that the Northern Gateway pipeline poses too many risks and not enough benefits for BC, Premier Christy Clark announces "five conditions" that Enbridge must meet before building a pipeline through BC. 

Sept. 26, 2012: Conservation groups file a lawsuit in federal court to force Ottawa to protect endangered and threatened species along the route of the proposed pipeline, including Pacific humpback whales.

March 18, 2013: Then-Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announces first of several changes to marine safety rules for oil tankers. 

May 31, 2013: B.C. government lawyers tell the federal review panel that the province does not support the pipeline project as proposed.

June 24, 2013: Federal review hearings end. 

Dec. 19, 2013: Federal joint review panel recommends approval of Northern Gateway project, subject to 209 conditions. A large protest in Vancouver ensues.

Feb. 14, 2014: Federal Court rules that federal environment and fisheries ministers broke the law by failing to enforce Species at Risk Act in a lawsuit brought in relation to pipeline route.

April 12, 2014: Residents of Kitimat, site of the proposed marine terminal, vote against Northern Gateway in non-binding municipal plebiscite with a vote of 58.4 per cent opposed. 

April 22, 2014: Environment Canada announces status of Pacific humpback whales will be upgraded from "threatened" to "species of special concern."

May 14, 2014: New Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford announces more new rules for pipeline safety.

May 27, 2014: Rickford announces Ottawa will open a major projects management office in B.C. to work with First Nations on energy projects.

June 16, 2014: Pipeline opponents vow to put Northern Gateway to referendum if approved by the federal government. 

June 17, 2014: Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is approved. 

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