BY DAVE COOPER, Edmonton Journal, April 26, 2010
Mackenzie Valley-style battles loom with natives, green groups
For Alberta oilsands producers, the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline is a crucial new outlet for expanding bitumen production.
But for B.C. First Nations fighting over land claims, and environmental groups fearing another Exxon Valdezsized oil spill on the Pacific coast and further oilsands expansion, Northern Gateway is a rallying point for protest.
Within weeks, Enbridge will set these competing economic and political interests on a collision course by filing an application to build the 1,200-kilometre-long line to carry more than a half-million barrels of oil a day from near Edmonton to tidewater in Kitimat, B.C.
Public hearings will follow in what is sure to be a lengthy and controversial legal process that may well echo the arguments that have stalled progress on the proposed Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline project.
Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert said in an interview that the province "shouldn't underestimate the challenges in B.C. I guess in some ways it could turn out to be a mini-Mackenzie Valley pipeline. ... At the end of the day many of the challenges are the same as Mackenzie."
But Alberta, which has the most to lose if Northern Gateway is derailed, can only watch from the sidelines.
“We can’t do anything, except encourage (the project) to happen.”
For municipalities and construction firms along the route, the project — with a price tag last estimated at $4.2 billion — will provide an economic boost. Enbridge estimates it will create 4,000 construction jobs.
“We’re desperate here for jobs in the aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities,” said Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan.
Her town once had 15,000 residents, but it is now down to 8,500, following years of reductions at the Alcan smelter and the recent closing of the Eurocan paper mill.
“There is a lot of optimism about Northern Gateway, but I would never condone it unless it can go ahead in a safe way,” she said.
The private Port of Kitimat already handles imports of natural gas condensate for EnCana Corp., which ships the product by rail to Alberta for heavy oil diluting. Kitimat also handles container ships and bulk vessels bringing in supplies for Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter.
Enbridge is promising the very large crude carriers (VLCC) that will use the terminal will be modern double-hulled ships carrying two pilots and tethered to two powerful super tugs that can take over a vessel’s course if a problem occurs. The firm notes that over the past 25 years, 4,300 deep sea vessels — including 1,500 carrying petroleum products — have safely used the port.
“The Exxon Valdez was single hulled, had no pilot or tugs or captain on the bridge. If some people say that 20 years later we can’t do anything here because of that, then what about the ferry (B.C. Ferries’ Queen of the North) that went down and is still leaking oil. Should we stop all ferries?” asked Monaghan.
Last month, B.C. First Nations and environmental groups officially threw down the gauntlet, with Art Sterritt, director of the Coastal First Nations (an alliance of nine aboriginal groups) telling the media that “we’ll start with every legal means we can, and we have many, including constitutionally protected rights and title to these lands and waters.”
He painted the picture of small boats blockading the tankers, and added “this is not an uphill battle. This is the wall. Enbridge has just hit the wall. As far as we are concerned, this project is dead.”
Environmental groups have tied Northern Gateway to their demand for a pause in oilsands projects, with the Alberta-based Pembina Institute the leader in producing research on tailings ponds, water use and carbon dioxide emission issues, as well as potential damage to salmon rivers in B.C.
“It is nonsensical to consider whether a pipeline project is in the interests of Canadians while ignoring the impacts of the oil filling the pipeline,” staff counsel Karen Campbell said recently.
But Pembina will not take part in the upcoming hearings.
Since announcing the project in 2005, Enbridge has been building relationships along the pipeline route, and signed more than 30 protocol agreements with First Nations and Métis communities to formalize communications, and provide financial assistance for participation in the upcoming review process.
Enbridge spokesperson Jennifer Varey said the firm won’t comment on the project ahead of their official submission to the quasi-judicial joint review panel, led by the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), which is expected in a matter of weeks.
Nevertheless, one of the biggest issues is beyond what the panel can deal with.
It cannot make “a final determination about the strength of an aboriginal group’s claim respecting rights. … Without making (such) an assessment, a government decision-maker cannot even begin to consult,” Kitamaat Village chief councillor Dolores Pollard told the CEAA in a letter last month.
However, another pipeline project seems to have sidestepped these issues.
The Pacific Trail Pipeline, the first major pipeline in that region in 40 years, is a $1.1-billion, 463-kilometre line connecting B.C.’s rich shale gas fields with a new $3-billion Kitimat LNG export marine terminal. The project has all its approvals and construction is set to begin. First shipments are planned for 2014, four years ahead of Northern Gateway’s schedule.
The LNG terminal is on First Nations land, and the community will receive millions of dollars in rent each year. First Nations along the route will receive $32 million to ensure they have an equity position in the pipeline.
The Northern Gateway export line will move up to 525,000 barrels per day of oil — composed of about 70 per cent bitumen and 30 per cent natural gas liquids, called condensates, to get it to flow. The project includes a smaller, parallel 193,000 bpd line to ship condensate back to Alberta.
Meanwhile, pipeline giant Kinder Morgan Canada Inc. upgraded its Trans Mountain system recently, and now moves 300,000 bpd of oil and petroleum products to Vancouver, where much of it is exported from the Westridge Marine Terminal, at which the channel is being enlarged and deepened.
Kinder Morgan has plans to expand this Vancouver route to handle 700,000 bpd.
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