Cross Posted from The Vancouver SunA small group of protesters greeted the environmental review panel weighing the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline Tuesday as the hearings returned to British Columbia where the pipeline proponent will face cross-examination about its plans.
Members of the local Carrier Sekani First Nation and conservationists held signs telling Enbridge to go home.
The $6-billion project would carry diluted bitumen from the Alberta oilsands through northern B.C. to a tanker port in Kitimat, B.C., for transport to markets in Asia.
The final hearings underway in Prince George will see company officials and interveners questioned under oath about environmental and socio-economic effects of the pipeline, safety standards and accident prevention and response.
Terry Teegee, vice-tribal Chief for the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, said the protest is meant to send a message to Enbridge and to the panel.
“We don’t want this project in our territories, or British Columbia or the coastal waters,” Teegee said in an interview.
The Carrier-Sekani are not participating in the panel process because, Teegee said, the panel does not have a mandate to examine aboriginal rights or the cumulative effects of a pipeline.
“I think where we see our fight is in the courts,” Teegee said. “We’re going to be seeing this potentially go to court if it is approved.”
Melinda Worfolk was one of about 30 people who gathered midday in front of the community centre where the hearings are taking place this week.
“It would change the landscape drastically in this place that really has an amazing environment and wilderness and biodiversity. And once that’s gone, no amount of money can make it up.”
The B.C. government issued a news release Tuesday saying it has a list of questions for Enbridge officials.
They centre on the company’s proposed land-based spill prevention, response and recovery strategies. That includes finding out about where equipment is available for cleanup and how the company plans to detect potential leaks along the line.
But with tens of thousands of documents filed with the panel, and myriad experts on everything from how land forms change over time to marine engineering design, finding the right expert to answers those questions was proving a “continuing challenge,” said Geoff Plant, a former attorney-general appointed chief legal strategist for the B.C. government at the hearings.
In particular, Plant said the province has specific questions to gauge whether an effective spill response can ever be put in place in such remote locations as the planned pipeline route.
“It won’t take much of a spill or a leak into a pristine creek that’s going to have bitumen spilling into a bigger river that’s going to be causing more harm than anyone wants, faster than anyone wants,” Plant said in an interview during a break in the first day of hearings in Prince George.
The goal is to drill down into the technical details of the Northern Gateway proposal, he said.
“It’s not coming together quite as nicely as I’d like it to, but we’ll get there,” Plant said after several terse exchanges between the B.C. government lawyer and a panel of nine experts provided by Enbridge on mapping and geological work provided to the review panel.
The twin pipelines — one carrying diluted bitumen to the tanker port, the other carrying condensate from Kitimat back to Alberta — would be the largest energy project in B.C. history.
Enbridge has estimated that opening up Asian markets to Canadian oil would boost Canada’s GDP by $270 billion over 30 years, and would generate total revenues in direct and indirect benefits to the federal and provincial governments of $81 billion over 30 years.
Of that, B.C. would receive about $6 billion, while Ottawa would receive about $36 billion and Alberta $32 billion.
The three-member review panel is to complete its report for the federal government by the end of next year.