Five Canadian government agencies reviewing the Northern Gateway project have concluded supertankers could safely use the British Columbia port at Kitimat, bringing a rare smile to Enbridge faces and spreading unhappiness among opponents of the C$5.5 billion project.
A technical review process said that although there would “always be a residual risk” associated with any project like Northern Gateway “no regulatory concerns” were identified for vessels, vessel operations, proposed routes, navigability, other waterway users and the marine terminal operations supporting the movement of 250 oil tankers a year exporting 525,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude and importing 193,000 bpd.
The report also covered another 135 liquefied natural gas carriers and bulk carriers associated with LNG export plans for Kitimat, which Transport Canada deemed was “not a significant increase and does not cause concerns with vessel traffic density.”
A quarter of all the tankers expected to support the crude and LNG operations would weigh 320,000 metric tons, three times larger than any vessels which have used Kitimat since the 1950s.
The voluntary assessment by Transport Canada of 18 Enbridge studies has been submitted to the Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which are two months into public hearings of the Northern Gateway application. It is not seen as government policy, or an endorsement of the project.
The panel is not expected to deliver its findings until mid-2013 and Enbridge is now targeting 2017 to start crude exports to Asia and the United States.
The other agencies backing the technical review were Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Coast Guard and Pacific Pilotage Authority Canada.
Transport Canada said the three routes proposed by Enbridge from Kitimat along the Douglas Channel to open water are “appropriate” and pose no unusual challenges and credited Enbridge with taking measures to reduce the threat to marine animals, including whales.
“There are no charted obstructions that would pose a safety hazard to fully loaded oil tankers,” it said, but, among 15 recommendations, it suggested Enbridge should set weather limits for shipping in an area where waves up to 40 feet are not uncommon and also look for newly identified obstructions.
The Canadian Coast Guard said the routes and shipping volumes complied with its existing guidelines.
Enbridge: ‘we’ve done our homework’Janet Holder, the Enbridge vice president responsible for Northern Gateway, said the review demonstrates to British Columbia residents that “we’ve done our homework and that our marine plan has been thoroughly reviewed.”
She said the federal conclusions “underline that what we are proposing is well-planned and safe — and indeed would enhance safety for all shipping on B.C.’s north coast.”
Northern Gateway spokesman Paul Stanway welcomed the chance to “place some facts on the table” in the midst of what he described as a highly emotional hearing process, which has about 4,500 registered speakers.
Opponents not swayedAlthough the findings are a major breakthrough for Enbridge, opponents of Northern Gateway refuse to be swayed by the marine findings and are ready to battle against the 1,110-mile overland portion of the pipeline from Edmonton to Kitimat.
Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, dismissing the analysis as “shallow” because it failed to consider the future cumulative impact of tankers and cruise ships in the area.
He said in a statement that Transport Canada’s review was “another attempt by the federal government to circumvent the joint review process.”
“What is being proposed for the Douglas Channel could rival traffic in the bloody Suez Canal,” Sterritt said.
Eric Swanson, director of the Dogwood Initiative’s No Tankers campaign, said only one shipping accident “would be lights out for lives and livelihoods on our coast. The whole debate about Northern Gateway is whether coastal B.C. will accept the risk of this type of accident happening.”
He said that “everything is safe until an accident happens. What we’ve seen around the world is that despite all precautions, despite all procedures, humans sometimes make mistakes and machines sometimes break.”
Nikki Bruce, an energy campaigner with ForestEthics, an environmental group, said the fact remains that tankers would be carrying a “risky product, one that could not be cleaned up on the coast. There’s too much at stake.”
Chief Elmer Moody of the Gitxaala Nation, whose traditional land and water would be crossed by tankers, said he was disappointed the review was released only two weeks after his community filed a federal court application to be included in the Northern Gateway consultation.
Prentice calls for Ottawa to actIn a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade February 23, Jim Prentice, a former federal minister of both the environment and aboriginal affairs and vice chairman of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, said Ottawa should take a more assertive leadership role in handling Northern Gateway because diversifying Canada’s crude oil exports is in the national economic interest.
He said the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper needs to “consult, negotiate and ultimately to exercise its legislative authority as a majority government” to develop pipeline corridors to the B.C. coast.
Prentice said Ottawa should involve the B.C. government and First Nations in developing a blueprint for a “new ocean management regime” to include bonding requirements for vessels, navigation and safety and plans to prevent and deal with “environmental occurrences” on the coast.
He warned that if Northern Gateway is “forced, rushed, or arbitrarily constrained, it will not withstand either public or judicial scrutiny,” adding “there’s years of heavy lifting to be done, so we’re advocating that the government sees that happens.”
Prentice also urged greater efforts to resolve outstanding aboriginal land claims affecting the 1,110-mile pipeline right of way from Alberta to Kitimat, 40 of them spread across northern British Columbia.
A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said in an email response that Ottawa will ensure First Nations “are heard on resource projects,” but the government views crude oil and LNG exports as offering “potentially transformative economic benefits” for Native communities.