The Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project has recommended approval of the pipeline, laying out 209 conditions that must first be met.
After 18 months of submissions from experts and the public, the panel concluded the benefits of a twin pipeline from northern Alberta to a proposed tanker facility at Kitimat outweigh the risks.
Its two-volume report was released this afternoon in Calgary.
“The environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant,” the panel concluded in its report. “Through our conditions we require Northern Gateway to implement appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities, so that the likelihood and consequences of a large spill would be minimized.”
The panel said there would be significant effect on some populations of woodland caribou and grizzly bear, and uncertainty remains over the effectiveness of Enbridge’s plans to minimize the disruption the pipeline would cause.
“It is our view that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low,” the report stated.
Conditions include protection plans for whales and other marine mammals, measures to protect caribou and other land animals and development of methods to track and deal with diluted bitumen spills.
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he expected the JRP to approve the project but was still upset by the decision.
“I know a lot of people were hoping against hope that it would be a different recommendation and I think there’s certainly some disappointment,” Bachrach said. “Today I’m really reflecting on the over 100 people from our community and our valley who made oral presentations to the JRP when they were in town for the hearings and I’m reflecting on the power of the stories and what an incredible part of the world and what an incredible community this is.”
Last year, the Town of Smithers passed a motion to officially oppose the project. The only councillor who voted against the motion was Charlie Northrup. Counc. Mark Bandstra was absent.
Northrup said he voted against the process, not the project.
“I voted against the motion because I felt it was out of order and it wasn’t fair to be presenting it when Counc. Bandstra was away. There was no notice of motion. It was the process and the way it was done.”
At the time, Northrup said he, was actually against the project but after taking time to educate himself more on it, has changed his mind and thinks it can be done responsibly.
“My initial stance was to oppose Enbridge. Over the last two and a half years I made a real effort to participate on both sides and listen as much as I could. Now I think it’s an opportunity for everybody involved to see how they can make it happen in the best manner.
“If all the energy that has gone into opposing this had been put forward to doing it better and safer, we’d be way further ahead than where we are today. Let’s make it the safest we can and the best monitored.”
Earlier this week, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs re-affirmed their opposition to the project and said they are willing to do whatever it takes to protect their territory from pipelines.
“We have been clear that oil and gas pipelines do not match our vision for our territory and for our grandchildren’s future,” said Dini ze’ Na’moks (John Ridsdale). “Our chiefs arrived at this decision through the careful consideration that is central to our governance system.”
Former Stikine Liberal MLA Dennis MacKay was one of only two people to speak in support of the pipeline during the JRP process. MacKay said he thinks the benefits outweigh the risks.
“I’ve got children and I’ve got grandchildren in our part of the province and I want to make sure there’s jobs for them,” he said. “I’m pleased that we are looking at the economy as well as the social impacts and that’s what the process is supposed to do.”
Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, who was in Smithers for the announcement, said he will spend the next few weeks talking to his constituents and to First Nations’ groups.
Cullen also said he was not surprised by the panel’s recommendation.
“They made their mind up many, many years ago” he said. “They’ve never met a pipeline they didn’t like, regardless of how much risk it posed and regardless of how damaging economically it was.”
Enbridge Northern Gateway CEO Janet Holder said the Northern Gateway Project team will now be working to meet the JRP’s conditions.
“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 Holder in a prepared statement. “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.”
The JRP heard oral evidence and statements from intervenors beginning in January, 2012 up until February of this year.
The JRP was an independent body, mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board to investigate the pipeline’s effect on the environment and it’s economic value.
The fate of the project is now in the federal government’s hands. They have said they will make a decision in the next 180 days.