By Christopher Walsh, reporter
First Nations groups in British Columbia opposed to the $5.5 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project are upset federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has voiced support for the proposed pipeline at last week’s national Energy and Mines Ministers’ Conference and are vowing to continue the fight.
Representatives with the Yinka Denne Alliance, a First Nations group whose land could have the pipeline laid underneath it, say the minister has called into question the autonomy of the National Energy Board in determining whether the project proceeds. Open hearings are expected to commence in January.
“It’s very hypocritical of the government on one hand to be saying that everything is dependent on the decision of the National Energy Board … and then [Oliver] goes and says what he said. Doing this is making their whole system a farce,” said Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, spokeswoman for the Yinka Denne Alliance.
“It’s saying to British Columbians, your voice is not important, we’re not going to listen to you and we have our own agenda.”
Part of the discussions at the conference included possibilities for streamlining regulatory processes that typically hold up major projects like the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Oliver said new policy would help speed up necessary projects that benefit Canadians without getting lost in red tape.
“We need a regulatory process that is less duplicative, that is fair and expedious,” Oliver told the Calgary Beacon in a phone interview Tuesday. “[We don;t want it] to take forever and result in such long delays that some projects are cancelled … without advancing the environmental agenda in any way or helping the aboriginal communities that are often employed on these projects.”
Thomas-Flurer says her group isn’t interested in temporary jobs or any money for that matter. They want the Enbridge project that would pipe raw oilsands material through British Columbia for shipment to Asia stopped.
“We’ve found that there is too high a risk to have the pipeline go through our territory,” she said. “People love British Columbia, it’s a beautiful place and people want to keep it that way. Trying to make B.C. into the tarsands … it’s hell on earth.”
The Enbridge project is the focus of a recently released National Geographic article that will hit newsstands next week. The article, entitled “Pipeline through Paradise” is highly critical of the project and raises concerns over the possibility of a major spill from the line and tankers in the sensitive ecological area in northern B.C.
Paul Stanway, a spokesman for Calgary-based Enbridge, says the company is “disappointed” with the article and that safety is the biggest concern for the company.
“There are real concerns and we recognize it,” he said. “It’s not to our advantage if people are concerned or upset, we’re trying to deal with that. It’s a bit unfortunate they didn’t see fit to [say] that [in the article].”
Stanway says modern technology will be employed on the pipeline to ensure no leaks occur.
“We think the risk is minimal and the benefits are very large indeed,” he said.
Stanway added he is confident the project will move ahead despite the protests and bad press. The company will have invested over $200 million by the time the process is finished.
“I don’t think we would have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this process if we weren’t convinced that it could be done safely and for the benefit of communities in British Columbia , but also that we could get it done, we could get to the finish post,” he said.
But Thomas-Flurer and the alliance, which includes First Nations communities in B.C., is vowing to fight the project that would start at the oilsands and continue north of Jasper, through central B.C., on the way to Kitimat on the coast.
Thomas-Flurer says their people still live off the land and would be server impacted if anything were to happen.
“There’s no way they can ensure these pipelines are safe. There’s no way they can convince people with any technology they have, that these pipelines will not burst and spill,” she said. “They don’t know the long term impact.”
Enbridge has offered to help finance First nations groups looking to buy-in to the project that could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the communities over the years.
Thomas-Flurer says the alliance of First Nations is not interested.
“Money is not the issue. No amount of money is going to make us allow these pipelines,” she said. “This is going to give Canada a black eye. They have to put people ahead of something that will destroy the land and peoples’ lives.”
If approved the project could start by 2013. The National Geographic article will appear in next week’s publication.
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