Ecojustice Blog – Climate change Posted on October 22, 2012 (updated: February 17, 2015)

Northern Gateway’s risky business

Barry RobinsonBarry RobinsonLawyer

As hearings for Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline break for a week-long hiatus, opposition to the controversial project looks like it may hit new highs.

Today, hundreds of activists are descending on Victoria to stage a sit-in at B.C’s provincial legislature. Echoing the mass protests against the Keystone XL pipeline that took place in Washington, D.C., last year, the Victoria gathering has already drawn plenty of media attention and the support of well-known Canadians like Ecojustice honorary board member Dr. David Suzuki and actors Ellen Page and Mark Ruffalo.

But while Canadians in Victoria — and all across the country — stand up today against pipeline projects that will increase oil tanker traffic in coastal waters and put precious ecosystems at risk, the team at Ecojustice is taking some action of its own. We’re using our legal expertise to prep for yet another gruelling round of the hearings that have a big hand in determining whether the pipeline is built.

During the past two weeks, hearings have focused on pipeline safety and emergency response plans. Unfortunately, the assurances we heard from Enbridge were, in a word, underwhelming.

And we weren’t the only ones to think so.

Lawyers for the Province of British Columbia went after Enbridge for failing to provide more detailed pipeline emergency response plans , arguing that these should be provided before approval is given to the project. In response, Enbridge argued that they have already provided an unprecedented amount of information and these detailed plans will be prepared after approval and before operation begins.

Kelly Marsh of Douglas Channel Watch pressed Enbridge on some of its spill probability calculations, while Murray Minchin, also of Douglas Channel Watch, questioned Enbridge on its emergency response times in remote parts of the Kitimat Valley.

We also pressed Enbridge on its troubling spill record. It was been two years since the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan, but that mess has yet to be fully cleaned up. While Enbridge claimed it has taken steps to reduce the risks of an oil spill and improved its emergency response systems, the company also refused to commit to a performance guarantee.

We also confirmed that a “River Control Points” study prepared for Enbridge, which the company has held up as an example of how it is taking emergency response concerns seriously, is actually quite preliminary. The study demonstrates a process but not actual river control points that can be relied upon in the event of a pipeline spill.

All in all, we heard a lot of talk but saw little action to back it up. When it comes to the Northern Gateway pipeline, it seems that’s just business as usual for Enbridge. Unfortunately, when we’re talking about a project that poses significant and unnecessary risks to the air, water and land Canadians depend on, business as usual isn’t good enough.

Next week, hearings resume and will focus on the pipeline’s impacts on species at risk, a topic on which we have lots to say. Stay tuned.

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