Public concerns with tar sands "path to Asia" cause one year delay of proposed Northern Gateway pipeline

Canadian federal government threats that they will send tar sands oil to Asia instead of the United States received a blow yesterday with an announcement of a year delay in a proposed pipeline that would give tar sands oil access to Canada’s west coast and destinations abroad. The delay was announced by the Joint Review Panel, the Canadian government body reviewing Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta across British Columbia for export to Asia and California. This is largely in response to an incredible outcry of concern from residents and First Nations in British Columbia as over the past few months thousands of people have signed up to participate in the review hearings across the province. The decision comes as Canadian Prime Minister Harper is in Washington, D.C. today to meet with President Obama on security and energy issues. People in Canada, as in America, are very concerned about what a tar sands pipeline will mean for their rivers, food and communities in the case of an oil spill. And people in Canada, as in America, are already feeling the impacts of climate change and know that now is the time to be moving forward with clean energy, not backwards with tar sands expansion.

Unprecedented numbers of people from all over British Columbia signed up to have their say on the proposed Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline. This comes just after the Obama Administration commitment to an additional year’s assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would have transported tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast – also mostly for export. 

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would carry highly acidic and corrosive diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands through nearly 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) of rugged and unstable landscapes to Kitimat on British Columbia’s northern coast. The pipeline would be serviced by over 220 supertankers each year sailing through B.C.’s North Coast waterways, which have been off-limits to the giant vessels due to concerns that an oil spill would ruin precious coastal natural resources. First Nations’ communities have made it clear that they will not allow the Northern Gateway project to proceed using their own laws to ban oil pipelines and tankers through British Columbia. Just recently, First Nations celebrated the one year anniversary of the Save the Fraser Declaration that prohibits the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline or similar tar sands projects from crossing the lands, territories and watersheds of the Indigenous Nations of the Fraser River Watershed or of crossing the migration routes of Fraser River salmon.

NRDC has recently added its voice to growing Northern Gateway opposition, with members and activists sending almost 100,000 letters in recent months to the B.C. government and Enbridge asking that the pipeline not be built. Just last week, NRDC, the Pembina Institute and the Living Oceans Society released a new report documenting the risks that transporting tar sands oil poses to communities along the pipeline and tanker paths, to salmon-bearing rivers and to coastal ecosystems, including the Great Bear Rainforest habitat of the Spirit Bear.

While Canadian federal government officials frequently try to play a divisive game of America versus China when it comes to tar sands, this latest outcry of concern shows that Canadians, Americans and Indigenous Peoples are united in their concern about tar sands and tar sands pipelines.  This is a transnational effort to draw the line at tar sands and stop the reckless expansion of an industry that without the brakes provided by citizen engagement will drive us over a cliff.