Breaking: Canadian oil sands pipeline gets tentative approval despite threats to people and planet

Intro

A three-member panel from Canada’s National Energy Board ruled Thursday that the Canadian government should approve construction of the highly controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project, though the project must meet 209 conditions. This decision flies in the face of First Nations communities who have stood in opposition to this project because of its direct impact on their lands and livelihoods. The project calls for two pipelines to connect Alberta’s oilsands to the Pacific coast. The impact of increased development of the Canadian oil sands has been said to be “game over for the planet,” because of the amount of dangerous carbon emissions it will release into the atmosphere. Final approval for this pipeline project is still six months away and is expected to be the subject of widespread protests and campaigns in 2014.

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MT @NaomiAKlein Hey Tories, if u think #tarsands oil is “conflict free” just try to build that pipeline through BC. #NorthernGateway

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Key Points

  • The Northern Gateway pipeline completely undermines Canada’s obligation to respect First Nation treaties. Many uphold the customs of their ancestors by living off the land which is within these communities’ legal rights, yet authorities continue to exclude First Nations from conversations that would affect their livelihoods.
  • Promoting increased development of the oil sands through projects like the Northern Gateway is potentially “game over for the planet.” Allowing industry access to these hard-to-reach deposits of oil will allow the justification of our continued dependence on fossil fuels in a time when Canada needs be transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources – not attempting to excavate every last fossil fuel deposit with no regard for public health risks.

 

Background

The Northern Gateway pipeline project is two pipelines heading west from Alberta to the North Coast of B.C. The $5.5 billion, 1,177 km project would have the capacity to carry 525,000 barrels of oil sands per day to a coastal port, where it would be exported in tankers. Officials of B.C. will give a final defense of their rejection of the pipeline to a Joint Review Panel on June 17th. The Panel will then present a report of its findings to the federal government. Over the past 18 months, the federal Harper administration has been accused of bowing to the interests of oil companies and making oil sands exploitation a national priority despite the public outcry against it and the threat it poses to public health, ecology, and the climate.

The Canadian oil sands are deposits of bitumen crude oil mixed with sand.  Recent technological advances have made it possible to extract this oil and refine it into viable gasoline.  Most of the deposits are within Alberta, Canada, inside the old-growth boreal forest and Athabasca watershed.  The tar sands are estimated to be the second largest deposit of oil in the world.  Allowing full industry access to the tar sands will not only be devastating to public health and the local environment, but leading climate scientist James Hansen has called the tar sands “game over” for the global climate.

While development of the tar sands oil is by almost all accounts potentially disastrous for the planet, it could greatly benefit a few vested interests, including the Canadian government. Tar sands development promises to be so lucrative that it has become a major driver of politics and policies in the Canadian government on the federal, provincial, and international level. In an effort to accelerate the construction of pipeline infrastructure necessary to carry tar sands crude to refineries and foreign markets, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration has made efforts to gut environmental regulations and review processes. Influence has also come from foreign markets, as the United States and Canada have seen lobbying efforts spring up from those who can benefit from tar sands production.

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Key Quotes

  • “Our Nations are the wall this pipeline will not break through. Our lands and waters are not for sale, not at any price. What Enbridge is offering is the destruction of our lands to build their project, and the risk of oil spills for decades to come which could hurt everyone’s kids and grandkids.” - Chief Larry Nooski, Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, member Nation of the Yinka Dene Alliance, 2011
  • “The Tar Sands is the largest industrial project in the world. It is also the dirtiest. Tar Sands produce three to five times as much CO2 per barrel as conventional oil. There’s enough under the ground to push us over the edge into runaway climate change. It should be everyone’s concern.” - Lionel Lepine, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation
  • “The Alberta oil sands are impeding the enforcement of adequate environmental policies and emissions reduction within Canada and adversely influencing Canada’s role in global climate change initiatives.  They are also setting the stage for further exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels on a worldwide scale, which would lead to a substantive increase in greenhouse gas emissions and provide a means for global governments and industry to perpetuate the heavy use of fossil fuels rather than seriously tackling the necessary conversion to renewable energy, low carbon transportation and energy supplies, and reductions in energy use.” Michelle Mech, independent researcher and author of “A Comprehensive Guide to the Alberta Oil Sands”; Canada Green Party Ally

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  • MT @Raincoast Conditions for #NorthernGateway can never be met. Must protect BC’s coastal economy, culture & ecosystem from bitumen tankers