Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is a massive development plan currently being advanced in Alberta and British Columbia. Consisting of an 1177 km long parallel pipeline and Marine Terminal, housed at the existing deep sea harbour at Kitimat[i], this project proposes to deliver energy to Asia and jobs to Canadians for decades to come. This huge development project is estimated to exceed 4.5 billion in capital investment.
The project comes under the authority of the National Energy Board of Canada (NEB) since it is the ‘responsible authority’ for oil and gas pipelines under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The Kitimat terminal, and the oil tanker traffic that will follow, necessitate the involvement of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). Other authorities include Transport Canada, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, and the Alberta and B.C ministries of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Because of the various governmental bodies involved the environmental assessment is being carried out by a Joint Review Panel, an independent federal body that will apply both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the National Energy Board Act in its review of the project.[ii] As part of the assessment process an extensive public review and consultation program has been ongoing with interested citizens, Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders.
Enbridge is working hard to present itself as a responsible social and economic developer with this project. Communities are being told to expect job creation, and therefore tax revenue for governments, to the tune of about $2.2 billion simply from the construction phase. Besides good paying jobs, investments for communities near the pipeline include a $1.5 million education and training fund. Enbridge also bills itself as environmentally responsible and has an emergency assessment and first response plan for both the pipeline and marine terminal. The company also encourages environmental stewardship through education programs, tree planting, and supporting NGO’s, such as the Nature Conservancy of Canada, to help with habitat remediation[iii]. Enbridge has gone to great lengths to green its economic and social reputation and this project.
At first glance everything about this project is an exemplary example of the successful application of environmental assessment. A long term process, EA has been applied according to the law; environmental and social assessments have been carried and public participation has been loud and robust. However, accidents can, and do happen. All the safeguards possible cannot undo an oil spill once it occurs. Until just recently the marine approach to the Kitimat harbour was under a federal moratorium against oil tanker traffic due to the hazards posed by the narrow approach through the Douglas Channel and the long 100 nautical mile traverse to the port[iv]. This pristine ecosystem of narrow fjords with its marine mammals and fish habitats was considered too important to risk. The pipeline itself will transport 525,000 barrels of oil a day into Kitimat and 193,000 barrels of highly toxic condensate back to Alberta.[v] A spill anywhere along the pipeline also has the potential to cause enormous environmental damage.
This project offers jobs and economic security for the next generation. Let’s hope the environmental cost of that prosperity is never realized.