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Is Northern Gateway Coming Back From the ‘Dead’?

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The Enbridge subsidiary is seeking an extension on its sunset clause from the NEB, and pitching the project as a “true partnership” with Aboriginal people


Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline project is showing signs of life today, as the company seeks more time to put shovels in the ground.

Northern Gateway says it, along with 31 Aboriginal equity partners, has applied to the NEB for a three-year extension on its sunset clause to give it more time to achieve legal and regulatory certainty, as well as continue discussions with First Nations and Métis people. The current sunset clause stipulates that construction must begin by the end of the year.

The decision may come as a surprise to some industry watchers and activists, who had all but concluded the project wouldn’t go ahead. The Globe and Mail declared the project “dead” as early as 2012, and again last December when newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to formalize a moratorium on oil tankers in northern B.C., which would include tankers entering and exiting Kitimat, the pipeline’s proposed destination.

But recently, the federal government, which ultimately has the power to approve or disapprove the pipeline, has hinted that there may still be life left in the project and that it may allow for some leniency on the tanker moratorium.

When asked recently whether Northern Gateway was finished, Transport Minister Marc Garneau, who is responsible for formalizing the moratorium, said it would be “premature” to declare the project dead. The Financial Post has reported the government is considering making exempt from the moratorium tankers carrying certain type of petroleum products.

And then there’s the rumours of a different route: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has said she discussed with federal cabinet ministers the possibility of terminating the pipeline at a different B.C. port. That’s even more surprising considering Notley, the leader of Alberta’s left-leaning New Democratic Party, is on record expressing her opposition to the pipeline.

Northern Gateway says it has no current plans to change the route, but confirms its open to change.

Northern Gateway Says It Could Have Done A Better Job Fostering Relationships With Indigenous Communities

However, one other obstacle remains in the pipeline’s path: Buy-in from Indigenous communities along the route.

To combat that challenge, Northern Gateway is now pitching the project as “a true partnership between industry and First Nations and Métis peoples,” and admits it could have done a better job building these relationships earlier on.

“Our priority is to continue to build respectful relationships with First Nations and Métis communities,” said John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway, in a statement. “From the beginning, Northern Gateway should have done a better job of building relationships with First Nations and Métis communities, particularly on the west coast of British Columbia. While we had the right intentions, we should have done a better job of listening and fostering these critical relationships and developing our plans together as true partners.”

Northern Gateway says Enbridge and its partners will reduce their own stake in the project to increase total available First Nation and Métis ownership to 33 per cent from 10 per cent. It also says it will double benefits for First Nations and Métis communities from $1 billion to $2 billion.

However, Kelly Russ, chair of the the Coastal First Nations, has told Alberta Oil the First Nations alliance is against pipelines with respect to Enbridge, even if it were to take a different route.

“Whether it comes out in Kitimat or it comes out in Prince Rupert, the consequences as far as we’re concerned are the same, the outcome is the same,” Russ says, “which is basically a potentially catastrophic end to some particular First Nations cultures that rely on the marine ecosystem, that they’ve always relied on.”

The proposed $6.5-billion project will carry 525,000 barrels of oil per day approximately 1,177 kilometres (731 miles) from Bruderheim, Alberta, to the port of Kitimat, B.C. It received approval from the Canadian government in 2014 with 209 conditions attached.

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