VANCOUVER—The federal government is giving a conditional green light to Enbridge Inc.’s controversial $7-billion Northern Gateway pipeline project between the Alberta oilsands and the B.C. coast.
A joint federal review panel recommended approval of the 1,177-kilometre pipeline in December, with 209 conditions; the Conservative government has made it clear that finding new markets for Canadian oil is an economic priority.
“Today constitutes another step in the process,” National Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in a news release.
“Moving forward, the proponent must demonstrate to the independent regulator, the NEB, how it will meet the 209 conditions.”
Enbridge must also apply for regulatory permits and authorizations from federal and provincial governments, and Rickford noted that many of the 209 conditions listed by the National Energy Board call for additional consultations with First Nations.
“The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route,” said Rickford.
The project, which would move an estimated 525,000 barrels of petroleum products each day, still faces political and legal challenges from various fronts in B.C., where opposition to the project has grown as the decision drew near.
Those include a half dozen applications with the Federal Court for judicial review of the federal panel report recommending approval. The Gitxaala and Coastal First Nations have already said they are preparing broader lawsuits against either the federal government, the company, or both.
“There are going to very substantial delays on actually moving on this project,” Werner Antweiler, who teaches at the University of British Columbia’s business school, said in an interview Tuesday before Ottawa announced its decision.
“If there are more delays, what does it mean to the profitability of the project?”
There are three major competing proposals: Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain pipeline to the Vancouver area, the Keystone XL line proposed to the U.S. Gulf Coast and Trans Canada’s Energy East into Quebec and New Brunswick.
“There’s a very significant amount of money on the table for whoever gets the oil to market fastest,” said Antweiler.
Kinder Morgan faces similar hostility toward the Trans Mountain line in B.C., and the Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast has stalled with U.S. lawmakers.
The B.C. government has set out five conditions for its approval of any oil pipeline project, including aboriginal consultation and a “fair share” of revenues for the province.
Premier Christy Clark has said the Northern Gateway has yet to meet those conditions—something she repeated at an event in Kitimat on Tuesday before the federal government decision.
“We settled the five conditions—they’re very clear, they’ve been on the table for a very long time now,” said Clark.
“It is up to the proponent in the private sector to figure how, if and when they’re going to be able to meet them. None of them have yet.”