2 june 2013

British Columbia Opposes Planned Oil Sands Pipeline

By IAN AUSTEN The New York Times, May 31, 2013

OTTAWA — A pipeline for exporting oil sands bitumen to Asia-bound tankers was dealt a severe blow on Friday when the province of British Columbia urged a federal review panel to reject the $6 billion plan.

The proposal to build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and its port is effectively Alberta’s backup plan in case the Obama administration turns down the Keystone XL, a pipeline that would link the oil sands with American refineries on the Gulf Coast. Several of the concerns raised by British Columbia in its rejection echo those of American environmentalists regarding Keystone XL.

In its 99-page submission, the province questioned Enbridge’s claims that it could mitigate spills in its remote mountain wilderness and off its rugged coastline.

Enbridge, the province wrote, “presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill.” The submission said that from the company’s evidence it was not clear that it “will in fact be able to respond effectively to spills either from the pipeline itself or from tankers” and added, “ ‘Trust me’ is not good enough in this case.”

Enbridge, which is based in Calgary, did not comment on the submission.

Like Keystone XL, the Northern Gateway project would carry tarlike bitumen from the oil sands, which is diluted with solvents to allow it to flow through pipes. As has been the case with many American critics of Keystone XL, which is being proposed by TransCanada, British Columbia said that much remained unknown about how bitumen behaved after spills, particularly in water.

After it first appeared that the approval of Keystone XL might be in jeopardy, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who represents an Alberta political constituency in Parliament, began heavily promoting the Northern Gateway project as a way of diversifying Canada’s energy business. The United States is Canada’s only export customer.

But the Northern Gateway project is unpopular in southern British Columbia, where the majority of the province’s population lives, and was an issue in recent provincial elections.

While the decision to grant Enbridge a permit ultimately rests with Mr. Harper’s federal government, several environmental groups said that the province’s opposition had probably doomed the pipeline.

Gillian McEachern, campaign director for Environmental Defence, a Canadian advocacy group, said that the federal government “would be ill-advised” to override the provincial government. “Projects that work are ones that clearly have support of people in the region,” she said.

In a statement, Joe Oliver, federal natural resources minister, did not directly address the province’s concerns. But he said, “The objective of diversifying our export markets for energy remains a critical priority for our government.”

Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, said that any attempt to impose the pipeline on the province would raise several constitutional questions. Not only do the two governments have overlapping and sometimes conflicting powers over environmental issues, but also most of the land that the pipeline would cross is owned by the provincial government.

Any legal challenge by the province, she said, “could be tied up in the courts for some time.”

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