Four similar actions filed in the Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver on Friday ask the court to block Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government from approving Enbridge’s application to construct a pipeline from northern Alberta to Kitimat on the B.C. coast.
One action was filed by ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, three B.C.-based groups that participated in the 18-month review by the Joint Review Panel. Similar actions were filed by the Haisla Nation, the Gitxaala Nation and by the Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria on behalf of B.C. Nature and Nature Canada.
The panel, representing both the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, concluded in its Dec. 19 report that the project is unlikely to have significant environmental effects except on certain woodland caribou and grizzly bear populations. The panel made 209 recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of environmental damage.
The federal cabinet has 180 days to consider the recommendation.
The panel process, however, has long been seen as only one component of what is expected to be a drawn-out battle over Northern Gateway.
Many critics assumed correctly as it turned out that the panel would come down on the side of industry.
Public protests and court actions, by both environmental groups and especially First Nations, are viewed by many as potentially more troublesome for Enbridge and the Harper government than the panel’s work.
The court action alleges that the panel based its decision on insufficient evidence and that the panel did not meet the statutory requirements of the federal review process.
“The JRP did not have enough evidence to support its conclusion that the Northern Gateway pipeline would not have significant adverse effects on certain aspects of the environment,” Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell said in a statement.
“The panel made its recommendation despite known gaps in the evidence, particularly missing information about the risk of geohazards along the pipeline route and what happens to diluted bitumen when it is spilled in the marine environment.”
An Enbridge spokesman said the company expected court actions, but said such efforts are “premature” until the federal government makes a decision.Northern Gateway, the limited partnership set up by Enbridge to finance the pipeline, “is confident in the integrity of the Joint Review Panel process and report,” said Ivan Giesbrecht.
“Its recommendations and conditions are based on science and the input of experts.” He added that the company doesn’t anticipate the court action will “necessarily delay” the government’s decision.
The panel had always insisted that climate change questions were outside its mandate, and, in its report, the panelists also argued there wasn’t a clear connection between Gateway and the booming oilsands.
“We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oilsands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities,” they wrote.
The panelists cited, as evidence to back up this assertion, that the pipeline proponent didn’t signal an intention to develop oilsands resources.They also noted that the pipeline starting point at Bruderheim, near Edmonton, “would not be located near oilsands developments and could receive oil from a variety of sources.”
Yet in the same report, panelists cited testimony from project advocates directly linking Northern Gateway to the oilsands industry in order to back up their argument that the project was in Canada’s economic self-interest.
“Those arguing in favour of the project said bitumen production was growing faster than upgrading capacity in Canada. . . . To obtain full value, they said, bitumen would need to reach complex refineries beyond those currently served in the North-Central and Gulf Coast regions of the United States. The next-nearest concentration of complex refineries is in East Asia, mainly in China.
“They said Northern Gateway would provide a relatively short and direct route to East Asia as well as access to other refining markets such as India and California.”
with files from CP
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