The Douglas Channel in British Columbia is a twisting route that oil supertankers crammed with Alberta oil sands crude would take to Asia and the U.S.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Douglas Channel in British Columbia is a twisting route that oil supertankers crammed with Alberta oil sands crude would take to Asia and the U.S.

British Columbia’s Enbridge Pipeline Rejection Could Raise Keystone XL Questions

Citing environmental-safety concerns, the newly elected Liberal British Columbia government has rejected the proposal by Enbridge Inc. to build the Northern Gateway pipeline across pristine lands held mostly by First Nations.

"British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents," said provincial Environment Minister Terry Lake in a statement. "Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings."

His comments came in the wake of the province’s final written submission to the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel. Hearings have been under way since last year. (Related: Enbridge Faces Rising Opposition to Northern Gateway Pipeline With Protests, Arrests)

"We have carefully considered the evidence that has been presented to the Joint Review Panel," Lake continued. "The panel must determine if it is appropriate to grant a certificate for the project as currently proposed on the basis of a promise to do more study and planning after the certificate is granted. Our government does not believe that a certificate should be granted before these important questions are answered."

First Nations all along the proposed route of the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would wend its way from the Alberta oil sands through 728 miles of untouched wilderness, then load it onto supertankers that would pick their way through treacherous waters en route to Asia. The $5.5 billion pipeline would carry up to 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen crude.

More than 130 First Nations vehemently oppose the project and have vowed to fight it, whatever it takes. In mid-May the Yinka Dene Alliance had requested a nation-to-nation meeting with British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. That did not take place, but the province’s position dovetails with many of the concerns raised by First Nations.

Environmentalists lauded the province’s decision, which they said resonates with the fight farther south in the United States against the Keystone XL pipeline. That would carry the same type of oil from Alberta through the U.S. to the Gulf Coast.

“One of the most significant arguments in favor of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was shattered by a major announcement from the British Columbia government formally rejecting the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “This announcement puts to rest the claim that tar sands development is inevitable.”

The defense council noted that the British Columbia government had raised the point that oil sands bitumen, even diluted, does not necessarily behave like conventional crude in a spill, that it interacts differently with the environment and could be more difficult to clean up.

“The B.C. government’s detailed submittal to federal government decision-makers was also noteworthy in recognizing there is growing evidence that diluted bitumen could pose additional risks to water and is more difficult to clean up,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement. “In light of British Columbia’s rejection, the U.S. State Department should revisit its previous findings that the Keystone XL poses no risks to water or climate which were based on faulty assumptions about the behavior of tar sands oil and about the role that Keystone XL will play as the major driver of tar sands strip-mining and drilling.”

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