Canada’s West Coast Oil Sands Pipeline Controversy: An Update

Andrea Rivers and George Hoberg
September 23, 2011

While controversy over the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to the US has been capturing headlines across North America, a similar controversy is simmering in Western Canada.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal is gaining increasing attention as it proceeds through the federal government’s regulatory review process. Enbridge’s plans to construct a twin pipeline carrying Alberta bitumen to the coast of British Columbia for export to Asia are currently undergoing an environmental assessment by a review panel jointly appointed by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the National Energy Board.

In May 2011, we developed a case document for the Northern Gateway proposal detailing project specifics, the review and approval process, responsible government authorities, and various stakeholder groups. The cases for and against the project – including economic issues, social issues regarding First Nations rights and title, and environmental issues are also outlined. This blog entry highlights recent developments in these areas and presents opportunities for public participation in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline joint review process.

Update: Less Uncertainty about Economic Support

Enbridge touts the economic benefits of Northern Gateway, promising expanding markets for Canadian petroleum products and, the #1 priority of BC’s current government, job creation. The project continues to acquire support from influential foreign investors interested in Canadian crude exports and, in August, Enbridge announced it has agreed to terms with would-be shipping companies. Enbridge has received $250 million in funding from several companies to support the regulatory process. Although the company declines to reveal the identities of its supporters, large Chinese oil companies Sinopec and CNOOC Ltd. have reportedly invested. The “China effect” has a hold on other sectors of western Canada’s resource-based economy beyond Alberta bitumen. Export values of lumber, coal, and aluminum to China, as well as investments in liquefied natural gas, are on the rise. The economic benefits Enbridge promises by bridging the gap to Asian petroleum markets are consistent with aspects of the “BC Jobs Plan” unveiled this week. BC Premier Christy Clark has emphasized the importance of creating links to Asia-Pacific markets through the North Coast of BC as the key to a “bright economic future for British Columbians”.

Update: First Nations Opposition

Issues regarding First Nations Rights and Title remain a cornerstone of the project’s opposition. If approved, the pipeline will pass through the territories of over 40 First Nations, none of which have publically expressed support for the project despite Enbridge’s offers for ownership stakes. The Yinka Dene Alliance of First Nations have been among the most spoken adversaries of the project, rejecting Enbridge’s offer for equity in the pipeline and calling it a “desperate and disrespectful attempt to buy our support”.  The alliance of Coastal First Nations remains staunchly opposed to the project as the pipeline would reach the coast through the Great Bear Rainforest posing the threat of oil spills

Update: Marine Planning Controversy

The relationship between Coastal First Nations and the federal government may become strained due to recent developments regarding the Pacific North Coast Integrated Marine Area Plan (PNCIMA). Earlier this month, the federal government walked away from an agreement to receive funding from a U.S. green foundation to complete the management plan, in accordance with the Oceans Act. Enacted in 1997, this legislation requires the federal government to develop plans to protect marine areas. In 2008, the federal government formally agreed to work with the Coastal First Nations on developing the PNCIMA, a follow-up to the land-based protection the Great Bear Initiative had accomplished.

According to the Vancouver Sun, environmental organizations allege the Harper government is disregarding scientists and policy makers in favor of strong shipping and petroleum lobbies. On the other hand, stakeholders from these industries had expressed concerns over an environmentally-oriented foundation funding the government process, and that the outcome might prove unfavorable for the Northern Gateway proposal. However, it is the opinion of West Coast Environmental Law, that the federal government’s actions regarding PNCIMA ironically will hinder, not help, approval of Enbridge’s pipeline proposal by causing future legal complications as it could be perceived as involving dishonorable actions against the Coastal First Nations.

Opportunities for Public Participation

Public participation is a significant component of the Joint Panel Review (JRP) process for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. In May of 2011 the JRP issued a hearing order for the project detailing the process and participation opportunities. West Coast Environmental Law has compiled a document summarizing opportunities for public participation in the JRP process. Anyone can present their knowledge, concerns, or opinions regarding the proposed project to the review panel by submitting a letter of comment to the review panel (before the March 13, 2012 deadline), or by registering here to make an oral statement at the panel’s community hearings (before the October 6th, 2011 deadline).

The Dogwood Initiative is encouraging concerned BC residents to put their opposition to gateway on record by establishing the “mob the mic” campaign with the goal of 1,000 public submissions for oral statements registered by October 1st, 2011. On the campaign’s webpage interested individuals or groups can register to give a statement and their information will be forwarded to the Joint Review Panel (JRP).

Community hearings for the Enbridge review panel are open to all members of the public and will take place in early 2012 at numerous locations along the route of the proposed pipeline, in Vancouver, and in Port Hardy. Exact locations and dates are to be identified later as the hearing schedule is dependent on the numbers and locations of submission registration.


George Hoberg and Andrea Rivers, Should Canada Approve the Construction of a Pipeline from the Oil Sands to the West Coast of Canada? The Enbridge Northern Gateway Case, A Case Document for ISES 2011, International Student Energy Summit, Vancouver, BC. June 2011.

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One Response to Canada’s West Coast Oil Sands Pipeline Controversy: An Update

  1. Pingback: Pressure Rising on Both Sides of Northern Gateway Oil Sands Pipeline: December 2011 Update | GreenPolicyProf

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