No Real Need for Pipeline Between Oilsands and B.C.'s West Coast, Senior Bureaucrats Say

May 27,2011
Mike De Souza,
Post Media News

A multi-billion-dollar pipeline project that would link the oilsands region to the coast of British Columbia offers new export capacity that the Canadian industry does not really need, senior bureaucrats have told the federal government.

That conclusion is among a series of revelations about federal activity in recent months surrounding an ongoing environmental evaluation of the $5.5-billion "Northern Gateway" project proposed by the Alberta-based energy company Enbridge, which has argued in favour of its strategic importance.

Enbridge wants to build the 1,170 km pipeline through mountains, forests and bodies of water between Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. and a new terminal and docking facility in Kitimat.

The details of the federal assessment were released in over 300 pages of internal documents from Natural Resources Canada, obtained by Postmedia News, which also noted rising public opposition to Enbridge's proposed project over concerns about oil spills that could plague pristine natural habitat on land and water -especially in light of recent accidents such as BP's Gulf Coast well blow-out and an Enbridge crude oil pipeline rupture and leak into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.

"Most letters from citizens to the prime minister call on the government to 'reject' the Northern Gateway project, even before it is reviewed," wrote Bruce Akins, a senior adviser from the oil and gas policy and regulatory division of Natural Resources Canada, in an internal federal document.

The documents, which were largely produced last fall and released under Access to Information legislation, also revealed that Enbridge representatives were "making the rounds in Ottawa chatting with some departments" and senior federal officials about the $5.5-billion project and the government-led assessment of its environmental impacts.

Enbridge has touted numerous economic benefits of the project, including thousands of new jobs, millions of dollars in new government tax revenues and billions of dollars worth of economic growth. But the government raised doubts about whether the oilsands industry actually needed the pipeline to boost exports.

"Even without Northern Gateway, Canada will have enough crude oil export capacity for some considerable time given the recent approvals of the Enbridge Clipper project, the TransCanada Keystone Project, and the TransCanada Keystone XL project, all of which will deliver crude oil to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast market," wrote Akins.

The documents and internal government emails were released following a request made by the Torontobased research group Environmental Defence, which has also expressed concerns about the potential for oil spills resulting from the project.

The Keystone project, while approved in Canada, has not yet received the green light in the U.S. and has been met with skepticism by President Barack Obama, who recently questioned the pipeline in the context of the "destructive" nature of the "tarsands."

A spokesman for Enbridge said the company's research has clearly demonstrated growth in the oilsands and a demand for the Canadian product in Asian markets which would require a new port on B.C.'s West Coast.

The package of documents also included an email from Akins which praised a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper from a Terrace, B.C. resident, Ken Juniper, who highlighted several major breaks along an existing natural gas pipeline in recent years that were caused by natural events such as floods and rock slides.

"It is much more thoughtful and technical than the 'I don't like tarsands and tankers' letters that we usually get," Akins wrote to two senior regulatory officials, also on Oct. 29.

John Ridsdale, the hereditary chief of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, which represents a territory of almost 22,000 square kilometres, warned that the company and the government would be committing "cultural genocide" against his people if they proceed with the project he described as being "all risk and no benefit to the people of British Columbia and Alberta.

"If you kill the water, you kill the land, you kill the plants, the animals, that's how you kill a culture," Ridsdale said in an interview. "You kill the culture, you kill the people."

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