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article imageEnbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project controversy rages on Special

By Grace C. Visconti     Jun 20, 2014 in Environment
Calgary - The long awaited Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project was approved on June 17th by Prime Minister Stephen Harper amid controversy and objection by First Nations groups, environmentalists, concerned Canadians and the political opposition parties.
Barry Robinson, Staff Lawyer for Ecojustice in Calgary, discusses environmental and legal issues surrounding the recent approval of the contentious Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
What are the odds that with all of the controversy currently surrounding the issue of pipeline monitoring and safety that this project will be built at all?
Despite the approval by Cabinet, the Northern Gateway project still faces serious challenges. There are the existing legal challenges and additional challenges to the Cabinet decision are expected. Also, there is continued opposition from several First Nations and communities along the pipeline route, and British Columbia’s five conditions have not been met.

Conceivably, how long could court challenges last thereby pushing ahead the start date for this project far into the future?
We expect that the current legal challenges would be heard by late 2014 or early 2015. However, none of the current legal challenges precludes Northern Gateway from continuing with planning and preparatory work for the project.

How can this project move ahead without the consent of the B.C. government and not meeting Premier Christy Clark’s 5 main conditions?
Northern Gateway will need a number of permits from the British Columbia provincial government in order to proceed with the project. It is an interesting legal question of whether the province could block a pipeline project that is under federal jurisdiction.

On behalf of Ecojustice, do you foresee winning the court cases for the sake of species at risk, land and water rights?
Our current legal challenge on behalf of ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation alleges that the Joint Review Panel failed to meet certain requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Species at Risk Act. The Court will determine if those requirements have been met and if the Cabinet approval is valid if those requirements have not been met.

With so many people opposing this project in B.C. due to the pipeline slated to pass through their properties and communities without their consent, what are the chances of them winning the legal challenges if presented in a court of law?
I am not aware of any landowners or communities who have brought legal challenges against the project other than the three First Nations who have current legal challenges.

Although this issue is huge for B.C., how will this increased activity impact Alberta’s land, air and water? Does the government have a way of measuring how high the contamination will get with respect to land, water and air with an increase in oil sands production?
The need for the Northern Gateway project, and other proposed pipeline projects, is based on oil sands production increasing from the current level of 2 million barrels per day to approximately 6 million barrels per day. Given the impacts to air, water, wildlife and land, and First Nations’ use of those resources at the current production levels, there are serious questions about the sustainability of going to 6 million barrels per day.

In lieu of a catastrophic disaster in the remote areas of B.C. where the pipeline will pass, how would the species at risk be protected especially since the environmental laws have been weakened or obliterated in the past couple of years to make way for this project and others?
The Joint Review Panel’s failure to provide adequate protections for caribou and their failure to consider the recovery strategy for humpback whale are two of the issues raised in our clients’ current legal action.

Currently, are you observing any surprising alliances in this fight for environmental justice?
Environmental organizations, certain First Nations and certain communities continue to be opposed to the Northern Gateway projects.
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