[Update] A new CBC article on the pending announcement. It is similar to the ‘political stance’ article in ¶3 below and includes several quotes from one of my UBC professors, George Hoberg. He’s very against the pipeline, so hardly an unbiased observer, but an excellent policy analyst regardless. It also includes a couple paragraphs on the First Nations position and legal standing. [End update.]
To any US readers, you’ve probably never heard of the Northern Gateway (NG) pipeline. To any Canadians, this is old hat (or toque). NG is a major pipeline from the Albertan tar/oil-sands fields to obtain tidewater access. Simply put, oil producers can get between $10 and $30 more per barrel on the international market than when constrained by existing bottlenecks. It is one of three proposed pipelines in Canada, excluding Keystone XL. Keystone is better known in the states as it crosses the border. To avoid going on a tangent of the other pipelines, here is a quick table of all four proposed projects/expansions for reference:
|Project Name||Length (km/mi)||Existing Capacity (barrels per day)||Proposed Capacity (barrels per day)|
|Enbridge Northern Gateway||1,177/730||0||525,000|
|TransCanada Energy East||4,600/2,700||0||1,100,000|
|TransCanada Keystone XL||1,900/1,180||590,000||830,000|
But, back to the subject at hand. The Canadian federal government is widely expected to announce the approval of NG tomorrow, 17 Jun 2014. Contrary to any chants of “USA!” and “We’re Number One!,” this is probably the most controversial of all the projects. NG is neither the longest nor largest pipeline, but it goes through completely virgin territory. The others are totally (Trans-Mountain), mostly (Energy East) or partially (KXL) expansions on existing routes. Not only is the terrain extremely remote and an engineering challenge, but the pipeline will cross many, many pristine rivers and streams that are significant salmon breeding grounds. Then, the inbound and outbound tankers will have to navigate 90 km (55 mi) through Douglas Channel between Kitimat and the Hecate Strait. This is not impossible as it is currently an active shipping route, but it is not a simple as just shoving off and sailing into the big Pacific Ocean. The Globe and Mail summarizes some of these challenges.
From a pure political stance, there are big conflicts. All the pipelines originate in PM Stephen Harper’s political base of Alberta, but NG goes through the more left leaning BC province (home of Greenpeace, after all). Harper doesn’t want to alienate his base in Alberta, but BC environmental groups have vowed to electorally punish any members of Parliament or provincial legislature that back the project. The BC Liberal Party (actually a center-right party, unlike the national Liberal Party [yeah, it’s complicated]) won big in last year’s elections, so they may not be in imminent risk, but also do not want to give an easy talking point to the NDP opposition.
There are also significant First Nations concerns as several bands are adamantly against the plan and will try to leverage their sovereignty claims as much as possible. There is no simple way to explain First Nations legal rights, but to even say, “It’s complicated,” is an understatement of huge magnitude. I would love to link to something, but I don’t even know where to start.
Regardless, this will not end Tuesday. Enbridge already must comply with over 200 conditions before beginning construction. Honestly, I’m not familiar with those conditions, so I can’t really say if they’re trivial or onerous, but this is not exactly a shovel-ready project. BC Premier Christy Clark also laid out five conditions for approving the pipeline. These don’t supersede any federal decision, but may serve as her political ace-in-the-hole should she decide to gum up the works by denying or delaying local approvals and permits (unlikely, but who knows). And then there are the court battles that could rival Don Cherry for the definition of an ugly suit.