The Canadian government has swung into action with attempts to find a way over or around a rising wall of resistance from First Nations and aboriginals to energy infrastructure projects and the prospect of C$100 billion being invested in British Columbia over the next decade.
With Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal already a year behind schedule in the regulatory process and its grand dreams of opening up Asian markets to Canadian crude bitumen from the oil sands and LNG under threat, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has decided to tackle concerns over marine oil spills and the risks to aboriginal land and environment.
Faced with delays that have added a year to the regulatory phase of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, the government has announced measures to reduce the risks of an offshore oil spill, while naming a special representative to seek “social license” from First Nations to proceed with a host of projects.
Eyford to begin meetingsNatural Resources Minister Joe Oliver announced March 19 that Vancouver attorney Doug Eyford will immediately start meetings with aboriginals in communities affected by plans to build crude bitumen and natural gas pipelines, LNG plants, marine terminals and related infrastructure.
He said the appointment is a “seminal moment” in relations between the government and First Nations as Ottawa seeks an answer to First Nations’ concerns about the impact on an estimated C$650 million in resource projects over the next decade, with C$100 billion expected to occur in British Columbia.
Eyford will also work with the governments of British Columbia and Alberta who are feuding over the Northern Gateway pipeline planned to export 525,000 barrels of crude bitumen to Asia and import 193,000 bpd of condensate.
He is scheduled to deliver a preliminary report to Harper by June 28 and a final report by Nov. 29.
Eyford said he was unsure whether his reports would be made public, but insisted his mandate was not to act as an advocate for any project.
His said his role was to “provide an accurate and complete report” to Harper.
Reinforcing spill defensesOn March 18, Oliver and Transport Minister Denis Lebel said C$120 million will be spent over the next five years on eight measures to reinforce Canada’s oil spill defenses by developing a “world class” regime of tanker inspection and surveillance.
The changes will be introduced before final decisions are made on applications by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan to ship a combined 1.15 million bpd out of ports at Vancouver and Kitimat.
Oliver said the government’s overriding commitment is to “make polluters pay for any costs related to coastal oil spills.”
Of the three priority items, all foreign-registered vessels will now receive the same treatment as Canadian ships, with mandatory annual inspections; a National Aerial Surveillance Program established in 1991 will qualify for additional federal funding to monitor shipping activities in the Pacific waters and watch for illegal oil discharges; and the government will establish a Tanker Safety Expert Panel to develop recommendations for enhanced safety standards.
Demand for improved safetyThe marine safety initiative is aimed at satisfying the British Columbia government of Premier Christy Clark which insisted on improved tanker safety as one of five key demands that must be met before the province would allow the construction of pipelines from the oil sands to the Pacific Coast.
British Columbia Environment Minister Terry Lake said March 19 that until his government completes a review to determine what gaps exist in overall marine spill response it will not comment on the federal measures.
Darcy Dobell, vice president of the World Wildlife Fund’s Canada Pacific region, said tightening regulations will not change her organization’s fundamental opposition to Northern Gateway.
The Northern Gateway project entered the final stretch March 18 of public hearings that have lasted 15 months with Janet Holder, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway leader, conceding the company may be unable to satisfy all of the competing interests in the project.
“I think it is important to understand this is a very diverse project,” she told a joint review panel of Canada’s National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. “It’s a very complex project. There are a lot of interests at stake.”
John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines, said about 60 percent of aboriginal communities affected by a pipeline and tanker terminal have signed agreements to take equity stakes in the pipeline and efforts to engage the others will continue.
Carrie Henchitt, an attorney for the Heiltsuk Nation, said aboriginals are more than just stakeholders. “We have specific rights very different from other interest groups,” she said.