Canada's Faustian Bargain: The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline

Photo Courtesy of Rickz |

Rhetorical mudslinging has dominated Canadian environmental news this week, with conservative politicians and environmental activists coming to verbal blows in the wake of the commencement of the environmental assessment of the Enbridge Inc. Northern Gateway pipeline. 

The proposed pipeline will run from the Albertan Tar Sands to a long protected channel in Kitimat, BC, where the harvested oil will be loaded onto ‘super-tankers’ and transported to Asia. The pipeline project is estimated by Enbridge to generate at approximately $5.5 billion dollars, and is set to span a whopping 1,172 km. 

An environmental assessment process has been initiated that will be conducted by a federal review panel comprised of numerous government officials and industry experts. The review is anticipated to last until 2013 and will include than 4,300 individual and group testimonies. Enbridge officials will also be in attendance, but are not slated to make presentations until late in the review process. 

Environmental and Indigenous groups are hotly contesting the construction of the  pipeline as it threatens both vulnerable ecological and cultural landscapes. The Gitga’at, an indigenous group native to the Kitimat area fear that through bringing hundreds, if not thousands, of super-tankers into their ancestral waters that an oil-spill that would destroy their livelihood as fishermen, would be inevitable. They have already been forced by one oil-spill to abandon their harvesting of cockles and clams, by the Queen of the North Oil spill in 2006, which released 225,000 litres of diesel fuel, 15,000 litres of light oil, 3,200 litres of hydraulic fluid and 3,200 litres of stern tube oil into the areas waterways. The Queen of the North’s oil capacity of just over 220,000 litres, is 1/400ths of the capacity of the ‘super-tankers’ that the Northern Gateway pipeline would require to ship it’s oil across the pacific. Environmental activists share the Gitga’at’s fear of an enormous oil spill, and also are in adamant opposition of supporting the carbon intensive Tar Sands. 

Conversely, Enbridge and a number of government officials have indicated that the pipeline is essential to the stabilization of the Canadian economy. Prime Minister Harper was quoted as saying “the pipeline will help Canada increase its effort to make sure it can supply it energy outside of the United States and into Asia in particular”. Many industry experts and conservative economic analysts have heralded the Northern Gateway as an essential step in diversifying the Canadian oil export market, as 100% of Canada’s Tar Sands oil and gas is currently going to the United States. 

The situation has escalated further as Prime Minister Harper and a number of his officials have initiated a campaign calling the legitimacy and motives of numerous involved environmental groups into question. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver created controversy this week in saying that environmental groups opposing the pipeline’s construction were “using funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest”. Numerous other officials have repeated this sentiment, and the fear of the environmental assessment process being ‘hijacked’ by ‘radical environmentalists’ is seemingly rampant in Ottawa. 

The Sierra Club of Canada responded on Monday to these allegations with a media release citing a British Columbia poll that revealed 75% of polled citizens were in fact worried about foreign investment in Canada’s natural resource industry, whilst only 15% responded that they were concerned with American funding of Canadian philanthropic groups. Jack Knox of the Victoria Times Colonist raises a similar concern, asking “if the issue of international financial backing is being called into question, are the influences of Korea’s Daewoo, Japan Canada Oil Sands, Britain’s BP and China’s Sinopec not being equally scrutinized?”. The answer to Mr. Knox’s question is invariably what’s worrying anti-pipeline activists, who in a policy environment where fiscal growth is seemingly the only goal worth pursuing, may find the proverbial deck stacked against their cause. 


Stay tuned to the Starfish for updates on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline approval process and surrounding politics. 

Lauren Murphy