Thursday, December 19, 2013

Canadian Petrostate: the Fight Continues for Canada's Soul and the Future of Our Climate

Today in Calgary the Joint Review Panel (JRP) convened by the Canadian National Energy Board (NEB) gave the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline the green light, contingent upon the company meeting a number of conditions. The Northern Gateway pipeline would carry bitumen (heavy unrefined oil) from the Alberta Tar Sands to Kitimat on the North Coast of BC for export to Asian markets. Along the way the pipeline would cross the Fraser River before running down the Skeena watershed to Kitimat, with hundreds of stream crossings in its path. Then, at Kitimat the oil would be loaded onto supertankers and shipped down Douglass Channel, threatening the entire North and Central Coast of BC with a potentially catastrophic spill. Importantly, the JRP found that the risk of an oil spill would be significant, but still deemed the project to be in the public interest.

All told the project would bring the threat of oil spill to all of BC's most significant salmon bearing ecosystems, without any major economic benefit to the province. Further, it would expedite the extraction of bitumen from the Alberta Tar sands, the dirtiest, most environmentally harmful oil on the planet, for export to Asian markets. In short, the Enbridge Pipeline and others like it represent a blatant disregard for the environment that permeates the current Canadian regime. In the event of a spill it could unleash untold harm upon the freshwater and marine environments that are essential to BC's economy and to First Nations food harvest, and will move our planet ever closer to climate catastrophe.

With unanimous First Nations opposition to the pipeline, the fight is far from over, but the JRP approving the project is the latest in series of actions taken by the Canadian federal government to undermine environmental protections and expedite resource extraction projects no matter the cost. This year, the government made sweeping changes to the Fisheries Act, removing protection for habitats that do not currently support commercial, aboriginal or sport fisheries. That simple change removed habitat protections from a vast majority of aquatic habitats in Canada. The government also moved to streamline the Environmental Assessment process, and many potentially harmful projects are no longer subject to environmental scrutiny. Then this week, it was announced that the NEB not the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would be in charge of reviewing impacts to fish and fish habitat when energy projects are concerned, effectively bringing the politicization of the environmental review process right out in to the open.

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