Editorial — Federal Northern Gateway approval is just one step forward

There are many roadblocks remaining, and First Nations approval will be critical if the project is to proceed.

Much will be made of the federal government’s decision to give the Northern Gateway pipeline its approval. However, it is important to put Tuesday’s decision in the proper perspective.

The Joint Review Panel, which earlier gave Northern Gateway the green light, put 209 conditions on that approval — conditions which Enbridge, the proponent, has said it will fulfil. There probably isn’t anyone in B.C. who hasn’t heard an Enbridge ad about the 209 conditions.

Then there’s the five provincial conditions that Premier Christy Clark laid down before last year’s provincial election. While they are general in nature, they constitute some stiff barriers. One of them, calling for the proponent to have agreements with First Nations, may prove impossible, unless there is a marked change on the part of many northern B.C. First Nations.

Even if agreements with First Nations are reached, it is quite likely that there will still be some lawsuits over the pipeline. Any First Nations group or individual wishing to sue has the ability to stop the entire pipeline in its tracks — possibly for years.

The Mackenzie Valley pipeline, proposed for the Northwest Territories in the 1970s, is a classic example of how lawsuits can effectively kill a resources project. By the time all lawsuits and other regulatory hurdles were dealt with, the project was no longer economic and it has never been built. At this juncture, it seems that is the most likely scenario for Enbridge’s proposal.

Is there a need to move Canada’s resources to offshore customers? Yes, there is. Those resources include oil. But given the nature of bitumen, the product being shipped, and the hazards of navigation on B.C.’s north coast, there are many legitimate concerns about shipping this product, particularly from Kitimat, which is connected to the Pacific Ocean by a relatively narrow channel.

It would make more sense to ship refined oil products, from proposed northern B.C. refineries in Kitimat and Prince Rupert, and that would meet at least some of the objections to Northern Gateway. Such projects would also create many more jobs in B.C., which means that this province would gain more benefits for the considerable risk it is being exposed to.

The final decision on this project is a long ways off.

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