Seeing the Light: Province of British Columbia Joins Opposition to Proposed Enbridge Pipeline

A Spirit bear, or Kermode bear, in British Columbia



The rains were unrelenting this week in northern British Columbia.

The rivers swelled; the trees greened; a fabled white Kermode bear, as known as the Spirit bear, brightened afternoon commutes along Highway 16 as it was spotted foraging in the soggy foliage near Terrace, BC.

So perhaps the Gitga’at First Nation administration staff described it best when they compared Friday’s news to, “sunshine breaking through an overcast day.”

The news was that the Province of British Columbia, much to the surprise of many skeptics, had formally announced its opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

To be clear, the province wasn’t the only one voicing its concerns. It was among dozens of intervenors who stated their opposition in cumbersome documents filed as the deadline for written final arguments approached on May 31. The written arguments followed months of cross-examination before a Joint Review Panel (JRP), tasked by Canada’s National Energy Board, to assess Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. That pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands, through northern BC to the northwest coast, where it would be loaded onto tankers destined for Asian markets.

Intervenors included First Nations, conservation groups, politicians and individuals. ForestEthics Advocacy was among them. In a 150-page plus document, also filed Friday, it urged the JRP to reject the proposal for its very significant shortcomings. Firstly, pipeline proponents put forth an environmental assessment that was woefully incomplete. Anyone who followed the hearings heard repeatedly that Enbridge’s planning is preliminary at best, with such things as baseline data and oil spill response planning set aside until after project approval.

Next, there’s no denying that pristine Canadian landscapes would be harmed, both in the construction and operation of the pipeline; not to mention the likelihood of an oil spill, which has the potential to wipe out the Pacific salmon stocks that tourism, commercial fisheries and First Nations rely on.

Finally, British Columbians would stand to lose all this with very little to gain. The return for Canadians is minimal: economic expansion is limited mostly to the tar sands.

Despite obvious reasons for rejecting the project, it was unclear what BC’s Liberal government would decide, particularly so soon after its May election win. Prior to the election, Premier Christy Clark played coy with Enbridge and the Alberta government, suggesting that approval would only be given based on five conditions—one being a share for BC in Alberta’s oil revenues.

So, today’s announcement comes as a pleasant surprise. Indeed, a ray of sunshine after seemingly endless rain.

The province’s submission focused on Northern Gateway’s unfounded promises: “NG has asserted that it will be able to effectively respond to all spills. … However, NG has presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill.” Emphasis theirs. It continues:

“NG should not be granted a certificate on the basis of a promise to do more study and planning once the certificate is granted. The standard in this particular case must be higher. And yet, it is respectfully submitted, for the reasons set out below, NG has not met that standard. ‘Trust me’ is not good enough in this case.”

This marks the second time in recent months that the BC government has responded to concerns about industrial impacts on pristine landscapes. In a major victory in December, it struck a deal with Shell to withdraw from its tenure to drill for coalbed methane in northern BC’s Sacred Headwaters.

Unfortunately, the province doesn’t have the final say. Neither does the panel reviewing the proposal. That was taken away months ago by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has decided his Conservative government should determine the fate of BC’s coastline. But this most recent development proves that when citizens shout loud enough, there may be a light at the end of the pipeline.