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Encyclopedia of Canadian pipelines: Keystone XL and Northern Gateway

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The Northern Gateway Pipelines:

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway plan is comprised of dual 1,172-kilometre pipelines that run from Bruderheim (just north of Edmonton) to the coastal community of Kitimat. One of the pipelines would carry oil for export; the other would be for importing condensate, a substance used to thin heavier oil products.

The company says the pipeline system could export up to 525,000 barrels of oil per day and bring in approximately 193,000 barrels of condensate. At the end of the line, the proposed Kitimat Marine Terminal would include two ship berths and 14 tankers.

The primary intention of the $5.5 billion project is to make Canadian tar sands oil available to international markets in Asia. The end location in Kitimat would put the oil industry in an ideal position along the shipping route, but it also raises environmental concerns about the possibility of oil tanker spills.

While environmentalists have called the Keystone XL delay “the beginning of the end” for the tar sands, for industry and political leaders in Canada the decision was seen as an opportunity to step up efforts in other markets. At the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear that selling oil to China would now become an “important priority”.

Before getting under way, the Northern Gateway project must be approved through a regulatory review by the National Energy Board (NEB) and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). The Joint Review Panel was established in the summer of 2010, inviting individuals and groups from a number of communities along the pipeline route to participate in the public consultation process. 

Opponents say:

The unprecedented number of individuals who have signed up to speak about the project is an indication of the intense opposition within Northern communities. Environmentalists have joined First Nations groups, citing many potential impacts and risks posed by Enbridge’s plans.

On the environmental side, legitimate concerns have been raised over the risk of pipeline leaks along the route. And even more worrying is the possibility of crude oil tanker spills with increased traffic in the coastal waters of BC. 

Enbridge has offered an equity stake in the project to each of the First Nations bands affected, which would include about 50 groups, all situated within 80 kilometres on either side of the pipeline. While a few of these bands have agreed to support the project and accept the equity stake, many others have spoken out against it.

An impressive group of 150 organizations, businesses and prominent Canadians came together to run a full-page ad last year in the Globe and Mail, with signatories that included David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood and Randy Bachman.

"Enbridge's pipeline isn't happening, period. It doesn't matter who they get a deal with. They plan to come through our territories and we've already said no, and we'll use every legal means we have to stop them. Their proposed pipeline is against our laws because we refuse to put our communities at the risk of oil spills."

 - Chief Larry Nooski of Nadleh Whut'en First Nation; member of the Yinka Dene Alliance

"The project is not in the public interest from a climate perspective, from a jobs perspective, and from a First Nations title perspective. There’s too much at stake. Why would we risk thousands of jobs in fishing and tourism for a few hundred jobs in construction of the pipeline, and the possibility of some jobs in oil spill cleanup?"

- Caitlin Vernon; Sierra Club of BC

 "It will be a very, very, very nasty process [and] I’ll be the first one to lie down before a tractor."

- Rafe Mair; Former MLA and BC political commentator

Supporters say:

Potential benefits of the pipeline, as listed by Enbridge, include employment, skills development, and “contributions to the community and the province through a secure tax base at local, provincial and federal levels”. Despite passionate resistance from community and Aboriginal groups on the Northern Coast, the project claims it will provide up to 1,150 long term jobs, with about 165 new jobs in Kitimat alone to operate the terminal.

Informational materials say the project will “raise the bar” when it comes to marine safety, using only double-hulled ships and adding navigational aids to the area to avoid collisions.

The government and industry have been adamant that transporting oil to Asian countries like China should be a priority, particularly if access to the American market is limited by the failure of the Keystone XL project.

"The success of a project on the scale of Northern Gateway depends on the support of the communities it impacts. We know that this support will depend on our ability to prove to communities that our project is safe, that it has been planned responsibly and that environmental protection will always be front-of-mind throughout both construction and the operational life of the project."

- John Carruthers; President, Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines 

"If the environmental review process confirms that no harm will be done, these are the kind of direct community benefits that I would like to see happen in Kitimat and along the shipping route."

- Joanne Monaghan; Mayor of Kitimat 

 "This is an issue that takes on national importance…We're actually part of what will be particularly in the next two years a critical resource that will allow the Canadian economy to thrive in a way that many others in the world won't."

- Alison Redford; Premier of Alberta

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