Oil-sands pipeline hits its highest hurdle – by David Ebner (Globe and Mail – January 9, 2012)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

KITIMAAT VILLAGE, B.C.— The struggle to transport the harvest of Alberta’s vast oil sands enters a new arena this week – a village on the rugged British Columbia coast where the hopes of Canada’s biggest pipeline operator will meet a business-savvy first nation with little appetite for black gold.

Public vetting of Enbridge’s proposed $6.6-billion Northern Gateway oil-sands pipeline begins Tuesday. The arguments concerning aboriginal land rights and environmental impact promise a regulatory fight that could travel all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Reflecting the high stakes, the Harper government prepared a new warning, to be made public on Monday, that regulatory reviews for major energy projects should be accelerated and protected from interference by “radical environmental groups financed from the United States.”

Oil-sands operators have already watched one route for mass transport of their product, the proposed Keystone XL pipeline south to Texas, become bogged down in American domestic politics and opposition to a route over ecologically sensitive areas.

But as hearings begin for the alternative Northern Gateway route, over the mountains to the Pacific, the greatest danger to the pipeline project seems to be made in Canada.

The first review meetings will be hosted by the Haisla First Nation at its recently renovated Recreation Centre – as modern as any found in Vancouver, 700 kilometres to the south. The Haisla present a complex challenge to pipeline backer Enbridge: they are a business-canny first nation already active in resource industries, and they appear to be resolutely opposed to Gateway.

The constitutional question of aboriginal rights and title looms over the Gateway proceedings, above the contentious issues of market access for oil and the environment. Gateway would be built on B.C. land never ceded to Canada by treaty, and legal precedents appear to support the position of first nations against Gateway.

Opponents of the pipeline are being characterized in some circles as broadly anti-development, or as puppets of the U.S. environmental movement. But the Haisla have embraced and profited from industry, particularly liquefied natural gas (LNG), which has already generated more than $60-million for the 1,500-person first nation. The problem with Gateway, they say, isn’t the pipeline – it’s the oil it would carry. From Kitamaat Village and all along the proposed route, many first nations oppose the pipeline, asserting no amount of money can buy support because the environmental peril from oil spills is too great.

On the question of environment versus business, Haisla chief councillor Ellis Ross recalls a rupture of a small natural-gas pipeline that comes into his village from nearby Kitimat.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/oil-sands-pipeline-hits-its-highest-hurdle/article2295617/

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