(Adds company CEO comment, background)
By Julie Gordon and Randall Palmer
VANCOUVER/OTTAWA, June 17 The Canadian
government approved the construction of Enbridge Inc's
Northern Gateway pipeline on Tuesday, setting the stage for a
barrage of lawsuits and demonstrations by environmental and
aboriginal groups opposed to the project.
Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford announced the
decision in a statement that was widely expected. He said
approval of the proposed pipeline, which would link Alberta's
oil sands with a Pacific port, was contingent on Enbridge
meeting more than 200 conditions set out by a regulatory panel.
"We're pleased with the decision and we think it's an
important milestone for Gateway and Canada, but we still have
some work to do," Enbridge Chief Executive Officer Al Monaco
Leaders of the two main opposition parties in the House of
Commons condemned the decision and vowed to stop the project if
victorious in next year's federal elections.
Monaco said it would "take about a year, maybe a bit longer"
to meet the conditions required before construction could begin.
Much of that work is around gaining support from aboriginals
living along the 1,177-km (731-mile) route, which will cross
hundreds of kilometers of wilderness and mountain ranges, mostly
in the Pacific province of British Columbia. Some are fiercely
opposed to the line crossing their territories.
The company says it has the support of 26 aboriginal
communities. Of those, the majority are in Alberta. Just 11 of
27 eligible communities in British Columbia have signed on.
Enbridge "clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill
the public commitment it has made to engage with aboriginal
groups and local communities along the route," Rickford said in
Native leaders expressed disappointment over the decision,
pledging to fight to stop the project, while environmental
groups prepared to file lawsuits and promised to stage protests
and blockades if needed.
"This pipeline will never be built," Nikki Skuce, senior
energy campaigner for environmental group ForestEthics, said in
a statement. "Instead of seeing shovels in the ground, we'll be
seeing action in the courts, at the B.C. legislature, on the
land and at the ballot box in 2015."
Indeed, the leaders of Canada's two main opposition parties,
the New Democratic Party and Liberal Party, both pledged to
block the project if either takes power after the October 2015
election, potentially through the use of legislation.
"If I win the honor of serving as prime minister, Northern
Gateway will not happen," said Liberal leader Justin Trudeau.
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair talked about making it illegal to use
supertankers in the channel used to reach the Kitimat terminal.
On the provincial level, Alberta's government heralded the
decision, which would open new markets for Canadian oil, while
British Columbia reaffirmed its opposition to the project.
"Our position remains unchanged. It is 'no,'" B.C.
Environment Minister Mary Polak said. "We understand the
economic benefits that the Northern Gateway project may bring,
but it will not be at the cost of our environment."
British Columbia has said it will not support any oil
pipeline within its borders unless five conditions pertaining to
environmental safeguards, consultation and fiscal benefits are
met. The company has so far met just one of those five
conditions, Polak said.
Northern Gateway would carry diluted bitumen extracted from
Alberta's oil sands to a deepwater port in Kitimat in northwest
British Columbia, where it would be loaded on supertankers and
shipped to Asia.
Like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the United States,
Northern Gateway is loathed by environmentalists who fear it
will hasten the development of Canada's oil sands and exacerbate
climate change. They also worry about the risk of a spill along
the pipeline route or near the coastline.
Canada's ruling Conservatives strongly support Keystone and
Northern Gateway as crucial for the development of the oil sands
and in turn Canada's economic future. The line to the Pacific
would allow Canadian oil producers, now dependant on U.S.
markets, to tap energy-hungry Asian markets.
In December, Canadian regulators recommended the government
to approve the 525,000 barrel-per-day project after concluding
that it would pose little risk to the environment if the company
complied with the conditions it spelled out.
($1 = 1.0946 Canadian Dollars)
(Additional reporting by Nicole Mordant in Vancouver and Scott
Haggett in Calgary; Editing by Frank McGurty, Grant McCool and