VANCOUVER, Sep 22 2006 (IPS) — With oil sands crude production in the western Canadian province of Alberta projected to triple by 2015, several pipelines are competing for access to Asian export markets.
The Calgary-based Enbridge Gateway Pipelines Inc. plans to build a 1,150-kilometre pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to a deep sea port in Kitimat, British Columbia, despite numerous bureaucratic hurdles standing in the way – including obtaining regulatory approval from the government related to aboriginal title and passing environmental assessments.
Though aboriginal organisations do not have a veto over the project, the government approval process includes a fairly rigorous duty to consult with them on behalf of Enbridge.
“The project is falling behind other pipelines going to the U.S. due to the complications with aboriginal title as well as technical difficulties,” Will Horter, executive director of the environmental group, the Dogwood Initiative, told IPS. “If you add the fact that this terrain is not flat tundra, the timelines to construct a pipeline would be slowed down, as well as having difficulty in supplying materials for construction.”
“Even the investment analysts have raised warning flags due to the project’s inability to ink meaningful deals on oil supply to the Chinese market,” he said.
Horter added that environmental and aboriginal concerns along the pipeline route, combined with coastal water issues around oil tanker traffic, will make it difficult to build such a pipeline on a fixed time schedule.
Based on polling commissioned for his organisation, Horter said that over 80 percent of people living along the coast oppose the building of the pipeline.
Canada has had a 34-year moratorium on coastal oil and gas exploration. First Nations and environmental groups maintain that the moratorium also applies to tanker traffic, but that position is being challenged by the government and oil interests.
Concerns have also been raised that constructing a new oil pipeline could become a geostrategic threat that would then require a naval presence as well.
A Jun. 17 report by CIBC World Markets warned that aboriginal negotiations would impact the ability of the pipeline to be viable. The report added that Enbridge may find it more financially realistic to expand its existing pipeline network.
The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council released a July report criticising the environmental impacts of such a pipeline and its potential effects on salmon bearing streams, wildlife and other environmental concerns. The report called for ending the approval process, concluding that the economic benefits would be minor and would be outweighed by the social and environmental impacts from the project.
Enbridge submitted an initial proposal to the federal government’s National Energy Board to kick-start the lengthy approval process.
Jay Mitchlin with the Vancouver-based environmental group, the David Suzuki Foundation, told IPS that, “The tanker traffic issue goes back to the sixties and seventies. Additionally, this pipeline would be going through caribou and fish habitat and other extremely sensitive land areas. The provincial government seems to be pursuing this as a way to draw investment in to oil and gas exploration in BC at the expense of other issues.”
Mitchlin also questioned the project on the basis of future national energy requirements. He added that domestic supplies of natural gas would be affected by increasing the capacity of Alberta’s oil sands. He also raised questions about the commitment of the federal government to meeting the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Guujaw, president of the Haida Nation along the north coast of British Columbia, told IPS that, “If we are living on a continent that imports oil from other parts of the world, why should we at the same time be looking to export oil? With all these places of conflict in the world, one would think there would be smart people in the world trying to figure out a better way to do this for everyone’s benefit.”
“The corporations seem to be intent on getting the oil out to markets as quickly as possible without weighing the broader consequences,” he said.
Guujaw also raised the issue of increased tanker traffic to the region not only from the export of oil but from the need to import dilutant oil from California. In his view, the increase in traffic would bring in contaminants not common to the area. He identified the Enbridge project as just one of several proposals being developed in the region that could affect aboriginal and environmental concerns.
“These are short-term capital interests which are overriding rational decision-making,” the native leader said. “The shareholders are willing to advance the bottom line, but we have to deal with the risk it brings to the environment and live with it.”
An Enbridge spokesperson was not available for comment.