Canadian panel calls for Northern Gateway project’s approval

A Canadian federal Joint Review Panel recommended that the Canadian federal government approve Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway crude oil export project, subject to 209 required conditions. “We find that the project's potential benefits for Canada and Canadians outweigh the potential burdens and risks,” the panel said in its report on Dec. 19.

Its decision followed more than 18 months of community hearings. “We are of the view that opening Pacific basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society,” the report said. “Societal and economic benefits can be expected from the project.

The panel found that environmental burdens associated with the project’s construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated. While some may not despite reasonable best efforts and techniques, “continued monitoring, research, and adaptive management of these issues may lead to improved mitigation and further reduction of adverse effects,” it said.

The report acknowledged that the project may require some people and local communities to adapt to temporary disruptions during construction. It also said that environmental, societal, and economic consequences of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant, and urged Northern Gateway Pipelines LP, the Enbridge subsidiary which would build the project, implement appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities.

“It is our view that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low,” the report said. “For all of the above reasons, we are of the view that, overall, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, constructed and operated in full compliance with the conditions we required, is in the Canadian public interest. We find that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it.”

Project’s route, capacity

The $6.5 billion (Can.) twin pipeline would run 1,177 km (732 miles) from oil sands production facilities in northern Alberta to the Kitimat deepwater port at the head of Douglas Channel in British Columbia. The proposed project would transport 525,000 b/d of crude oil for export and import 193,000 b/d of condensate.

The Northern Gateway Project team filed its formal application with the JRP in May 2010, and has been engaged in outreach with Aboriginal groups and stakeholders for more than 10 years, Enbridge said on Dec. 19. The team is studying the panel’s recommendations in advance to the Canadian government’s final decision, which is expected by July 2014.

“From the beginning of this project, Northern Gateway has worked with one goal in mind: to access new markets by building a safer, better pipeline,” said Janet Holder, the project’s leader. "The [JRP] conducted the most comprehensive and science-based pipeline review in Canadian history and their report reflects the input of thousands of Canadians. Their report is an important step towards that goal.”

She said the Northern Gateway Project team will work to meet the JEP's conditions, as well as the 5 conditions for heavy oil pipeline development British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has imposed, of which the Panel's recommendation is one.

The project’s opponents emphasized that the JRP’s decision is an important part of the review process, and should not be considered as final approval for it. “The fact is this pipeline will never be built,” Danielle Droitsch, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project director, said on Dec. 20. “[Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper] needs support from First Nations and a social license to build this pipeline – and he has neither.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com

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