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Panel gives thumbs up to Northern Gateway pipeline

The federal joint review panel for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline has recommended the federal government approve the pipeline project, which as proposed would carry Alberta oilsands crude to the port of Kitimat, subject to 209 required conditions.

“The panel finds that Canadians would be better off with this project than without it,” reads the two-volume report, released this afternoon. "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 its report, would be in the public interest."

The project – now estimated to cost $7.9 billion, up from $6.5 billion – would benefit the Canadian economy by providing oil export opportunities in Asia, reads the report.

“Opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society... the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operations can, generally, be effectively mitigated,” reads the report. The report says the pipeline and terminal would create 268 long-term jobs.

The report sets out 209 required conditions for the construction and operation of the project, and includes “technical standards and requirements for detailed plans, studies, scientific research, consultation, reports, monitoring, and financial assurances,” should the federal government approve the project.

The federal government is not bound by the panel's recommendation, and the federal cabinet has 180 days to accept or reject the panel's decision.

“Our conditions require Northern Gateway to implement all of its commitments, including those relating to marine navigation safety, design and inspection of tankers, and enhanced marine oil spill preparedness and response,” reads the report.

Other conditions include reporting on ongoing consultations with aboriginal groups, submitting an emergency response plan, developing a marine mammal protection plan and caribou habitat restoration plan, carrying $950-million in liability coverage, and implementing “appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities, so that the likelihood and consequences of a large spill would be minimized.”

The report acknowledges that the environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill would be “significant,” while noting that a spill is “unlikely and not permanent.”

It also acknowledges that the project would likely affect certain populations of woodland caribou and grizzly bear.

“Despite substantial mitigation proposed by Northern Gateway, there is uncertainty over the effectiveness of Northern Gateway's proposed mitigation to control access and achieve the goal of no net gain, or net decrease, in linear feature density,” reads the report. “We recommend that the Governor in Council find these cases of significant adverse environmental effects are justified in the circumstances.”

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver reiterated his position that "no energy project will be approved unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment." The federal cabinet must make a final decision on federal permits for the project by July 2014.

B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said approval by the federal panel meets one of its five conditions, but doesn't change the province's position against the pipeline until its other four are met. They include satisfying legal obligations to consult and accommodate aboriginal communities and developing "world leading" safety and spill response on land and at sea.

"Now we have Alberta's agreement for the five conditions, the federal government is talking about the importance of weighing the environment in the balance, and even Enbridge is talking about the importance of the environment in this equation," Polak said. We believe we've made progress in highlighting the very important steps that are going to need to be taken … but we need to see evidence that this work is going to be achieved."

The three-person Joint Review Panel, an independent body mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board, began 18 months of public hearings in Kitimat in January 2012, stopping in 21 cities in B.C. and Alberta, including three stops in Terrace.

With files from Tom Fletcher

 

 

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