Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would bring oil to tankers for transport through the delicate system of the Douglas Channel, just south of Kitimat, British Columbia. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that the nearby Great Bear Rainforest is “no place for a pipeline.”

Northern Gateway Doomed? The Hits Keep Coming

Daniel Mesec

Enbridge’s floundering Northern Gateway pipeline has taken another big hit, as the National Energy Board (NEB), Canada’s federal energy regulator, suspended all reviews pertaining to the 730-mile-long pipeline. The NEB canceled their recent application for a three-year extension after the company failed to fulfil several conditions including purchase agreements with Asian market consumers, which expire at the end of 2016.

On June 30 a federal court squashed the former Conservative governments approval of Northern Gateway, another set back for the $9 billion project proposed for B.C.’s remote northwest, its fate now resting in the hands of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal cabinet.

Enbridge claims that 31 aboriginal communities have signed on to the Northern Gateway Aboriginal Equity Partnership Agreement, including 18 First Nations from Alberta and 13 in B.C., which support the project. However, major opposition to the pipeline has gained widespread support since the NEB’s Joint Review Panel hearings in 2014 that saw more than 1,400 people speak against the project and only two in favor.

Although many believe Northern Gateway is almost certainly dead—given last week’s court decision overturning the federal approvals, plus Prime Minister Trudeau’s repeated promises to reject the project to the tune of formalizing a legislated oil tanker ban for the north coast—recent reports from those close to the situation suggest Northern Gateway may be exempt from the tanker ban, according to Bloomberg News.

Such reports have unleashed a renewed lobbying effort by First Nations and environmentalists opposed to the project to ensure Trudeau follows through on his word to reject the project in any form as Canada sets its sights on ambitions green house gas emission reduction targets after signing the Paris climate agreement in April.

A major focus of the opposition to Northern Gateway is being put on the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest, which is under federal protection as a conservation area and has been the subject of several ecological studies to support its environmental importance to coastal First Nations.

On July 5 Trudeau told reporters in Montreal that “the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a crude oil pipeline.” However, Enbridge has reiterated they are “fully committed” to seeing the Northern Gateway Pipeline built with the support of their equity partners.

If supertankers were to be granted access to the Douglas Channel near Kitimat, where the export terminal is expected to be built, tanker traffic would have negative impacts on marine life within Gitga’at traditional territory, according to a recent study on aquatic acoustics.

Researchers from the University of British Columba and Michigan State University for the first time collected baseline data for the study from 357,000 recordings, taken from eight locations in Gitga’at Territory over the past year. Chris Picard, science director for the Gitga’at Lands and Marine Resources Department, said the study supports the Gitga’at’s repeated claims that the Great Bear Rainforest is the last place supertankers should be granted access.

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“It gives us a critical tool for protecting and managing our territory and marine resources against the cumulative effects of industrial development,” Picard said.

The results of the research were published in the scientific journal Global Ecology and Conservation. Picard said the data will better prepare the Gitga’at Nation for possible tanker traffic proposals on their territory in the future.

“This study builds on our multifaceted ecological and cultural monitoring program and establishes baseline sound conditions against which the Gitga’at can assess future potential shipping and tanker traffic proposals in our territory,” Picard said.

Although First Nation and non–First Nation opposition to the project are united in their efforts to keep the north coast free of oil tankers, the premiers of Alberta and British Columbia have been discussing ways for their respective provinces to reach a deal on Northern Gateway. Alberta is looking at the possibility of buying hydroelectricity from British Columbia’s controversial Site C dam in exchange for allowing the Northern Gateway pipeline to proceed, according to CBC News. But Site C is no more popular than Northern Gateway.

RELATED: Trudeau Test? 300 Academics Join First Nations in Urging Halt to Site C Dam

But the Trudeau administration’s endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) last month could give First Nation opposition to both projects legal leverage in the end. Ultimately Trudeau’s government will have the final say on whether to approve or reject the proposals.

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) has staunchly opposed the pipeline, and in a recent letter to the NEB, the organization contested that if Canada wants to fulfill the promise to rebuild relationships with First Nations, Northern Gateway must not be permitted to proceed.

“We stand with First Nations whose territories comprise a majority of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker routes, and many downstream First Nations potentially impacted by the threat of oil spills, who have publicly declared opposition to the project,” wrote the UBCIC in its letter to the NEB. “If Canada is to uphold its commitment to the UNDRIP, and all Indigenous communities who would be impacted by the proposed Northern Gateway project have not provided their free, prior and informed consent, then the NEB cannot grant the permit extension.”

The federal cabinet is expected to render a decision regarding the future of the Northern Gateway Pipeline sometime between now and the end of the year.

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