VICTORIA, British Columbia, Canada, June 3, 2013 (ENS) – Oil spill cleanup concerns have led the British Columbia Government to reject a proposed multi-billion dollar tar sands oil pipeline that the Canadian company Enbridge wants to construct across the province.

In its final submission Friday to the federally-appointed Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel, the province states that it cannot support the Enbridge Northern Gateway project because the company “has been unable to address British Columbians’ environmental concerns.”

Environment Minister Terry Lake said, “British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents. Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings.”

Terry Lake

B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake, right, presents environmental awards, 2011 (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)

“Northern Gateway has said that they would provide effective spill response in all cases. However, they have presented little evidence as to how they will respond,” Lake said. “For that reason, our government cannot support the issuance of a certificate for the pipeline as it was presented to the Joint Review Panel.”

The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, as proposed, is a twin pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta and a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia, which would carry tar sands oil by pipeline across the province, to be loaded onto supertankers for transport to Asia.

The pipelines would cross B.C.’s sensitive Pacific North Coast ecosystem, threatening First Nations’ land and salmon economy. A spill threatens long-term loss of marine life, pristine waterways, and coastal ecosystems.

First Nation opposition has been strong and united in the position that the Northern Gateway pipeline would never be allowed to cross their land. The pipelines could not be constructed without breaking First Nation unity through financial inducements or land seizure.

The provincial government has established, and maintains, five “strict conditions” in order for British Columbia to consider the construction and operation of heavy-oil pipelines in the province.

  1. Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Northern Gateway pipeline, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed.
  2. World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines and shipments.
  3. World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy-oil pipelines.
  4. Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project.
  5. British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy-oil project that reflect the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.

“The five conditions cannot be fully met until the end of the Joint Review Panel process,” said Janet Holder, Enbridge’s executive vice president of Western access, told reporters. “As a British Columbian, I am personally committed, as is Northern Gateway, to building a pipeline project that meets the highest possible safety and environmental standards anywhere in the world—and a Project that creates new jobs and opportunities for British Columbians.”

pipeline

An Enbridge pipeline is laid out for installation (Photo courtesy Northern Gateway)

In its written submission to the review panel on Friday, the company emphasized “the enormous economic benefits that the Project would deliver to Canada, British Columbia, Alberta and Aboriginal peoples.”

“The evidence provided by Northern Gateway … demonstrates that the Project would be safely designed and constructed, and that Northern Gateway is committed to ensuring excellence in operations. It shows that the pipelines would be constructed and operated without causing significant adverse effects to the environment,” the company wrote.

“It shows that Northern Gateway would have comprehensive oil spill response plans for all Project components and would substantially improve existing emergency response on Canada’s pacific coast – something unprecedented for a pipeline project. It shows that the Project has been developed with a comprehensive public and Aboriginal engagement program that would continue throughout Project construction and operation,” the company said in its submission.

But the B.C. government’s submission points out that the company’s proposal indicates that “doing nothing is a possible response to a spill.”

In April 2012, the Joint Review Panel released 199 potential conditions that could form part of an authorization for the Northern Gateway Pipeline project if it received federal approval.

In preparing the final argument submission, the province’s legal and technical experts analyzed the conditions and determined that they must be strengthened to meet B.C.’s interests and requirements. Click here to see the technical analysis.

Canadian environmentalists were pleased with the government’s rejection of the project but said the B.C. government must not rely on the environmental assessments of others but should claim its right to an independent environmental assessment.

“This announcement is positive news, and it clarifies that the government has been listening to British Columbians’ concerns,” said Eoin Madden, climate change campaigner with the Vancouver-based Wilderness Committee. “Now they need to walk the walk and withdraw from the agreement that has taken away BC’s ability to do our own assessment.”

In the United States, citizen organizations fighting TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline were encouraged by the B.C. government’s rejection.

A newly formed coalition known as “All Risk, No Reward” issued a statement saying, “Lake and other officials in Canada have reason to be wary of Enbridge’s ability to clean up after a spill. Citizens of Michigan are still cleaning up after a pipeline ruptured and dumped tar sands into local waterways in July 2010.”

In July 2010, a rupture in an Enbridge pipeline crossing a tributary of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, resulted in the spill of a 877,000 gallons of diluted bitumen from the tar sands of northern Alberta, Canada. It was the largest on-land oil spill, and one of the costliest oil spills, in U.S. history. Nearly three years later, cleanup is still ongoing.

Based in Madison, Wisconsin, the nonprofit group Ecological Internet is relieved by the B.C. government’s announcement.  Said EI President Dr. Glen Barry, “This is a stunning victory for indigenous, local, and global people power, and illustrates the importance of funding small ecological opposition groups, and taking strong biocentric positions against environmental risk.”

Canadian tar sands production would expand by up to 30 percent if the Northern Gateway pipeline is approved, warned Barry, “escalating the terrible ecological impacts upon the Canadian boreal forests and its water, carbon and ecosystems.”

The B.C. government’s position on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project as currently proposed “is not a rejection of heavy-oil projects,” said Lake.

All proposals – such as Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion or the Kitimat Clean project – will be “judged on their merits.” The Province’s five conditions would still apply.

British Columbia will present oral final arguments to the Joint Review Panel when hearings recommence in Terrace on June 17, based on B.C.’s final written submission.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2013. All rights reserved.

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