Barb Biley would have been pleasantly surprised had the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel not backed the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
Thursday in Calgary, the panel recommended federal approval of the $6.5-billion project, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, B.C., subject to 209 conditions.
“These things are becoming far too predictable,” said Biley, a member of the Council of Canadians who organized a rally against pipelines and oil tankers last year in Comox.
She questions if panel members listened to the hundreds of submissions during 18 months of headings. After the sessions in Comox, she notes hearings were cancelled in Bella Bella due to a fear for the safety of panel members, even though there was no threat.
“When you ramp it up and pretend as if there’s some other agenda, it doesn’t auger well for independence,” Biley said. “My own opinion is that this is the start of the next phase of the fight to defend the Coast and to defend the right of Canadians to make decisions that affect their lives.”
Throughout the hearings, Nature Canada and BC Nature raised a host of concerns, including the project’s impact on endangered caribou populations and Enbridge’s minimization of an oil spill in a hotspot for marine biodiversity.
“Leading experts tell us that this pipeline has a one-in-four chance of spilling at some point during its lifetime,” Nature Canada executive director Ian Davidson said in a news release. “In a game of Russian roulette, there’s only a one-in-six chance of catastrophe.”
“The position of Comox Valley Nature on environmental issues is guided by sound scientific and legal consensus, articulated by BC Nature, and as such the position that CVN takes with regards to the Enbridge Northern Gateway decision is that of BC Nature,” stated CVN president Dr. Loys Maingon (RPBio). “Comox Valley Nature is a subsidiary of BC Nature and Nature Canada, and therefore applauds the well-thought-out and technically informed position it is taking. Oil spills are contrary to CVN’s mandate is to ‘keep nature worth knowing.”
The Wilderness Tourism Association of BC says an oil spill would wipe out tourism businesses throughout the province.
“We’re arguing that the whole region of B.C., perhaps even beyond B.C., would be impacted if there was a spill,” said Cumberland’s Evan Loveless, WTABC executive director. “People just wouldn’t come here.”
While some of the panel’s conditions are onerous, Loveless notes phrases such as ‘world-class oil spill recovery’ in its report. At best, he said 10 to 15 per cent of oil can be recovered.
“You can look at statistics in many different ways, but at the end of the day there will be a spill. Even the proponents acknowledge that. It’s just a matter of when…That risk is just too great for us to accept.”
BC Chamber of Commerce president/CEO John Winter considers the panel’s approval to be “great news,” sending the message that B.C. is open for business.
“It means that this pivotal, job-creating project has been examined from every angle and found sound,” Winter said in a news release. “With this decision, British Columbians can confidently back this project, knowing that it meets our top-tier environmental and community standards.”
The Chamber notes the panel scrutinized the project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act.
A BC Chamber telephone survey of 1,050 people claims 57 per cent of British Columbians would support the project if it received a positive recommendation from the panel. The poll also found that project support swells to 63 per cent if it can meet the B.C. government’s five conditions for all new oil projects.
“I would say they’re not insurmountable,” Loveless said of the five conditions.
The federal cabinet has 180 days to make a final decision on the project, which proposes twin pipelines carrying 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen and 193,000 barrels of condensate per day between Bruderheim, Alta., and Kitimat. The oil would be loaded onto 220 tankers per year.
Despite the panel’s recommendation and despite Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s support, Biley believes the pipeline can be stopped. In particular, she feels northern First Nations who have taken a strong stance are not likely to give up the fight.
“I think it’s telling that there were 2,200 people at a rally in Comox when we are ‘not affected’ by the pipeline or the tankers,” Biley said. “There’s a very deep feeling amongst British Columbians that these decisions are not in our interest.”