The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.
CALGARY — In a remote Aboriginal recreation centre on the shore of the Douglas Channel in British Columbia’s North Coast, Canadian regulators are kicking off historic hearings on Tuesday on the proposed $5.5-billion Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline. By the time they are finished in two years, thousands of Canadians will have had their say on the giant project.
The three-member Joint Review Panel will travel across Western Canada on behalf of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to hear views about the environmental impact of the 1,172-kilometre project, starting with oral testimony from the elders of the Haisla Nation.
The 700-member community hosting the event’s high profile first days is located 12 km south of the city of Kitimat, the end point of the Enbridge Inc. project that would carry 550,000 barrels of oil a day from the Alberta oil sands to markets around the Pacific coast.
The region’s few hotels are stretched to the limit to accommodate the influx of visitors, including observers for the green lobby and the energy industry, the media, and the usual coterie of lawyers.
The panel, headed by NEB vice-chairwoman Sheila Leggett, will try to set the tone by maintaining court-like procedures, respectful attitudes and fairness to all participants.
But a louder, polarizing debate about what Northern Gateway represents for the country is well underway and will continue in parallel outside the hearings — in the media, on the streets, in political venues.
Northern Gateway is more than an oil pipeline.
The proposed project from Alberta to the B.C. coast is forcing the nation to make difficult choices, including: Should Canada encourage oil sands development? Should Canada build stronger economic ties with Asian countries like China through oil exports so it can reduce its historic dependence on the United States? Who should benefit? Is Canada prepared to accept the environmental impacts, whether on the climate from growing oil production or in case of a spill along the pipeline route or offshore? How will it treat the 130 First Nations opposed to the project, many with unresolved land claims along the pipeline route?
The panel is expected to hand in its recommendation on whether the project should be built, and under what conditions, in late 2013.
Politics will play a central role. The final say over Northern Gateway is up to the government of Stephen Harper. It is sure to be influenced by U.S. President Barack Obama’s ultimate decision on the delayed Keystone XL project from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. If it’s turned down, pressure to built Northern Gateway will increase. The future of provincial politicians, particularly B.C. Premier Christy Clark, could depend on it.
For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post/Financial Post website: http://business.financialpost.com/2012/01/06/tiny-port-new-energy-battleground/