A coalition of 11 environmental groups is calling on the federal government to hold a public hearing on the Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
The federal Joint Review Panel process isn’t comprehensive enough to ensure all impacts of the mega-project are considered, Josh Paterson of West Coast Environmental Law said. In 2006 the federal government released a draft of the Joint Review Panel terms of reference to review the project.
“It’s really too narrow to consider all the implications of a project like this. It’s just not designed to take that broader view,” Paterson said. “This wouldn’t be the first public inquiry on a pipeline project in B.C. In the early 70s there was the Thompson Inquiry. Our position is that British Columbians today deserve the same considerations as British Columbians did back then.”
The proposed 1,170 km pipeline would run from Kitimat to Strathcona Country, Alta. just outside Edmonton.
The twin pipeline would transport oil to Kitimat to be loaded in oil tankers heading to California and Asia. Condensate, a chemical used in the treatment of oil for transport, imported through Kitimat would be piped to customers in Edmonton.
The 11 signatory groups are concerned about the environmental impact of constructing and operating the pipeline itself; oil tanker traffic on the west coast to and from Kitimat; and the potential for expanded development of the Alberta Oil Sands as a result, he said.
“And the federal government has not done a good job of engaging First Nations,” Paterson said. “There was been over 2,000 submissions to the federal government on this. People are really concerned about this and are asking for a public inquiry.”
Citizens, First Nations and government should hear the information and make a decision together, he said.
Terrace-based SkeenaWild Conservation Trust executive director Greg Knox said his organization signed the letter calling for the inquiry based on concerns about coastal and watershed security.
“This pipeline would cross some 1,000 rivers and streams. A spill, which is inevitable, could be catastrophic,” Knox said. “The Fraser and Skeena rivers are two of the largest salmon producing rivers in the country.”
Once oil gets into a river system, it’s extremely hard to prevent it from spreading and damaging the ecosystem, he said.
“In calm weather, with a good response time, a good recovery is recovering 15 per cent of the oil,” he said. “This pipeline goes through some of the most challenging terrain in the world… with remote areas.”
In addition, the long-standing moratorium on oil tankers traveling along the west coast of the province has been in place for a good reason, he said. Keeping tankers off the coast reduces the chance of a spill reaching shore.
“There would be over 10,000 tanker trips through the coastal waters over the lifetime of this project. The tankers would be traveling through some of the most stormy waterways in the world the Hecate Straight and Douglas Channel.”
Increasing market access for oil from the Alberta Oil Sands could also result in further greenhouse gas emissions and failure to meet Canada’s emission targets, he said.
“We feel the Canadian public need to be informed. It (a public hearing) will give us a picture on all to these issues.”
Enbridge Northern Gateway vice president Steve Greenaway said the current Joint Review Process used by the government would address all the groups’ concerns.
“This is a process which is tried and true. It’s come a long way since the 70s and 80s,” Greenaway said. “The process calls for full public hearings in a number of communities along the route.”
Through the current process groups can apply for funding to participate in the hearings, he said.
“We would welcome their participation at the hearings,” he said.
Greenaway said the process will be accessible to the public and will likely last, “many months.”
Any public inquiry would, legally, have to be in addition to the current Joint Review Panel process, he added.
“I’m not sure that Canadians are looking for another inquiry like the Gomery Inquiry that was, what, $100 million?”
The 11 groups that wrote to the federal government calling for the inquiry are the Dogwood Initiative, Douglas Channel Watch, Friends of Wild Salmon, ForestEthics, Headwaters Initiative, Living Ocean Society, North West Watch, the Pembina Institute, Raincoast Conservation, SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and West Coast Environmental Law.
The full text of the letter is available online at www.wcel.org.
For more information about Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, go online to www.northerngateway.ca.