TERRACE, B.C. — Enbridge Inc. shot back at critics of its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline Monday, arguing the project is making enormous and costly commitments to avoid accidents and that the biggest risk to the country is not approving it.
In its final words to a panel of regulators reviewing the project, Northern Gateway lawyer Richard Neufeld said Canada is vulnerable to its only market, the United States, deciding it no longer wants Canadian oil.
"You want to see an economic Black Swan for Canada?" Mr. Neufeld said in addressing fears the pipeline exposes the country to an unpredictable event of massive proportions.
"How about a decision from the U.S. that it will no longer need Canadian oil? ... The $30-billion in export price discounting ... would be a drop in the bucket. Canadians would be facing, we suggest, an economic catastrophe of unprecedented proportion."
After a massive review that reached out to communities along Northern Gateway's proposed right of way from Edmonton to the Northern West Coast, proponents and critics of the oil sands pipeline are presenting their closing oral arguments in this picturesque frontier town about an hour's drive from Kitimat, its endpoint.
In a packed banquet room in the town's main hotel, Mr. Neufeld dismissed the most common criticism of the project — that Enbridge hasn't provided enough information about its risks and the benefits for regulators to approve it.
Participants hold signs in Terrace, B.C., during an anti-pipeline protest, on Sunday June 16, 2013.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Robin Rowland
"Given the volume of information that comprises the hearing record, it's an argument that appears quite hollow to use," Mr. Neufeld said.
"No amount of additional ... information would persuade any member of the tar sands campaign to support a pipeline such as this. They are never going to say that enough information has been provided."
There were no demonstrations at the start of the hearings, although a rally in opposition to the pipeline was held on Sunday in a local park.
The three-member Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is expected to wrap up the hearings in two weeks and make a recommendation to the federal government by Dec. 31 on whether the project is in the public interest.
Mr. Neufeld said the project has presented a path forward to address many of the concerns raised during the review, from the potential of an oil spill on land or in the ocean, to engagement with First Nations, and urged the panel to approve it.
"Tradeoffs are a fact of life," he said. "That does not mean that any person or community or region must be marginalized.... all it means is that in determining public interest we need to seek the balance that respects local interests, plans that deliver benefits to local communities, while still ensure that the projects that are needed for this country will proceed. We suggest that this project respect that balance."
But Art Sterritt, representing the province's Coastal First Nations, said Enbridge has failed to show the benefits are greater than the costs and the risks and approval would lead to "nothing but conflict.
"Remember this," he warned panel chair Sheila Leggett.
"Despite the hundreds of millions and effort by the proponents, B.C. First Nations and all of the public of B.C. have rejected this project ... I have never witnessed a project that has garnered such opposition, never in the history of B.C. I don't envy the position that you are in."
Up next are the Alexander First Nation, the Alberta Federation of Labour, B.C. Nature and Nature Canada, and then the province of British Columbia. These are all expected to present Monday.
Ottawa Citizen, Monday, June 17, 2013
Byline: Claudia Cattaneo, Financial Post