CALGARY — The Joint Review Panel’s recommendation to approve the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is major setback for science and democracy in Canada, Ecojustice lawyers said today.
“We submitted hundreds of pages of scientific evidence on behalf of our clients that lead to one emphatic conclusion: The Northern Gateway pipeline is an unsafe, unsustainable and unnecessary project, and it does not serve the national interest of this country,” said Ecojustice staff lawyer Barry Robinson.
“While we are deeply disappointed with the JRP’s recommendation, this does not mean the pipeline is approved or will even be built.”
Although a long-standing moratorium on new tanker traffic has kept Canada’s west coast relatively safe from spills like the Exxon Valdez disaster, the Northern Gateway pipeline will clear the way for up to 255 new tankers to carry bitumen through the narrow passages of B.C.’s north coast to Asian markets each year. The 1,177-km pipeline will cross hundreds of fish-bearing streams, rivers and lakes and fragment untouched tracts of wilderness and endangered animal habitat. It will also cut through the traditional territories of more than 40 First Nations and Aboriginal groups – many of which stand in opposition to the pipeline.
Ecojustice lawyers represented ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation during the lengthy review process.
Together, the groups played a critical role in cross-examining the Enbridge panel, challenging the company’s assessment of the project’s benefits and presenting evidence highlighting the proposal’s major flaws, including insufficient oil spill response mechanisms, inadequate safety precautions and inescapable risk to the environment.
A staggering 96 per cent of written comments submitted to the review panel, including submissions by the Province of British Columbia, oppose the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
“Canadians of all walks of life have said no to Enbridge and this pipeline. This project will never gain social licence,” said Nikki Skuce, intervener for ForestEthics Advocacy. “The hearings proved that Enbridge cannot be trusted to build and operate a pipeline that exposes some of our most precious watersheds and ecosystems to the risk of a catastrophic oil spill.”
Even after 18 months of hearings, basic questions remain unanswered. Ecojustice and its clients compiled more than 250 commitments the company made to address weaknesses exposed in its submission during the hearings.
“There remain important issues that are simply not adequately addressed, especially concerning marine operations,” said Karen Wristen, executive director of Living Oceans Society. “Enbridge closed its case insisting that conventional spill response technology will work on unconventional oil, when it is clear that it will not in many cases.”
Enbridge was also unable to prove that it has made any substantial improvements to its emergency procedures since its disastrous Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan — a spill that has yet to be fully mopped up even three years later.
“The science Enbridge presented during the review hearings was deficient and inadequate and did little to alleviate our concerns over the significant and adverse impacts this project will have on the environment,” said Paul Paquet, senior scientist at Raincoast Conservations Foundation. “Clearly, decisions supposed to be based on science get murkier when financial benefit is to be had.”
In March 2013, the National Energy Board issued an order to Enbridge after finding that its existing pipelines lacked emergency shut-down buttons and backup power to shut down systems at many of its pump stations in case of emergency. A summer of high-profile oil spills in the Alberta oilsands has also hardened opposition to the project.
Cabinet has three months to decide whether to accept the panel’s recommendation and approve the pipeline, although that might be delayed as the government completes consultations with First Nations. It will be Cabinet’s first major pipeline ruling since the federal government made sweeping changes to Canada’s environmental laws in the 2012 spring omnibus budget bill. Under the new framework, Cabinet assumes final authority over environmental decision-making but is bound by the 209 conditions laid out in the panel’s final report.
While waiting for Cabinet’s decision, Ecojustice lawyers will review the panel’s final report and consider next steps.