Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given his approval to Enbridge’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline project. The announcement came last week amid months of speculation on whether or not Harper’s conservative government would accept the decision made by the Joint Review Panel last December.
The Joint Review Panel approved the project, subject to 209 conditions, after years of hearings across the province. The project has been met with venomous opposition from First Nations whose traditional territories encompass the pipeline route, and from environmental and citizens groups across the country.
Neither Harper nor his Natural Resources Minister has commented directly on the project, choosing rather to issue a press release on the subject. In a statement, federal Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said approval is subject to Enbridge satisfying 209 conditions – including further consultations with First Nations – laid down by the review panel. He noted the company must obtain construction permits from the B.C. government, which has laid out its own five conditions the company must meet.
“The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with aboriginal groups and local communities along the route,” Mr. Rickford said.
Enbridge is proposing a 1, 200 kilometre twin-pipeline system to carry tar sands oil from Edmonton to Kitimat. Supertankers would then be employed to carry the oil to markets in Asia. Opponents of the project say the risk of a land or marine-based spill are far too high, while proponents argue that the project is a necessity for Canada’s economic future.
Opposition is especially high along Enbridge’s proposed pipeline route, which is currently under construction for the liquefied natural gas (LNG) Pacific Trails Pipeline. While Pacific Trails has failed to attract the attention of the Northern Gateway project, those situated along the route claim Pacific Trails is laying the groundwork for Northern Gateway and is causing significant environmental damage.
The Unist’ot’en Camp, situated in Wet’suwet’en territory near Smithers, BC, has been grossly underreported in the mainstream media despite having maintained a consistent presence in the area for almost four years.
Spokespersons Freda Huson and Dini Ze Toghestiy (who visited Bella Coola last year seeking support from the Nuxalk Nation) have stated their total opposition to all pipeline projects in their traditional territories. “The Provincial and Federal governments are illegal because they don’t have jurisdiction in our peoples territory. We have never signed any treaties, this land is unceded,” stated Huson.
Huson’s statement may resonate more strongly now in light of the recent decision regarding the Tsilhqot’in peoples Supreme Court battle to have their rights and title recognized in their traditional territory. In its decision, Canada’s top court agreed that a semi-nomadic tribe can claim land title even if it uses it only some of the time. The court also established what title means, including the right to the benefits associated with the land and the right to use it, enjoy it and profit from it.
Members of the Unist’ot’en Camp have long maintained that Pacific Trails is blazing the route for Enbridge. A joint project of the Apache Corporation and Chevron, the Pacific Trails pipeline is a 480 kilometre pipeline carrying 10 million tonnes of LNG per year from Summit Lake, B.C. to the proposed LNG facility site in Kitimat. The government gave its approval of the project in April of 2012, stating that it would foster economic growth across the province.
Environmental groups and First Nations have characterized Enbridge as a ‘dead’ project, declaring that they are ready for a fight. Enbridge CEO Al Monaco welcomed federal approval but agreed the company has much to do. Enbridge claims it has agreements with 26 aboriginal communities along the pipeline route, but none has stepped forward to be identified.
“As far as we’re concerned Northern Gateway is a dead project,” said Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, an umbrella group representing nine communities, “and we will treat it as such and do whatever we can to make sure that it never moves forward.”