OIL SANDS

Canada approves Keystone XL alternative line, but 'wall of opposition' lies ahead

A divisive $7 billion-plus plan to ship 525,000 barrels of heavy Canadian fuel to the nation's west coast, opening up Asia as an alternative heavy oil sands crude market to America, yesterday won conditional approval from the northern nation's conservative government.

Yet, few Canadian political observers foresee a settled fate for Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline before 2015, when oil sands champion and current Prime Minister Stephen Harper sees his own fate decided by voters. Harper's unstinting advocacy for Gateway and its cousin in controversy, the Canada-to-U.S. Keystone XL pipeline, has long drawn fire from his opponents and stands to be a major flashpoint in his next campaign.

Environmentalists point to opposition from residents of the liberal coastal province of British Columbia as well as from aboriginal First Nations -- who have significant territorial rights in Canada -- as an insurmountable obstacle for Enbridge, which must meet 209 conditions in order to officially begin operating Gateway (EnergyWire, Dec. 20, 2013).

"While Enbridge has overcome another hurdle with this federal approval, they still face a wall of opposition in B.C.," ForestEthics senior energy campaigner Nikki Skuce said in a statement. "First Nations, B.C. municipalities and the B.C. provincial government have all rejected Northern Gateway."

Even Greg Rickford, Harper's natural resources minister, acknowledged the long road ahead in winning First Nations support as he gave Gateway the green light yesterday.

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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" of the pipeline, Rickford said in his statement.

Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, spoke for many of the pipeline's aboriginal opponents as he vowed that "regardless of this decision, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline will be never be built, because First Nations and others in British Columbia won't allow it, and they have the legal power to prevent it."

Keystone XL connection

Gateway's importance to the U.S. debate over expanding imports of emissions-heavy Canadian oil sands crude, via KXL, other pipelines, or rail, is difficult to understate. Congressional Republicans have seized on Gateway's western route to Asia as an economic case for pushing through KXL, contending that a secure swath of Canadian heavy crude reserves could fall under Chinese control unless the United States increases its oil sands pipeline capacity, though few if any in the GOP responded to yesterday's announcement from Rickford.

The Obama administration, in the final environmental review of KXL it released in January, described Gateway as operational by "2017+" and warned that "all of the proposed pipeline projects within Canada have faced stringent political opposition and substantial regulatory uncertainty" (Greenwire, May 15).

Underscoring a recent shift in the politics of oil sands crude pipelines in the aftermath of KXL's multiple delays, National Wildlife Foundation senior counsel Jim Murphy used the Gateway approval to draw a positive contrast between President Obama and Harper.

"While there's no tar sands giveaway that's too dangerous or climate disrupting for Harper and his polluting allies, the Obama administration is rightly moving to protect our wildlife and communities by limiting industrial carbon pollution and rejecting polluter demands to rush a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline," Murphy said in a statement.

Twitter: @eschor | Email: eschor@eenews.net

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