Communities in British Columbia are concerned the planned Northern Gateway pipeline will spoil the pristine environment

Canadian pipeline approved by panel despite protests

A Canadian expert panel has approved plans of an energy company Enbridge to build a nearly 1,200km long oil pipeline despite protests by environmentalists and aboriginal communities. 

The panel of more than 200 experts has concluded the $5.7bn (£3.5bn) Northern Gateway pipeline, foreseen to carry crude oil from Alberta’s oil sands to the coast of British Columbia, western Canada, for shipments to Asia, will benefit Canadian society and won’t pose any environmental threat if carried out in line with the recommendations.

The decision, announced on Thursday, paves the way for the project to receive the final green light from the Canadian government that has until July 2014 to decide.

"Based on a scientific and precautionary approach to this complex review, the Panel found that the project, if built and operated in compliance with the conditions set out in the report, would be in the public interest," the Joint Review Panel said in a report.

"After weighing all the oral and written evidence, we believe that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project than without it," the panel concluded.

As expected, the decision has enraged the opposing groups that have pledged to continue fighting against the project. “We were hoping the NEB had heard the concerns of British Columbians, but obviously political and corporate oil agendas supersede the interests of the citizenry,” Misty MacDuffee, a Raincoast biologist told to the Vancouver Sun. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when a pipeline most British Columbians don’t want is given the thumbs up.”

Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, filed for regulatory approvals for the project, expected to transport 525,000 barrels per day, three years ago. During the past 18 months, the Joint Review Panel has been conducting hearings with the possibly affected communities along the route in Alberta and British Columbia.

The communities and environmentalists are mostly concerned that land or marine oil spills will damage the province's pristine landscapes and disrupt subsistence hunting and fishing.

Enbridge has said it will comply with the panel’s conditions and recommendations to ensure the construction and operation of the pipeline won’t cause any harm to the environment and the local communities.

To reduce the environmental impact, 70 per cent of the pipeline will run through previously utilised and already disturbed land. The pipeline will also be dug deeper under watercourses to enhance protection. Ten pump stations along the route will be powered by electric pumps to limit noise and greenhouse gas emissions.

To prevent spills at the Kitimat Marine Terminal at the end of the pipeline, the tankers loading export oil through the port's two ship berths and 19 tanks for oil and condensate, will be surrounded by containment boom.

The Northern Gateway project is in line with Canada’s energy policy that seeks to become less dependent on the USA.

The pipeline is believed to generate more than $300bn in GDP over 30 years, $300 in employment and contracts for Aboriginal communities and businesses, $4.3bn of labour-related income across Canada during construction and about $2.6 billion in local, provincial and federal government tax revenues.

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