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Future of $6.5 billion Northern Gateway project to be revealed Thursday

The Joint Review Panel held its final round of hearings into the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project in Terrace this June. The panel is National Energy Board members Kenneth Bateman, left, chair Sheila Leggett and Hans Matthews.  - Margaret Speirs
The Joint Review Panel held its final round of hearings into the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project in Terrace this June. The panel is National Energy Board members Kenneth Bateman, left, chair Sheila Leggett and Hans Matthews.
— image credit: Margaret Speirs

Nearly six months after 18 months of public hearings wrapped up, the federal environmental panel conducting the review of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Project will release its report on the controversial pipeline project this Thursday.

The report will detail the panel's recommendation – and the reasons behind that recommendation – on whether or not the federal government should approve the project, which as proposed would carry Alberta oil sands crude via pipeline to Kitimat, where it would then be shipped overseas in tankers.

Terms and conditions that Enbridge must implement if the project is approved will also be included in the panel's report. The federal government is not bound by the panel's recommendation, and cabinet has 90 days to accept or reject the panel's decision.

The three-person Joint Review Panel, an independent body mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board, began public hearings in Kitimat in January 2012, stopping in 21 cities in B.C. and Alberta, including three stops in Terrace.

The panel is focussed on the environmental effects of the proposed project – but groups against the pipeline project argue the panel's mandate is too narrow.

“While the report will cover issues raised at the hearings, including emergency response capabilities and the pipeline’s environmental impacts, the limited scope of the review means some major concerns have yet to be addressed,” said Kimberly Shearon, communications coordinator for Ecojustice in an email release earlier today. “We remain particularly concerned about the panel’s failure to consider the upstream impacts of oilsands expansion this proposed pipeline would enable.

“We are also concerned that the panel was not able to consider the recently released recovery strategy for the Pacific humpback whale, which shows a clear conflict between tanker traffic and the long-term survival and recovery of the whale population,” she said.

Reaction to the panel's report is expected to be widespread. The public hearings in Terrace were widely-protested by those opposed to the project, and there have been numerous Canada-wide days of action against Enbridge and the proposed pipeline.

The government of British Columbia officially recommended rejection of the project in its formal submission to the panel, and has said any heavy oil proposal would be subject to the B.C. government's five conditions, which include spill prevention and response, aboriginal participation and a share of oil export revenues for B.C.

The report will be available at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 19 on the panel's website.

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