Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably noticed like other Canadians, that the media has been pervaded with prolific images, articles, and broadcasts concerning the Northern Gateway Project. The proposed 1,180km long pipeline project is headed by the Alberta based energy transport company Enbridge Inc. and needless to say has been drenched with controversy since its official launch in 2004.
“Our main goal is to build a pipeline that will reach new markets for Canadian oil products, but not at the expense of the environment,” Ivan Geisebrecht relayed to me. Acting as the manager of Communications for Enbridge, Mr. Geisebrecht explained their current situation. Even with the recommendation for approval granted to the project by the Joint Review Panel and National Energy Board, federal government approval is still not set in stone. “We want to communicate the economic benefits coming to B.C. but also the environmental measures and steps we are taking to ensure this pipeline is built safely.” The pipeline is said to generate over $1.2 billion in tax revenue, as well as $4.3 billion in labor related income during its construction, spanning 30 years after project completion.
Recommendation for approval was granted to the project on the basis that strict conditions in building and maintaining the pipeline were to be met; 209 to be exact. In B.C. alone, Premier Christy Clark laid out 5 conditions to be met before any pipeline project can begin. These specific 5 conditions have to do with environmental protection, and aboriginal and treaty rights.
So, why would a big corporation like Enbridge have to take Aboriginal needs into consideration? Why focus so much attention on relations with First Nations and don onto to them deals like a 10% equity share in the pipeline, or the promise of over 3,000 employment opportunities at the height of the project?
“We are talking about unseeded territories at the moment” Brittany Ross explained to me, “ there are few treaties that were actually signed in BC to give land rights to the federal government instead of First Nations.” Brittany, a First Nations herself, is currently a student completing a Native Studies major at Langara College. Specializing in Native and Indigenous law she went on to overview not only treaty rights but also constitutional protection given to First Nations under the Canadian Constitution. This means that without at least implicit consent from the First Nations in BC Enbridge will find that approval from the Federal government more difficult to attain.
Yet, First Nations are not exclusively against the project in terms of treaty and land rights. Potential environmental impacts are a mounting concern on their part as well. “We still consider ourselves stewards of the land. The pipeline will run through many rural communities that still depend on the land for basic needs such as food and water.” Brittany reiterated the fact that although a 10% equity share in the pipeline looks nice on paper at present, it is still only money. “In the end you can’t drink oil,” she ended with while going over past pipeline breaches that Enbridge, as a corporation, seems to be infamous for.
The Government of Canada has until mid-June of this year to decide the future of the project and, with the vast amounts of uncertainty in the air; both opposing groups are skeptical of the outcome. Oil and gas has always been a controversial subject in Canada. It is a major component of our export economy and generates countless job opportunities and national revenue on a yearly basis. But, at what cost? Can a monetary value overshadow future affects and impacts we place on the environment, or should we learn for our First Nations brethren and start being stewards of the land ourselves?