Municipalities vote to oppose oil pipeline, tankers
WHISTLER, B.C. - British Columbia's municipalities have voted to oppose both a controversial Enbridge pipeline proposal and the presence of tankers along the province's northern coast.
Delegates at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Whistler overwhelmingly passed two motions on Friday that were brought forward by the Village of Queen Charlotte.
One of the motions opposes the Northern Gateway pipeline between Alberta's oilsands and the B.C. coastal community of Kitimat.
The other urges Ottawa to legislate a ban on bulk crude oil tanker traffic through Queen Charlotte Sound, Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait, which would increase if the pipeline is built.
Calgary-based Enbridge Inc. wants to build two parallel pipelines stretching 1,170 kilometres from the Alberta oilsands to the West Coast. The project is worth $5.5-billion.
Residents from several communities that the pipeline would pass through have opposed the project and include First Nations leaders in northwestern B.C.
The National Energy Board is preparing to hold public hearings on the project.
The mayor of the Village of Queen Charlotte said opposition appears to be on the rise.
"Understanding of the issue is growing, and that is leading to stronger opposition across the province," Mayor Carol Kulesha said in a news release.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett said he's not surprised the UBCM passed the motions and that he is well aware of the debate over the project.
He said it will be up to the federal government to decide whether the Enbridge pipeline goes ahead, but that the province's goal to become a major gateway to Asian markets means there will one day be tankers off the coast and pipelines to get oil on them.
"We don't think that we can be the Asia Pacific gateway and refuse to transport certain products or services across our territory," Bennett said in an interview.
"We're not enthusiastic about promoting inter-coastal traffic, but there will have to be a way to get into our major ports."
Bennett said the province and other players in the industry clearly need to do a better job explaining the merits of such projects and assure the public they can be done safely.
"There's always an issue of legitimacy in anything a government needs to do," he said. "If you lose your legitimacy it becomes very difficult for you to function."
"We have to show that technically we have the expertise to conduct a pipeline across the province that will be foolproof and we have to show that we have the expertise to create a shipping system that will also be foolproof.
"I'm quite sure that it exists."
Enbridge spokesman Alan Roth echoed Bennett's sentiments and said the company is working hard to assure the public that the project can be completed in a safe manner.
"We do understand that some people have genuine concerns about the project and ensuring it can be built and operated safely," Roth said in an interview.
"We feel that people's concerns are going to decrease as they learn the facts more about the Northern Gateway project."
Though Kulesha said opposition to the project is on the rise while it's still in the regulatory process, Roth said it has its supporters.
He said a number of northern B.C. communities would benefit economically.
New Democrat MP Fin Donnelly, who earlier this year introduced a private member's bill calling for a ban on oil tanker traffic along the northern B.C. coast, applauded the UBCM's actions Friday.
Jennifer Lash, executive director of the conservation group Living Oceans Society, said B.C.'s local governments have clearly stated that the province's coastal communities must be protected.
Lash called on the federal government to end the debate over the project by announcing a permanent ban on oil tankers along B.C.'s northern coast.
Chief Larry Nooski of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation said the pipeline project is not worth the risk.
"The pipelines and tankers, if they are approved, would have major environmental, social, cultural, legal and economic impacts for First Nations all along the route, on the coast, and upstream and downstream of the pipeline," he said in a written statement.
"If this project is approved, it would risk an oil spill that would destroy our food supply, our livelihoods and our cultures."
In July, Enbridge was criticized for its slow response to an oil spill in a rural Michigan river after nearly one million gallons of crude oil spewed into the waterway.