Canada’s pipeline through paradise: Concerns about an oil spill drive huge opposition against planned exports to China

First Nations, environmentalists and political rivals are arraying against Prime Minister Stephen Harper – but he insists the $7bn project is necessary for national security

US Correspondent

No nation is more thirsty for Canadian oil than China. But until now, the oil from Alberta has only flowed one way: south – to the United States.

Now the Canadian government has approved a proposal for a major pipeline to transport the country’s oil to Asia, despite powerful resistance from environmental groups, the First Nations and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s political rivals in parliament.

Canada’s Alberta province has some 170 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, a resource surpassed only by Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. The Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge, now plans to build a 730-mile pipeline from the tar sands town of Brudherheim across British Columbia to the Pacific coast, where it would generate some 525,000 barrels of oil per day for export to Asia.

China, whose state-owned companies have recently invested more than $40bn (£24bn) in Canadian energy, is in line to benefit from the pipeline. Its supporters claim it will boost the Canadian economy, creating jobs and adding an estimated $300bn to Canada’s GDP over the next 30 years.

As much as 97 per cent of the Canada’s oil exports are to the US, and many consider the proposed $7bn project a crucial diversification.

However, the so-called Northern Gateway pipeline would pass through large swathes of land owned by native tribes, not to mention the pristine Great Bear Rainforest. And, when it arrives at the port of Kitimat, environmental activists fear the possibility of pipeline leaks or, worse, a tanker spill. More than 200 large oil tankers per year would sail in and out of Kitimat to meet the expected demand; the region still remembers the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989, which continues to affect local ecosystems 25 years later.

The Northern Gateway project was first proposed in 2006 and has been delayed several times due to heated opposition. Mr Harper claims the pipeline is essential to Canada’s national interest, especially since April, when US President Barack Obama’s administration indefinitely postponed approval of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Alberta oil through the US to the Gulf Coast in Texas. Mr Harper has said he was “profoundly disappointed” by the decision.

Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitimat, BC (AP) Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitimat, BC (AP)
Canadian regulators have drafted a list of 209 conditions, which the government says Enbridge must satisfy before construction can begin. “In addition, consultations with aboriginal communities are required,” Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said. “[Enbridge] clearly has more work to do in order to fulfil the public commitment it has made to engage with aboriginal groups and local communities along the route.”

Enbridge has suggested it may take as long as 16 months to meet the regulator’s conditions. The company’s president, Al Monaco, said he was pleased with the government’s decision, but acknowledged: “We still have some more work to do.” Mr Monaco told reporters that while the economic arguments for the pipeline are clear, the public still wants reassurance that the project is environmentally sound. “If we can’t prove our safety and environmental protection, the economic benefits won’t matter,” he said. “In other words, the economic benefits alone are not enough to sustain public support.”

The opposition to Northern Gateway is fiercest in British Columbia, where premier Christy Clark has set five conditions for the support of the provincial government, including “world-leading” infrastructure for preventing and responding to either land or marine oil spills, and an assurance that British Columbia will receive a “fair share” of the economic benefits from the project. Ms Clark, whose administration can deny construction permits, says those conditions are yet to be met.

The pipeline’s opponents come from across the political spectrum, and on Tuesday hundreds poured onto the streets of Vancouver, BC, to protest the government’s decision. Environmental groups have insisted the Ottawa government’s approval does not guarantee the project will go ahead, while more than 130 First Nations have now signed a declaration banning the Northern Gateway pipeline from crossing their territories. “I never want to dip my paddle in oil,” Bryan Joe, a member of the Comeakin Nation, told a hearing last year.

Though Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled in the past that native groups must be consulted on any construction project that encroaches on their land, legal experts say their powers do not include a veto. Nevertheless, Stewart Phillip, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Steward, said the region’s indigenous tribes would block any attempts by Enbridge to begin building. In a statement, a coalition of the region’s native groups promised to “defend our territories whatever the costs may be.”

Mr Harper’s Conservative government also faced criticism from rivals in parliament. Tom Mulcair, the leader of the opposition New Democratic Party, said the approval of Northern Gateway presented a “severe threat to social order, social peace”, adding that the idea of sailing oil tankers to Kitimat through the narrow Douglas Channel was “folly”.

Mr Mulcair and the leader of the Liberal party, Justin Trudeau, both said they would reverse the decision to approve the pipeline were they to take power at the next Canadian general election in October 2015.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Registered Manager

£33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This local charity has an oppor...

Guru Careers: Product Manager / Product Marketing Manager / Product Owner

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Product Manager / Product Owner is required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Content Curator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a mobile television network wi...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a fast growing ...

Day In a Page

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'
Singapore's domestic workers routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals

Singapore's hidden secret of domestic worker abuse

David Cameron was shown the country's shiniest veneer on his tour. What he didn't see was the army of foreign women who are routinely exploited and often abused in the service of rich nationals
Showdown by Shirley Jackson: A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic

Showdown, by Shirley Jackson

A previously unpublished short story from the queen of American Gothic
10 best DSLRs

Be sharp! 10 best DSLRs

Up your photography game with a versatile, powerful machine
Solved after 200 years: the mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army

Solved after 200 years

The mysterious deaths of 3,000 soldiers from Napoleon's army
Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise

Robert Fisk on the Turkey conflict

Every regional power has betrayed the Kurds so Turkish bombing is no surprise
Investigation into wreck of unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden

Sunken sub

Investigation underway into wreck of an unidentified submarine found off the coast of Sweden
Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes

Age of the selfie

Instagram and Facebook have 'totally changed' the way people buy clothes
Not so square: How BBC's Bloomsbury saga is sexing up the period drama

Not so square

How Virginia Woolf saga is sexing up the BBC period drama
Rio Olympics 2016: The seven teenagers still carrying a torch for our Games hopes

Still carrying the torch

The seven teenagers given our Olympic hopes
The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis, but history suggests otherwise

The West likes to think that 'civilisation' will defeat Isis...

...but history suggests otherwise
The bald truth: How one author's thinning hair made him a Wayne Rooney sympathiser

The bald truth

How thinning hair made me a Wayne Rooney sympathiser
Froome wins second Tour de France after triumphant ride into Paris with Team Sky

Tour de France 2015

Froome rides into Paris to win historic second Tour
Fifteen years ago, Concorde crashed, and a dream died. Today, the desire to travel faster than the speed of sound is growing once again

A new beginning for supersonic flight?

Concorde's successors are in the works 15 years on from the Paris crash