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Environmentalists, opposition politicians and First Nations leaders are uniting in criticizing the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for giving conditional approval to Enbridge Inc. to build the Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline from inland Alberta to the country’s Pacific coast.
For environmentalists and more liberal politicians, the key issue is threats to fragile ecosystems in western Canada. For the indigenous people of the First Nations, it’s about their rights to the land that would be covered by the pipeline.
Yet one aboriginal challenge with an environmental focus comes from the Frog Lake nations and the Mikisew Cree in Alberta. They’ve requested a judicial review of changes to federal environmental rules without making required consultations with aboriginals.
The conditional approval was given on June 18. That day, Harper, addressing the country’s parliament, stressed that work on the pipeline can’t begin until Enbridge meets 209 conditions imposed by a federal panel -- ranging from environmental and construction standards to consulting with First Nations leaders on marine safety.
The goal of Harper’s government is to establish new markets for its oil at a time when the United States, now Canada’s biggest oil customer, is becoming less reliant on imported oil because of the boom in U.S. shale oil recovery and questions about whether Washington will approve the Keystone XL pipeline.
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Harper reminded parliament that the National Energy Board had held 18 months of hearings before recommending the conditions, and concluded in December 2013 that the project's potential benefits to the economy “outweigh the burdens and risks” for the environment.
“It is now up to [Enbridge] to assure the regulator going forward that it will indeed comply with those conditions,” he said.
Enbridge evidently doesn’t see them as a major hurdle, especially the one about consulting with aboriginal communities and others living in the affected region. Janet Holder, vice-president of western access for Northern Gateway Pipelines, said there already have been such discussions, and more are planned.
“We believe that we can move past this," Holder said. "I don't think we'll get 100 per cent support. There's never anything, any significant issue, that's ever been dealt with in Canada that has ever had 100 per cent support.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
Andy Tully is a veteran news reporter who is now the news editor for Oilprice.com