Mike De Souza, Postmedia News
The proposed multibillion dollar Northern Gateway pipeline project linking the oilsands region to the coast of British Columbia offers new export capacity the Canadian industry does not really need, senior bureaucrats have told Ottawa.
That conclusion is among a series of revelations about federal activity in recent months surrounding an ongoing environmental evaluation of the $5.5-billion project planned by Calgary-based Enbridge, which has argued in favour of its strategic importance.
Enbridge wants to build the 1,170-kilometre pipeline through mountains, forests and bodies of water between Fort Saskatchewan and a new terminal and docking facility in Kitimat, B.C.
Details of the federal assessment were released in more than 300 pages of internal documents from Natural Resources Canada, obtained by Postmedia News, which also noted rising public opposition to Enbridge’s proposed project over concerns about the potential for oil spills -especially in light of recent accidents such as BP’s Gulf Coast well blowout and an Enbridge crude oil pipeline rupture and leak into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
“Most letters from citizens to the prime minister call on the government to ‘reject’ the Northern Gateway project, even before it is reviewed,” wrote Bruce Akins, a senior adviser from the oil and gas policy and regulatory division of Natural Resources Canada, in an internal federal document.
The documents, which were largely produced last fall and released under Access to Information legislation, also explain Enbridge representatives were “making the rounds in Ottawa chatting with some departments” and senior federal officials about the project.
Enbridge has outlined numerous economic benefits of the project, including thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars worth of economic growth to be gained from diversifying Alberta’s crude oil markets.
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said the company’s research has clearly demonstrated growth in the oilsands and a demand for the Canadian product in Asian markets such as China which would require a new port on B.C.’s West Coast.
“The strategic advantage of opening up a secondary market for Canadian crude oil would be dramatic,” said Stanway. “It would give us real competition for the resource which we don’t have at the moment.”
But the government raised doubts about whether the oilsands industry actually needed the pipeline to boost exports. “Even without Northern Gateway, Canada will have enough crude oil export capacity for some considerable time given the recent approvals of the Enbridge Clipper project, the TransCanada Keystone Project, and the TransCanada Keystone XL project, all of which will deliver crude oil to the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast market,” wrote Akins.
The documents and internal government e-mails were released following a request made by the Torontobased research group Environmental Defence, which has also expressed concerns about the potential for oil spills resulting from the project.
“To see that the government itself is acknowledging that the extra pipeline capacity isn’t needed does raise concern about why we’re continuing to move forward . . .” said Gillian McEachern, the climate and energy program manager at Environmental Defence.
According to one internal e-mail between federal bureaucrats sent Oct. 29, 2010, by Erin Groulx, a senior project officer at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Enbridge offered to organize a $40,000 to $50,000 guided helicopter tour of various components of the project. Stanway said the tour never took place, but added it was “normal for us to work with the regulator to provide whatever information they require,” and that these efforts would be reported publicly.
In a letter signed by the former natural resources minister and dated Dec. 13, 2010, Christian Paradis, now the industry minister, defended the importance of the oilsands, adding the government was committed to ensuring proposed pipeline projects could proceed, if approved.
Paradis wrote the government would not make a decision about the project until a joint review panel, appointed by the environment minister, has completed its environmental assessment and recommendations. Hearings on the Northern Gateway pipeline are scheduled to begin in January.