Federal review panel to issue report on Northern Gateway pipeline

VANCOUVER – A federal-review-panel report on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline will be released this week, following more than a year of hearings throughout B.C. and Alberta.

The highly anticipated report will be released Thursday afternoon in Calgary and will include the panel’s recommendation on whether the project should proceed. The final decision, however, rests with the federal government, which has 180 days to decide.

As the Dec. 31 deadline for the report neared, Ivan Giesbrecht, spokesman for Northern Gateway, said the hearings were the most thorough in history and he felt confident the decision would be based on solid science.

“We put a lot of hard work and effort into this process and we have confidence in the joint review panel, that they have reviewed it thoroughly and done it to the highest standards possible,” Giesbrecht said.

The controversial $6-billion proposal that would link the Alberta oil sands with a tanker port on the B.C. coast has pitted the proponent, Calgary-base Enbridge (TSX:ENB), against environmental groups and several First Nations.

The pipeline became a lightning rod in the debate over global climate change and raised concerns about the possibility of an oil spill on land or off the coast of B.C.

The provincial government told the panel it did not support the pipeline as it was proposed, and more than 130 aboriginal bands signed a declaration against the project.

The panel can recommend conditions for approval of the project, and already released a list of 199 condition in April that the company would need to meet should the project receive approval.

The nearly 1,200-kilometre pipeline would deliver 525,000 barrels of petroleum a day from Edmonton through northern B.C. to a tanker terminal in Kitimat, on the north coast.

It would allow Canadian oil producers to reach the emerging markets of Asia and free them to sell outside what is currently their sole market in the American Midwest.

Several new safety measures have been announced by federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver since the hearings ended, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark has announced a truce with neighbouring Alberta in a dispute over her province’s “fair share” of revenues from the project.

Kimberly Sheardon, of Ecojustice, which represented ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation at the hearings, said the panel was given a narrow scope, and some major concerns have yet to be addressed.

“We remain particularly concerned about the panel’s failure to consider the upstream impacts of oilsands expansion this proposed pipeline would enable,” she said in a statement.

“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 pointed out that the Northern Gateway decision will be the first since the federal Conservative government made sweeping changes to the laws governing environmental reviews, leaving the final decision in the hands of cabinet.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. The original version incorrectly reported the time frame for the federal government decision.