Canada regulator OKs oil pipeline to Pacific Coast

A worker uses a small boat to move logs on the Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitamaat, British Columbia, Canada. Douglas Channel is the proposed termination point for an oil pipeline from Alberta as part of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. A review panel recommended Thursday the Canadian government approve a proposed pipeline to the Pacific Coast that would allow Canada's oil to be shipped to Asia. AP Photo

A worker uses a small boat to move logs on the Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitamaat, British Columbia, Canada. Douglas Channel is the proposed termination point for an oil pipeline from Alberta as part of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. A review panel recommended Thursday the Canadian government approve a proposed pipeline to the Pacific Coast that would allow Canada's oil to be shipped to Asia. AP Photo

TORONTO — Canada’s regulator recommended Thursday the government approve a proposed pipeline to the Pacific Coast that would allow Canada’s oil to be shipped to Asia.

A three-person review panel said opening Pacific markets to Canadian oil is important to the economy and thus supported Enbridge’s controversial pipeline. There are 209 conditions, but no major conditions such as a route change.

The Northern Gateway pipeline would transport 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific to deliver oil to Asia, mainly energy-hungry China.

There is fierce environmental and aboriginal opposition and court challenges are expected. Opponents fear pipeline leaks and a potential Exxon Valdez-like disaster on the pristine Pacific coast. About 220 large oil tankers a year would visit the Pacific coast town of Kitamat.

Harper has said Canada’s national interest makes the US $7.4 billion pipeline essential. He was “profoundly disappointed” that U.S. President Barack Obama delayed a decision on the Texas Keystone XL option, and spoke of the need to diversify Canada’s oil industry. Ninety-seven percent of Canadian oil exports now go to the U.S.

The northern Alberta region has the world’s third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.

The Joint Review Panel of energy and environmental officials spent two years canvassing opinion along the 731-mile route of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

“We are of the view that opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society,” The report says. “We find that the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated.”

Environmentalists and First Nations — a Canadian synonym for native tribes — could delay approval all the way to the Supreme Court, and First Nations still hold title to some of the land the pipeline would cross. That means the government will have to move with extreme sensitivity.

“The Northern Gateway Project is being vehemently opposed by Indigenous Peoples who will not put their territories, waters and communities at risk,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “We are prepared to go to the wall against this project. We have no choice.”

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