Redford expects Northern Gateway approval, with ‘number’ of B.C. conditions

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

By James Wood, Calgary Herald

Premier Alison Redford expects conditional approval of the Northern Gateway oil pipeline Thursday, likely setting the stage for a new round of wrangling about the controversial project.

The National Energy Board’s joint review panel will release its decision on Enbridge’s $6.5-billion project, which is intended to transport Alberta oilsands crude to the British Columbia coast for shipment to Asia.

“Our sense — we don’t know until the decision comes — but what we’re hoping to see is a decision where the NEB will approve the project,” Redford told reporters in Airdrie on Wednesday after announcing a new school for the city.

“We expect that along with that approval will come a number of conditions that probably reflect a lot of input from communities in British Columbia and perhaps in other parts of the country . . . and that’s exactly how the process is supposed to work.”

The Gateway project has been a flashpoint issue, arousing fierce opposition particularly from environmental organizations and First Nations over concerns about a potential spill in the territory it runs through, as well as the growing carbon footprint of the oilsands.

B.C.’s Liberal government under Christy Clark has set five conditions for the approval of any oilsands pipeline project and told the NEB that Gateway should not be approved as currently constituted.

B.C.’s position — especially its demand for a “fair share” of the economic benefit of the pipeline — set it at odds with the Redford government, which has made opening new markets for Alberta energy a priority.

However, the two governments have since smoothed over their differences with a framework agreement around energy transportation projects.

Redford said she believes Northern Gateway is turning a corner.

“There’s really good discussion going on right now between First Nations and industry that is very different than it was six months ago,” Redford added. “This is that moment in time where everything is starting to converge.”

But Mike Hudema, an Edmonton-based campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said Gateway should be rejected on its merits by the NEB given what he says is majority opposition to the project.

“If you see a decision to push this pipeline forward despite those wishes, you’re going to see a lot of court cases move forward,” he predicted.

“And then I think you’re going to see lots of people engaging in more protests and civil disobedience.”

Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for Northern Gateway, said the hearings into the energy project were the most thorough in history and he felt confident the decision would be based on solid science.

“We put a lot of hard work and effort into this process and we have confidence in the joint review panel, that they have reviewed it thoroughly and done it to the highest standards possible,” he said.

Bob Schulz, a professor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business, expects approval by the NEB with conditions.

Those stipulations will likely attempt to address some of the environmental and First Nations issues that have been raised — and could lead to rerouting of the line, he said.

That would likely lead to increased costs for the project — he estimates $2.5-billion to $3-billion more — that would have to be addressed by Enbridge and petroleum producers who want to ship oil on the line, he said.

Schulz said there are major unanswered questions about whether there is political will in the B.C. government to get behind the project and how Clark’s demand for increased economic benefit will play out.

He expects no group will be completely happy with Thursday’s pivotal decision.

“I think there’s going to be some pencil-sharpening here,” he said.

With file from The Canadian Press

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