Panel's recommendation on Northern Gateway 'not surprising', say environmental groups

Reaction to the news that the federal environmental panel has recommended the approval of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is coming in, with environmental groups saying the recommendation is not surprising.

“It's exactly as we suspected. The Joint Review Panel failed to take into account the views of the people of B.C. who feel this project isn't acceptable,” said Greg Knox of SkeenaWild, a northwestern B.C. environmental group, on the panel's overall recommendation that the federal government approve the 1,177-km twin pipeline system and marine terminal, which as proposed would transport Alberta oilsands crude to the port at Kitimat.

Knox is, however, surprised the panel can determine that the chance of environmental effects are very low.

“You can't clean up oil,” said Knox of the potential of a marine spill. “It's impossible.”

And references to a world class response to a spill are wrong as well, he said.

“The most successful response is to clean up 5 – 15 per cent of the oil. And that's under really good conditions,” said Knox.

He's now calling upon the provincial government to follow through on its commitment to oppose the Gateway project.

“This was the easiest approval hurdle for Enbridge,” said Knox of the panel report. “What they don't have is First Nations approval or the public's approval.”

He also said there's a chance of mass civil disobedience should the federal cabinet follow along with the panel's report.

And Knox is predicting the federal Conservative government will lose the B.C. seats it needs to keep its majority in the next federal election.

Environmental group Sierra Club BC criticized the National Energy Board joint review panel process, which saw public hearings in 21 cities in British Columbia and Alberta over an 18 month period beginning in January, 2012.

“The panel’s recommendation is a disappointment, but unsurprising given such a flawed process,” said Sierra Club BC campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon. “At all turns, the federal government  undermined the credibility of the process as they changed the rules, dismissed any consideration of global warming impacts, unlawfully delayed critical information on endangered humpback whales, and – the day before the hearings began – announced support for the project while name-calling the concerned citizens who spoke up against it.”

In the panel's report, they acknowledge that certain concerns from the public did not fall under the panel's mandate.

“These issues included both 'upstream' oil development effects and 'downstream' refining and use of the products shipped on the pipelines and tankers,” reads the report, which also notes the consideration of 'downstream' emissions that could occur from upgrading, refining, and diluted bitumen use in China and elsewhere was outside of the panel's mandate. Trade policy, renewable energy, and industrial strategy were also beyond the panel's scope. The panel “did consider emissions arising from construction activities, pipeline operations, and the engines of tankers in Canadian territorial waters.”

And in a release, Enbridge's Northern Gateway Project said they are reviewing the findings.

“From the beginning of this project, Northern Gateway has worked with one goal in mind: to access new markets by building a safer, better pipeline,” said Janet Holder, leader of the Northern Gateway Project. “The Joint Review Panel conducted the most comprehensive and science-based pipeline review in Canadian history and their report reflects the input of thousands of Canadians. Their report is an important step towards that goal.”

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued a release stating that, "no energy project will be approved unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment." The federal cabinet must make a final decision on federal permits for the project by July 2014.

“Now that we have received the report, we will thoroughly review it, consult with affected Aboriginal groups and then make our decision," he said.


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