Enbridge needs more time for Northern Gateway

Trent Ernst, Editor

Enbridge needs more time to get all its proverbial ducks in a row before it can start building the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

As part of the 209 conditions the company needs to meet, construction on the project had to be started by the end of 2016. This is what’s known as a sunset clause, which identifies a date when construction is required to start to ensure that the facts presented during the regulatory proceedings remain current and relevant. If the project does not start by such a date, the Project will no longer be able to proceed unless an extension is granted.

Northern Gateway has requested the extension in order to “build trust, engage in respectful dialogue, and build meaningful partnerships with First Nations and Métis communities, stakeholders, and communities along the Project route,” says a press release from the company.

If it goes ahead, the company will be building twin pipelines built from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia. The eastbound pipeline would import natural gas condensate and the westbound pipeline would export diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands to the marine terminal in Kitimat for transportation to the Asian markets by oil tankers.

The project, which has an estimated price tag of $7.9 billion was proposed in mid-2000s and has been postponed several times.

Enbridge claims that the pipeline and terminal, if completed, would provide 104 permanent operating positions created within the company and 113 positions with the associated marine services.

However, First Nations groups, many municipalities, including the Union of BC Municipalities, environmentalists and oil sands opponents, among others, have opposed the project, citing environmental, economic, social and cultural risks posed by the pipeline. Opposition has been strongest on the west coast, where the pipeline would follow salmon bearing streams and ships loaded with bitumen would travel the ecologically sensitive Douglas Channel.

More than 130 Fist Nations groups signed the Save the Fraser declaration, including many of the groups along the pipeline route, but negotiations by the company have continued and, according to the company, more than half of the groups through whose traditional territory the pipeline passes have signed memorandums of understanding with the company.

The company is supported, says Enbridge, by a group of First Nations, known as “The Aboriginal Equity Partners.” Currently, there are 31 Aboriginal Equity Partners, though only a handful of the groups that have signed on have come forward publicly.

The Aboriginal Equity Partners, says a press release from the group, is “a unique and historic partnership that establishes a new model for conducting natural resource development on our lands and traditional territories. We are owners of the project and are participating in Northern Gateway as equals. This ownership ensures environmental stewardship, shared control, and negotiated business and employment benefits. Collectively, our communities stand to benefit from more than $2 billion directly from this Project.”

They point out that, in the last two groups, the number of communities that support the project has grown from 26 to 31.

“Our communities need the economic and business benefits that Northern Gateway can bring,” says the release. “We are focused on ensuring our communities benefit from this Project and are actively involved in Northern Gateway’s decision making so we can protect both the environment and our traditional way of life through direct environmental stewardship and monitoring. With our influence and guidance, Northern Gateway is changing and we are taking a leadership role. The process of change based on First Nations and Métis collaboration will continue. Our goal is for Northern Gateway to help our young people to have a future where they can stay in their communities with training and work opportunities. We remain committed to Northern Gateway and the opportunities and responsibilities that come with our ownership. We also remain committed to working with our partners to ensure our environment is protected for future generations.”

However, most observers believe that the company has not made any inroads into the communities along BC’s coast, with communities such as the Gitga’at of Hartley Bay and the Heiltsuk of Bella Bella still opposed.

In fact, the only west coast community named as being in support is the Gitxsan, a group that is not along the pipeline corridor, though the pipeline crosses streams that do flow into Gitxsan territory. And, shortly after the deal was announced, many members of the Gitxsan community spoke out against the deal, to the point of a legal challenge fought in court over who has the right to represent the nation in treaty talks with the province.

The Gitxsan Chief who negotiated the deal with Enbridge, Elmer Derrick, is one of four signatories of the document released by the Aboriginal Equity Partners.

More problematic to the pipeline’s success may be a moratorium on oil tankers along the North Coast. When the Liberal government came to power, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau imposed a ban on oil tankers along the north coast. Many thought this was the end of the project, but the company is pressing on.

One of the options for the company may be to re-route the pipeline to an Alaskan port, though the company does not say this is under consideration at this time: “Northern Gateway is consulting with First Nation and Métis communities and other stakeholders to chart a path forward for the project,” said a representative contacted by email. “We are open to change. Any significant developments on any aspect of the project would be communicated publicly at the appropriate time and done in conjunction with our Aboriginal Equity Partners.”

The Northern Gateway Pipeline, if built as proposed, would pass through the Tumbler Ridge area, crossing the Murray River about 3 km below Kinuseo Falls, then head up the Imperial Creek drainage and over the height of land there.

Recently, Enbridge spokesperson Donny van Dyk was in town to discuss the company’s plans for the pipeline with Council.

Councillor Howe asked about how the company planned to get across the Murray River. When it was first proposed, the company said it would probably need an aerial crossing over the river, something that many people in town are opposed to.

“It’d be better if it were called En-tunnel, rather than Enbridge,” says Howe.

“We share your wishes,” says Dyk. “Right now we’re situated 2.5 km below Kinuseo Falls. When we originally did our geo-work, it was inconclusive. Technology has improved, but we still need to do work. Because of our legal standing, our funding partners are not able to make the investment at this time, but we will do it prior to starting construction. It is an absolutely shared goal between the company and the community.”

Howe says we don’t have a mining community anymore, and the District is really pushing tourism, and a couple million doesn’t seem like a lot considering the company is going to make billions of dollars.

“That’s something you want to have nailed down,” says Howe.

“It’s not an issue of not wanting to do the geotechnical work, it’s just that right now there is this legal cloud hanging over us,” says van Dyk. “We are absolutely committed to doing it.”

Councillor Caisley asks what the timing around that decision. Dyk says Council will be briefed on work that is happening and will be kept up to date. “As we receive more information, we will keep you updated.”