Under pressure, B.C. government rejects Northern Gateway pipeline proposal

By Jonathan Fowlie, Scott Simpson and Jeff Lee / Vancouver Sun

The B.C. Liberal government has strongly rejected the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, stating in a formal submission to a National Energy Board review panel that the company has not properly addressed the province’s environmental concerns.

The province did not outright kill the proposed $6-billion oil pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast at Kitimat, but said Enbridge has left unanswered too many questions about its ability to protect marine or freshwater ecosystems in the event of a spill.

The proponents have “presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill,” the province wrote in its submission to the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel.

“It is not clear from the evidence that (Northern Gateway) will in fact be able to respond effectively to spills either from the pipeline itself, or from tankers transporting diluted bitumen from the proposed Kitimat terminal.”

B.C. said Enbridge failed to explain how it would respond to a catastrophic spill.

“The project before (the Joint Review Panel) is not a typical pipeline. For example: the behaviour in water of the material to be transported is incompletely understood; the terrain the pipeline would cross is not only remote, it is in many places extremely difficult to access; the impact of spills into pristine river environments would be profound,” the province wrote.

“In these particular and unique circumstances, (Northern Gateway) should not be granted a certificate on the basis of a promise to do more study and planning once the certificate is granted. The standard in this particular case must be higher,” it added.

“‘Trust me’ is not good enough in this case.”

The rejection is a major hurdle for the multi-billion dollar pipeline project, and especially for its ability to gain approval from the Joint Review Panel.

“It simply is insufficient for us to think it should go forward,” provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake said in an interview on Friday.

“The company was unable to give us adequate detail about how they would respond to a spill in some of these (freshwater) locations,” he continued.

“There’s a lot of questions about the behaviour of this product in cold marine environments, and a recognition that more research needs to be done on whether this material would float or whether it would sink, because obviously that makes a difference in terms of any potential spill and how it would be dealt with.”

Lake said the province’s submission is not a death knell for the project, but does set a “high bar” for it to proceed.

“Until the National Energy Board is able to process all this and deliver a final verdict, we don’t want to conclude that this is absolutely a no,” he said. “But we’re just saying from what we’ve seen to date, it doesn’t meet the test.”

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