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Challenging Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline

Gitxaala Nation v. Canada

October 30, 2014

Ecojustice lawyers represented ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, in legal challenges of the federal Cabinet’s approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.  With our help, our clients took part in the 18-month review of the Northern Gateway proposal, after which the National Energy Board recommended that Cabinet approve the project contingent upon the company fulfilling 209 conditions.  In June, 2014 Cabinet accepted that recommendation and approved the project.

Our clients argue that the environmental assessment in this case did not consider all the necessary and available science. They allege that the review panel report erred by (among other things):

  • failing to comply with the Species at Risk Act;
  • considering irrelevant evidence;
  • failing to balance Northern Gateway’s economic benefits and environment impacts; and
  • determining, despite a lack of evidence, that the project is unlikely to result in significant adverse environment impacts as a result of a diluted bitumen spill.

In October 2015, we appeared — alongside First Nations, environmental groups, and organized labour — before the Federal Court of Appeal to make the case for why the federal government’s approval of Enbridge’s controversial pipeline should be revoked.  In June 2016, the Court issued a strong ruling that overturns the government’s approval of the project. (Gitxaala Nation v. Canada, 2016 FCA 187.)

Environmental assessments need to be carried out to the highest possible standard. This is especially the case for projects where the environmental impacts of an accident could be ecologically devastating.  Pipelines, no matter how safe, are never foolproof.  Since 2012, Alberta alone has experienced a flurry of high-profile spills and accidents from oil and gas operations and the harm to ecosystems, species, and human health cannot be easily undone. That is why we are supporting our clients to ensure that the best possible evidence is meaningfully considered before the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline can proceed.

We also support efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across Canada and believe that it is important to be involved in cases related to projects that will accelerate demand for tar sands development.

What does this victory mean?

The decision is a cause for celebration, and effectively shuts the door on Enbridge’s pipeline.

However, upon review of the Court’s reasons for its decision, it becomes clear that this legal victory is limited, and does not address the fundamental issues on environmental assessment or consultation processes. The Court’s abrupt dismissal of the arguments based on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is especially problematic.

Perhaps the most significant result of the Enbridge victory is that it lays bare the desperate need for fundamental reform to Canada’s environmental assessment laws to support the long-term interests of all Canadians, rather than the short-term goals of extractive industries.

Sep 2016
A humpback whale tale dives back into the water.

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Jun 2016
Humpback whale breaches the water.

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A humpback whale jumps out of the blue water.
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A Caribou with short antlers stands in a grassy clearing. A forest of trees is behind it.

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Jun 2013
Two oil tankers stand in the still water at sunset.

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May 2013
A humpback whale tale dives back into the water.
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Reject Northern Gateway based on missing information, environmental risk and lack of benefit to Canadians, environmental groups say

A coalition of environmental groups says an incomplete environmental assessment, serious risks to the environment and a lack of benefit from proposed Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline should convince the Joint Review Panel reviewing the project to reject it outright.