Green light for Northern Gateway Project: Traversing the long road ahead

By Melanie Franner

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The federal government of Canada may have given the go-ahead on the $6.5 million Northern Gateway pipeline project but there is still a long way to go before the province could realize the potential $1.2 billion in tax revenue and $4.3 billion in labour-related income anticipated over the next 30 years.

The project itself has been a long time in the making and the recent governmental green light comes with 209 conditions from the federally appointed Joint Review Panel (JRP). There are also five conditions from the B.C. government. Together, the conditions point to the passing of even more time before the project gets off the ground.

“Today’s decision gives us greater confidence in developing a world-class project. However, we don’t see this decision as the final step – rather, it’s one more step in the process,” said Al Monaco, president and CEO of Enbridge Inc., in an official press release after the federal government’s June 17th announcement. “This is a process that requires a considered and respectful approach, and one that takes time to do it right.”

A pipeline in the making

5-2The pipeline project officially began on May 27, 2010 when the Northern Gateway Pipelines Limited Partnership filed an application with the National Energy Board to construct and operate a 1,170-kilometre twin pipeline that would carry up to 525,000 barrels of crude oil per day and up to 193,000 barrels of condensate per day between Bruderheim, Alta., and Kitimat, B.C. The project also consists of a marine terminal at the port of Kitimat, which would include two ship berths and 19 tanks for oil and condensate. The forecast suggests that the terminal would serve 220 ships per year.

According to information from Enbridge, 70 per cent of the proposed pipeline route would use previously disturbed land. The economic benefits from the project are suggested to include: some $300 billion in GDP over the next years; $300 million in employment and contracts for aboriginal communities and businesses; $4.3 billion in labour-related income across Canada during the construction of the twin pipeline; $2.6 billion in local, provincial and federal government tax revenues; and 1,150 long-term jobs throughout the Canadian economy (of which 560 are projected to be in B.C.).

The Northern Gateway project has been met with both strong support and strong opposition all across the country.

Industry on side

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) is one of the organizations on side with the Northern Gateway Project. On June 17th, CAPP issued a press release stating that the federal government’s decision on the Northern Gateway project is “positive for Canada’s oil and gas industry, British Columbians and all Canadians because the safe, responsible construction and operation of the pipeline would allow Canada to benefit economically from increased crude oil exports to growing global markets”.

“This is a key milestone for the process of getting access to offshore markets,” explains CAPP vice-president Stringham. “The government’s decision to give the go-ahead on this project, while stipulating that Enbridge fulfill the JRP’s 209 conditions, supports Canadian prosperity while protecting people and the environment.”

Stringham went on to state that more than 100 of those conditions will need to be met before any construction could take place.

“It has now become an industry issue where we will see how well Enbridge can properly fulfill the 100-plus conditions,” adds Stringham. “The National Energy Board has not set a time limit, but Enbridge itself has said that it will take between 12 to 15 months to fulfill those conditions but want to get it right. How and when they do it will set the stage on how soon they can move into the construction stage.”

Other supporters of the project include a group of prominent Canadians, among them the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan, former federal cabinet ministers and provincial premiers, and influential business and community leaders.

All on board

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The other side to the Northern Gateway Pipeline project is also well represented.

Despite the fact that Enbridge has announced the signing of 26 equity partnerships with aboriginal communities (which it suggests represents more than 60 per cent of the aboriginal population along the proposed right-of-way), opposition from other First Nation groups remains.

According to a June 16, 2014 announcement from B.C.’s West Coast Environmental Law, an organization dedicated to safeguarding the environment through law, there is strong opposition to the project from many groups, including Coastal First Nations (a coalition of First Nation groups), Dogwood Initiative (a B.C. non-profit group), Unifor (Canada’s largest private-sector union) and One Cowhichan (a private citizen group).

[Of note, Minister Greg Rickford, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario, announced in May of this year the creation of a major projects management office west, which opened in June, and a tripartite forum, which has yet to be announced. Both measures are designed to help strengthen engagement with First Nations and involve them in energy infrastructure development in Canada.]

B.C. residents aren’t 100 per cent sold on the project either.

West Coast Environmental Law points to survey results that indicate the majority of British Columbians support legislation in line with the First Nations ban.

“Polls consistently show two-thirds of B.C. voters agree the North Coast is no place for oil tankers,” noted a West Coast Environmental Law press release.

Residents of Kitimat are also torn over the decision.

“Our community is almost evenly divided over the issue,” states Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan, who adds that a recently held plebiscite showed a 12-to-15 per cent sway between the nays and the naysayers. “I wrote letters to the premier and the prime minister. At this point, as a council, we have decided that we are going to hold Enbridge’s ‘feet to the fire’, which means we’re going to make sure they fulfill all 209 conditions and the five B.C. government conditions. We’re going to make sure that they’re doing what they need to do.”

A time to reflect

The years that it has taken to get the Northern Gateway Pipeline project to the point where it is today has provided ample time to make this a very public and controversial project in the media spotlight. Regardless of the number of people and groups for and against the project, it is now up to Enbridge to meet the conditions set out by the JRP. If and when it can manage to do that, Canadians will be but one step closer to the realization of a significant project that may forever change the face of the Canadian oil export market.

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