Northern Gateway announces it will not appeal Appeal Court decision that stopped project approval, will continue “consultations”


Northern Gateway pipelines says the company will not appeal the Federal Court of Appeal decision that blocked the approval certificate by the Joint Review Panel and the National Energy Board because there had been insufficient consultation with First Nations.

UPDATE  Vancouver Sun reports Federal government will also not appeal decision

OTTAWA — The federal government is joining Enbridge Inc. in not appealing a Federal Court of Appeal ruling quashing a 2014 Conservative decision to approve the $7.9 billion Northern Gateway pipeline, Postmedia has learned.


John Carruthers, President of Northern Gateway said in a news release, “We believe that meaningful consultation and collaboration, and not litigation, is the best path forward for everyone involved. We look forward to working with the government and Aboriginal communities in the renewed consultation process.”


Northern Gateway news release

VANCOUVER, Sept. 20, 2016 /CNW/ – Northern Gateway will not appeal a recent Federal Court of Appeal decision that reversed the project’s federal approval certificate. The Federal Court of Appeal found that the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel recommendation was acceptable and defensible on the facts and the law. The Court, however, concluded that further Crown consultation is required.

Northern Gateway supports the path outlined by the Federal Court of Appeal for the Federal Government to re-engage with directly affected First Nations and Métis communities to ensure thorough consultation on Northern Gateway is undertaken.

Statement from John Carruthers, President, Northern Gateway:

Ray Philpenko
Northern Gateway’s Ray Philpenko gives a presentation on pipeline leak detection to Kitimat Council, Feb. 17. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“We believe that meaningful consultation and collaboration, and not litigation, is the best path forward for everyone involved. We look forward to working with the government and Aboriginal communities in the renewed consultation process. We believe the government has a responsibility to meet their Constitutional legal obligations to meaningfully consult with First Nation and Métis. It also reflects the first priority of Northern Gateway and the 31 Aboriginal Equity Partners to build meaningful relationships with First Nation and Métis communities and ensure their voice is reflected in the design of the project.

We believe that projects like ours should be built with First Nation and Métis environmental stewardship, ownership, support, and shared control. Northern Gateway, the Aboriginal Equity Partners, and our commercial project proponents remain fully committed to building this critical Canadian infrastructure project while at the same time protecting the environment and the traditional way of life of First Nation and Métis and communities along the project route.

In order to encourage investment and economic development, Canadians need certainty that the government will fully and properly consult with our nation’s Indigenous communities. We look forward to this process and assisting those communities and the Federal Government with this important undertaking in any way we can.

The economic benefits from Northern Gateway to First Nation and Métis communities are unprecedented in Canadian history. As part of the opportunity to share up to 33 percent ownership and control in a major Canadian energy infrastructure project, the project’s Aboriginal Equity Partners will also receive $2 billion in long-term economic, business, and education opportunities for their communities.

The project would add over $300 billion to Canada’s gross domestic product over the next 30 years, 4,000 construction jobs and 1,000 long-term jobs, $98 billion in tax revenue, and an estimated $100 million investment in community programs and services. Northern Gateway will provide a badly needed multibillion dollar private infrastructure investment in Canada’s future.”

Statement from the Aboriginal Equity Partner Stewards (Bruce Dumont, President, Métis Nation British Columbia; David MacPhee, President, Aseniwuche Winewak Nation; Chief Elmer Derrick, Gitxsan Nation Hereditary Chief; Elmer Ghostkeeper, Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement):

“We support Northern Gateway’s decision to not appeal the recent decision by the Federal Court of Appeal. This is a reflection of the commitment to the new partnership we are building together and their support of meeting Constitutional obligations on government to consult.

The Federal government has publically stated they are committed to reconciliation with First Nation and Métis communities. As such, we are now calling on this same government to actively and fully undertake the required consultation as directed by the Federal Court of Appeal in relation to the Northern Gateway project.

The Aboriginal Equity Partners is a unique and historic partnership that establishes a new model for conducting natural resource development on our lands and traditional territories. We are owners of Northern Gateway and are participating in the project as equals.

Environmental protection remains paramount and as stewards of the land and water, and as partners in this project, First Nation and Métis communities have a direct role in the environmental protection of the lands, waters, and food sources along the pipeline corridor and in marine operations. Our traditional knowledge, science, and values will be used to design and operate land and coastal emergency response to make the project better. We believe with this project there is an opportunity to work together with the Federal Government to improve marine safety for all who live, work, and depend on Canada’s western coastal waters.

This ownership ensures environmental stewardship, shared control, and negotiated business and employment benefits. Collectively, our communities stand to benefit from more than $2 billion directly from this Project.

Our communities need the economic and business benefits that Northern Gateway can bring. We are focused on ensuring our communities benefit from this project and are actively involved in its decision making so we can protect both the environment and our traditional way of life through direct environmental stewardship and monitoring.

Our goal is for Northern Gateway to help our young people to have a future where they can stay in their communities with training and work opportunities. We remain committed to Northern Gateway and the opportunities and responsibilities that come with our ownership. We also remain committed to working with our partners to ensure our environment is protected for future generations.”


NEB indefinitely suspends any consideration of Northern Gateway

The National Energy Board has indefinitely suspended its consideration of the $7.9 billion Northern Gateway pipeline project, including the request by Enbridge to extend the deadline for starting the controversial project. The Joint Review Panel conditions had set December 31, 2016 as the time that Enbridge had to start the project.

In a letter to John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines, Sheri Young, secretary to the Board said that suspension came after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the permission certificates for the project.

As a result of the decisions quashing the Certificates, the Board is suspending indefinitely its consideration of the application to extend the sunset clauses of the Certificates and is not accepting any further comments on it, including comments from Northern Gateway and AEP. The Board is also suspending indefinitely its consideration of all filings related to the conditions attached to the Certificates.

In May the NEB had told Enbridge that is would consider a request by Enbridge to extend the deadline and accept comments from the public until June 27, 2016 and reply comments from the applicants by July 18, 2016.

Cover of JRP ruling
Cover of Volume 2 of the Joint Review ruling on Northern Gateway

In a decision released on 30 June 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed Order in Council P.C. 2014-809 which is the order directing the Board to issue the Certificates for the Project. The Court also quashed the Certificates.


The original Joint Review Panel report in December 2013 had set 209 conditions for the construction and operation of the pipeline, which would have carried oil sands bitumen from Bruderheim, Alberta, to Kitimat, for shipment to Asian customers.

Letter to Northern Gateway-Suspension of the sunset clauses-A5D7Z9

Federal Court of Appeal overturns approval of Northern Gateway

In a two to one decision, the Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the Harper government’s approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, finding that the federal government’s consultation process  with First Nations on the BC coast that occurred after the NEB decision and the Joint Review Panel Report was inadequate, saying:

We conclude that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity in Phase IV—a critical part of Canada’s consultation framework—to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue. The inadequacies—more than just a handful and more than mere imperfections—left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well-being, entirely ignored.

The dissenting judge found that the federal government under Stephen Harper had adequately consulted the First Nations. The split decision means that one of the parties, either the federal government, Enbridge Northern Gateway or the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers may seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Read the decision
Northern Gateway decision  (PDF)

Other Media
Globe and Mail
Appeal court overturns Ottawa’s approval of Northern Gateway pipeline

Northern Gateway pipeline approval overturned

“Very low levels” of Exxon Valdez oil threaten salmon and herring survival 25 years later

“Very low levels” of crude oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, are a threat to the survival of herring and pink salmon that spawn in the region, according to a study released today by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study shows that embryonic salmon and herring exposed to very low levels of crude oil can develop hidden heart defects that compromise their later survival.

That means that the Exxon Valdez spill on March 24, 1989 may have had much greater impacts on spawning fish than previously recognized, according to the study published in  Nature’s online journal  Scientific Reports Very low embyronic crude oil exposures cause lasting defects in salmon and herring.

“These juvenile fish on the outside look completely normal, but their hearts are not functioning properly and that translates directly into reduced swimming ability and reduced survival,” said John Incardona, a research toxicologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) in Seattle. “In terms of impacts to shore-spawning fish, the oil spill likely had a much bigger footprint than anyone realized.”

This is a juvenile pink salmon exposed to low levels of crude oil as an embryo. While these fish appear outwardly normal, they nevertheless developed heart defects that compromised their ability to swim. Fish that are less able to forage and avoid predators are much less likely to survive to adulthood. (NOAA)
This is a juvenile pink salmon exposed to low levels of crude oil as an embryo. While these fish appear outwardly normal, they nevertheless developed heart defects that compromised their ability to swim. Fish that are less able to forage and avoid predators are much less likely to survive to adulthood. (NOAA)

Previous research has shown that crude oil disrupts the contraction of the fish heart muscle cells. Embryonic fish exposed to trace levels of crude oil grow into juveniles with abnormal hearts and reduced cardiorespiratory function.

“With this very early impact on the heart, you end up with an animal that just can’t pump blood through its body as well, which means it can’t swim as well to capture food, form schools, or migrate,” said Mark Carls, toxicologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Crude oil is changing basic physiology, or what makes a fish a fish.”

The research builds on earlier work by the Auke Bay Laboratories, part of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which found much reduced survival of pink salmon exposed as embryos to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from crude oil.

“Our findings are changing the picture in terms of assessing the risk and the potential impacts of oil spills,” said Nat Scholz, leader of the NWFSC’s ecotoxicology program and a coauthor of the new study. “We now know the developing fish heart is exquisitely sensitive to crude oil toxicity, and that subtle changes in heart formation can have delayed but important consequences for first-year survival, which in turn determines the long-term abundance of wild fish populations.”

The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in May 1989. (NOAA)
The Exxon Valdez aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in March 1989. (NOAA)

The Exxon Valdez spill was the largest in U.S. history, with extensive oiling of shoreline spawning habitats for Pacific herring and pink salmon, the two most important commercial fish species in Prince William Sound.

Herring larvae sampled in proximity to oil were visibly abnormal, and mortality rates were higher for pink salmon embryos at oil spill sites than unaffected regions.

The herring fishery collapsed three to four years after the spill, when the herring spawned in oiled areas reached reproductive maturity.

The paper notes that the contribution of the spill to the herring population collapse, if any, was never determined and remains controversial.

Other studies, however, tend to confirm the findings, including heart problems for fish exposed to the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon spill and even fish exposed to naturally occurring oil seeps.

Oil spill caused unexpected lethal impact on herring, study shows

Gulf oil spill caused heart defects in fish embryos new study finds

The new findings suggest that the delayed effects of the spill may have been important contributors to the declines.

 This image shows transient embryonic exposures to crude oil cause lasting reductions in the swimming speed of salmon and herring, months after additional juvenile growth in clean seawater. (NOAA)

This image shows transient embryonic exposures to crude oil cause lasting reductions in the swimming speed of salmon and herring, months after additional juvenile growth in clean seawater. (NOAA)

Scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Alaska Fisheries Science Center temporarily exposed embryonic salmon and herring to low levels of crude oil from the North Slope of Alaska and found that both absorbed chemicals at similar concentrations in their tissues. The embryos were then transferred to clean seawater and raised as juvenile fish for seven to eight months.

Few of the exposed embryos were outwardly abnormal in any way. However, closer examination of the fish revealed subtle defects that could reduce their long-term survival.

Juvenile salmon exposed to oil grew more slowly, with those exposed to the highest concentrations growing the slowest. For salmon, early survival in the ocean is strongly influenced by juvenile growth, with smaller fish suffering higher loss to predators.

Scientists used swimming speed as a measure of cardiorespiratory performance and found that fish exposed to the highest concentrations of oil swam the slowest. Slower swimming is an indication of reduced aerobic capacity and cardiac output, and likely makes fish easier targets for predators.

Exposure to oil as embryos altered the structural development of the hearts of juvenile fish, potentially reducing their fitness and swimming ability. Poor swimming and cardiac fitness is also a factor in disease resistance.

Earlier studies on the ecosystem-scale crash of the Prince William Sound herring population  several years after the Exxon Valdez spill were based on higher levels of exposure to the oil. The new study shows that that cardiac injury occurs in normal-appearing fish that survive even lower level exposures.

The scientists reviewed data on measured oil concentrations in surface water samples collected in Prince William Sound after the oil spill and during the 1989 herring spawning season. Most of the 233 samples contained less oil than was believed to be toxic to herring at the time, based on visible gross developmental abnormalities. However, nearly all of the samples contained oil at or above concentrations shown in the new study to alter heart development.

If the Exxon Valdez spill impacted heart development among a large majority of fish that were spawned in proximity to oiled shorelines, the subsequent losses of juveniles to delayed mortality would have left fewer adults to join the population. Although not direct proof, this provides a plausible explanation for the collapse of the Prince William Sound herring stock four years later, when fish spawned during the oil spill would have matured.

The study concludes that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill on near shore spawning populations of fish are likely to have been considerably underestimated in terms of both the geographic extent of affected habitat and the lingering toxicity of low levels of oil. The findings will likely contribute to more accurate assessments of the impacts of future oil spills, Incardona said. “Now we have a much better idea of what we should be looking for,” he said.

That means, according to the study “that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on populations of near shore spawning fish are likely to have been considerably underestimated, in term of both the geographic extent of affected habitats and the lingering toxicity of low levels of residual oil.”

The report calls for more studies of the sensitivity of the developing fish heart since the vulnerability “also has implications for other pollution sources in marine ecosystems, including increasing maritime vessel traffic and expanding land-based urban runoff.”

In 2013, the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel said this about the Exxon Valdez  oil spill.

Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar to those existing pre-spill, were established.

Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.

Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.

Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause widespread, long-term impacts.


25th anniversary of Exxon Valdez disaster looms over Northern Gateway dispute

Courts, costs stall Northern Gateway

Updated Feb. 26, 2015

Enbridge logoCourt challenges and rising costs will stall the Northern Gateway project for most of 2015, Enbridge says in its Fourth Quarter (2014) Strategic Update, released Friday. That means if the Northern Gatway project actually goes ahead, the company now says it will not be completed until at least 2020 or 2021.

The strategic planning report also contains cryptic references that Enbridge may be planning a second pipeline project to the “west coast” possibly to carry LNG, that could also be completed by 2020 or 2021.

Editor’s Note: Some readers have pointed out that the obscure reference to the second pipeline to the west coast might also refer to the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to the Lower Mainland.

Enbridge executives made no direct references to Northern Gateway during the conference call marking the release of the company’s 2014 results, nor did financial analysts nor media participants ask any questions about the Northern Gateway, an indication, that for now, the controversial project has dropped off the media and financial radar.

As for a possible new Enbridge pipeline to the British Columbia coast, the strategic planning report notes:

Based on the prospect for higher global LNG demand, the large resource base in western Canada and the changing North American natural gas flow patterns discussed above, there is an increasing probability that additional projects to export LNG from the continental United States or potentially off the west Coast of Canada will proceed. However, a sustained period of low crude oil prices or other changes in global supply and demand for natural gas could delay such opportunities.

Then in the conference call, Guy Jarvis, Enbridge president of Liquids Pipelines, made this reference to a slide that projected Enbridge’s future earnings.

In our base case, which is the green line and which we discussed at Enbridge Day, Keystone XL is in service in 2019 and Energy East plus one of the two West Coast projects is in service in 2020. In this scenario, we are currently chockablock full and we remain full as we bring on the two faces of Alberta Clipper expansion capacity and as we squeeze the last bit of capacity availability out of our system leaving about 200,000 barrels a day of capacity that we can’t get at due to upstream bottlenecks and crude slate versus line allocations.

So that means Enbridge expects one of  two West Coast projects to be online by 2020. One, of course, is Nothern Gateway, the second, perhaps a LNG project now on the drawing boards in Edmonton. If, however, the reference is to Kinder Morgan, that too may be delayed by opposition to that project. Sources indicate that pipeline companies often have various scenarios and plans on backburners that may be activated if market conditions are favourable.

A slide from the Enbridge presentation speaks of "one" west coast pipeline coming into operation in 2020 or 2021  (Enbridge)
A slide from the Enbridge presentation speaks of “one” west coast pipeline coming into operation in 2020 or 2021 (Enbridge)

Northern Gateway

As for Northern Gateway itself, Enbridge’s report on the project is buried deep in the  strategic review, after almost every other project and pipeline the company is working on.

Enbridge begins by noting the history of the twin 1,177-kilometre (731-mile) pipeline system from near Edmonton, Alberta to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. It then mentions the pipline would carry “crude oil for export” from the Edmonton area to Kitimat, fudging that the pipeline would actually carry diluted bitumen. The other pipeline would carry natural gas based condensate back to the oil sands. On June 17, 2014,  the federal government approved the Northern Gateway project subject to the 209 conditions imposed by the Joint Review Panel six months earlier.

First Nations and enviromental groups then filed court challenges to the project.

The report notes that on December 17, 2014, the Federal Court of Canada consolidated all the challenges to Northern Gateway in a single proceeding.

Those challenging the Northern Gateway have until May 22, 2015 to file with the Federal Court the Appellants’ Memoranda of Fact and Law.

Northern Gateway must respond with a Respondents’ Memoranda by June 5, 2015.

The company says the Federal Court hearing will open sometime in the fall of 2015, with a decision possibly late in 2015. Enbridge expects either one side or the other to seek Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada which could delay the project into 2016 or 2017.

Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)
Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)

Gateway costs

The report says that in October, 2014, Enbridge began reviewing its cost estimate for Northern Gateway, “based on full engineering analysis of the pipeline route and terminal location.” Now the companys says “the final cost of the project will be substantially higher than the preliminary cost figures included in the Northern Gateway filing with the JRP, which reflected a preliminary estimate prepared in 2004 and escalated to 2010.”

What is raising the cost of Northern Gateway include “significant costs associated with escalation of labour and construction costs” probably due to LNG other projects, as well as satisfying the JRP’s 209 conditions. It appears also that Enbridge is finally actually looking at the costs of building the pipeline over BC’s rugged terrain, “a larger portion of high cost pipeline terrain, more extensive terminal site rock excavations and a delayed anticipated in-service date.”

Enbridge adds: “The updated cost estimate is currently being assessed and refined by Northern Gateway and the potential shippers.”

It may be that Northern Gatway’s future is becoming more precarious, especially with the collapse in world oil prices.

Enbridge notes: “Subject to continued commercial support, receipt of regulatory and other approvals and adequately addressing landowner and local community concerns (including those of Aboriginal communities), the Company now estimates that Northern Gateway could be in service in 2019 at the earliest. The timing and outcome of judicial reviews could also impact the start of construction or other project activities, which may lead to a delay in the start of operations beyond the current forecast.” (The 2020 or 2021 figure came from the conference call and slide presentation, not the strategic report)

Enbridge concludes:

Given the many uncertainties surrounding Northern Gateway, including final ownership structure, the potential financial impact of the project cannot be determined at this time.

The Joint Review Panel certificate granting Enbridge permission to proceed expires, under Condition 2, on December 31, 2016. Under Condition 187, Northern Gateway must assure the JRP and National Energy Board that it has sufficient financial resources to both build the project and to implement all the safety and environmental conditions imposed by the JRP and accepted by Stephen Harper’s cabinet when it approved the project.

Photo op or engagement? How the Harper government failed in the northwest

Bear totem at UNBC
The bear totem at the University of Northern British Columbia, one of the backdrops considered by Natural Resources for an announcement by Joe Oliver. (UNBC)

If anyone wanted a snapshot (or for younger folks a selfie) of why the Harper government grounded out at home, never even getting to first base  with northwestern British Columbia on Northern Gateway and other resource projects, it can be found in about sixty pages of  documents, obtained by Northwest Coast Energy News under the Access to Information Act, documents that outline the planning for former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s first visit to Terrace in March 2013

  • The documents reveal the priority for Natural Resources communications staff was mainly finding an appropriate First Nations visual backdrop for Oliver’s speech announcing the appointment of Douglas Eyford as special representative to First Nations, the Harper government’s attempt to smooth relations as it dawned on the government that opposition to Northern Gateway wasn’t just going to disappear.
  • Despite years of media coverage from both those opposed to and even those who support the Northern Gateway project that highest priority issue was preventing oil spills whether from tankers or pipelines, the Ottawa-based communications planners in Natural Resources Canada were talking about how aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities could respond to oil spills.
  • For an event that was supposed to engage the First Nations of coastal British Columbia and gain their support for resource projects, all the economic examples are about Alberta First Nations who are working the extraction of bitumen in Alberta, there are no example of how BC First Nations might profit from Northern Gateway (that is if any BC First Nations actually wanted to do so)
  • A visit to Kitimat, the centre of the debate, wasn’t even on the radar in March, 2013, as Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, even though Kitimat is just a 40 minute drive from the site of the announcement at the Terrace campus of Northwest Community College.

When Natural Resources Canada started planning Joe Oliver’s announcement they created what was called a “Message Event Proposal” which even in its title shows how the government and the communications staff think. The message is more important than the event.

Northwest Coast Energy News
Finding a background with a First Nations focus was a high priority for Natural Resources Canada in choosing Northwest Community College in Terrace for an announcement by Minister Joe Oliver on March 19, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The planning documents from Natural Resources, starting on March 5, 2013, indicate that from the beginning the announcement was being treated as a photo op. Invitations to or participation by “stakeholders” are listed as N/A “not applicable,” which meant that meetings, even private meetings, with representatives of northwestern First Nations and other communities either weren’t considered or the communications staff weren’t informed. (If there were such plans they were not part of the access documents released and as far as Northwest Coast Energy News can find out no meetings took place since Oliver left for Ottawa immediately after the announcement)

The documents show that there were no plans to involve "stakeholders" in Joe Oliver's announcement.
The documents show that there were no plans to involve “stakeholders” in Joe Oliver’s announcement.

The Natural Resources communications staff were working on multiple angles in March, as part of what the planning documents call “a suite of events in Vancouver on marine and pipeline safety.”

The first set of those events would eventually take place on March 18, 2013, in Vancouver, and included the announcement, without consulting either Rio Tinto Alcan or the District, that Kitimat’s private port run by Alcan since it was first built would be turned in a federal public port.

The announcement of Eyford’s appointment  would eventually take place at the Waap Galts’ap community long house at Northwest Community College in Terrace on the morning of March 19.

That location certainly wasn’t clear at first. The first documents suggested the announcement take place in Vancouver, and then a day later on March 6, the proposed venue, according to the staff, was in either Prince Rupert or Prince George.

According to the internal e-mails, sometime that week what Ottawa bureaucrats call MINO — the minister’s office– decided that the venue should be Terrace. On March 11, e-mails among Natural Resources staff show that the choice had changed to either Terrace or Prince George.

Since the “special representative” whom we now know would be Douglas Eyford, would report directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the political level was involved.  MINO took over writing Oliver’s speech and the arrangements were copied to the Privy Council Office, the civil service branch that has overall supervision of the federal bureaucrats and works directly with the Prime Minister. So the speech that the communications branch had drafted for Oliver became “can please turn the one we had done for him into the remarks for the new guy?”

Plan B in Prince George

The choice of Terrace left the Natural Resources Ottawa staff hedging their bets, looking for a “potential plan B” in Prince George. The e-mails indicate that Ottawa asked  Natural Resources west coast communications officer for a list of suitable locations in Prince George.

The communications officer replied with three locations at the University of Northern British Columbia “a moving bear totem on campus” the main administration building which the e-mail said “ has a strong First Nations focus,” adding  “Environment Canada has done…events there. Strong FN visuals.” The third choice was “a new bio energy facility that looks industrial.”

Backups were The College of New Caledonia trade centre and the Prince George industrial park.

UNBC adminstration building
Natural Resources Canada also considered the “strong First Nations visuals” at the University of Northern British Columbia administration building. (UNBC)

NRCan email


UNBC bioenergy lab
The University of Northern British Columbia’s bioenergy facility. (UNBC)

E-mails from the staff on Wednesday, March 14 and Thursday, March 15, showed while they were now aware the event would be in Terrace, and probably at Northwest Community College, there was still a lot of uncertainty. “We haven’t been able to contact them to confirm, but as soon as we do, we will let you know the exact details as well as what is required in terms of logistics.”

Remembering that Natural Resources and Transport Canada were also planning the Vancouver event on Monday, March 18, it appears that even as Oliver arrived on the morning of March 19, the minister’s staff both political and bureaucratic were still scrambling.

On March 19, the NWCC staff on site were complaining that as soon as the Ottawa delegation saw the standard arrangements for an event at the Waap Galts’ap community long house they ordered the NWCC staff to immediately rearrange the room, so that the podium was in front of one wall with what Oliver’s staff thought was a better First Nations painting. That rearranging was still going on when I arrived to cover the announcement.

Joe Oliver
Joe Oliver tries out a heavy equipment simulator at Northwest Community College on March 19, 2013, prior to his speech. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Even after the furniture was rearranged, the start was delayed as Oliver and his staff disappeared into an upstairs room for a meeting before the news conference began, and Oliver announced Eyford’s appointment.

During the question and answer session with the media during the news conference, the students that had essentially been brought in as props for the photo op and to help promote Northwest Community College’s industrial training program, began to ask questions.

news conference
Joe Oliver listens to a question from a student at the Northwest Community College news conference. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

One student asked Oliver if Eyford’s appointment was going to replace “all talks” with First Nations about resource projects. The Natural Resources public relations staff tried to cut off one student, since the national media were waiting on a telephone conference call. To his credit, Oliver did answer the student’s question, saying Eyford’s appointment was not intended to “replace the independent, regulatory review.” He went on to explain the Northern Gateway Joint Review would continue its work and report at the end of 2013.

What was Ottawa thinking? You too, can respond to an oil spill.

If the aim was to engage the First Nations and other residents of northwestern BC, it is clear that the concerns of this region hadn’t reached out Ottawa.

It appears from the planning documents for Joe Oliver’s trip to Terrace, that a main concern of everyone in the northwest, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, opponents and supporters of the Northern Gateway pipeline, preventing oil spills also wasn’t on the government radar, rather it was preparing and responding to oil spills.

Guess who would respond?

As part of the measures to strengthen Canada’s Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime, the Government of Canada will strengthen the engagement and involvement of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in preparing for and responding to oil spills.


When it comes to a key section on benefits from the Northern Gateway and other resource projects, there is no mention of benefits to British Columbia; rather it appears all the examples of benefits for aboriginal communities come from Alberta, including $1.3 billion in contract work for oil sands companies not including construction, for the year 2010, and $5 billion since 2001. The Message Event Proposal also cites a joint venture between the Bigstone Cree and Bronco Energy, “the biggest oil sands project every undertaken on First Nations reserve lands.”


Overall the plan was to “Promote Canada’s commitment to achieving its goals under its plan for Responsible Resource Development, including increased consultations with Aboriginal peoples.”

The “media lines’ issued by Natural Resources also outlined the Harper government’s attitude to the Northern Gateway, noting that Eyford’s appointment was independent of the Northern Gateway Joint Review, and went to indicate that the JRP was “conducting a rigorous, extensive, open, science-based assessment.” It adds that “we will continue to rely on the integrity of this process,” again showing how out of touch Natural Resources was (at least in talking points) since by March 2013, there was growing consensus in the northwest that the JRP had lost its credibility.gateway1

The media lines also show that the Harper government believed that “Aboriginal consultations are fully integrated into the review process to ensure meaningful consultation occurs,” a position that most First Nations in British Columbia reject, insisting on meaningful consultations between the Crown and the First Nation.


When Eyford presented his report to the Prime Minister in December, 2013, Eyford called for stronger action to engage First Nations opposed to new oil and gas pipelines.

“It’s never too late to engage and do so in a process of good faith negotiations… “This won’t be an easy process. I hope my report is perceived as providing objective and blunt advice to all the parties engaged in this process.’’

The 53 page report contained dozens of recommendations mainly concerned with a more open and principled dialogue with First Nations.

“The development of West Coast energy infrastructure provides an opportunity to forge partnerships and build relationships. There is a strong interest and real opportunity for Canada and aboriginal Canadians to more effectively collaborate to address their respective interests.’’

Editor’s note:  On the port issue, an RTA spokesperson noted that talks with the federal government are continuing. He noted that all the Kitimat port facilities are privately owned, by Rio Tinto Alcan or by LNG Canada and there are “multiple stakeholders” involved.


Natural Resources Media Lines  (pdf)

Natural Resources Message Event Proposal  (pdf)

Forging Trust Douglas Eyford’s final report  (pdf)

Related Links

Joe Oliver makes flying visit, meets Haisla, snubs Kitimat (almost)

Harper government to District of Kitmat Drop Dead

Phil Germuth, Enbridge’s “What the….” moment and what it means for British Columbia

Phil Germuth
Councillor Phil Germuth questions Northern Gateway officials about their plans for leak detection, Feb. 17, 2014 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.

In January, 2015, Phil Germuth will take the centre chair as mayor at the Kitimat Council Chambers.

The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.

The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors,  or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level,  the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.

Ray Philpenko
Northern Gateway’s Ray Philpenko gives a presentation on pipeline leak detection to Kitimat Council, Feb. 17. 2014. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment.  As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?

But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?

Pro Development

“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.

On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.

So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.

Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).

We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.

The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying,  “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”


election signs
Kitimat election signs. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Plebiscite confirmed

Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.

Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?

Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.

During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.

LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.

There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.

Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.

Joanne Monaghan, a model mayor for a small town

Joanne Monaghan’s 35 year political career came to halt (at least for now) Saturday when she came third in Saturday’s municipal mayoralty election, behind Phil Germuth and Trish Parsons.


The best analogy is that of the sports star or coach who stays one season too many. Monaghan had set her sights on 40 years in local politics. But in the 2014 mayor’s race she ran up against a strong sentiment that it was time for a change. She probably allowed that career goal to override any political instincts she may have built up over those years where a small town politician has to keep track of the pulse of events.

Joanne Monaghan
Joanne Monaghan’s poor performance in the all candidates debate hurt her campaign (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Monaghan has an impressive track record: municipal councillor since 1980, mayor since 2009. That means Monaghan was mayor during some of the toughest times that Kitimat has faced after the Eurocan pull out.

She served two terms as the head of the Union of BC Municipalities (the first woman) the third woman to be president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. She was Chair of the Regional District Kitimat Stikine for eight years and Vice Chair for nine. She has served on the British Columbia Heritage Trust, the Northwest Community College Board, the Provincial Tourism Council, and the Provincial Transportation Committee. Monaghan is also a member of the Northern Development Initiative, and is chair of the University of Northern B.C. Advisory Committee.

The Canadian International Development Agency sent her to Ecuador on a “Municipal Government Technology Transfer between a community in Ecuador and Kitimat. She also facilitated workshops in “Women in Politics” in South Africa and Ghana.

Monaghan served on many local committees, both community bodies mandated by council as well as volunteer groups.

Her 35 years in local politics mean that she knows everyone in town. Her 35 years in municipal politics allowed her to build up valuable contacts in other municipalities, provincial and federal politics as well as the media.

Joanne Monaghan was a model mayor for a small town, for 35 years she was always available to members of the Kitimat community, always ready to respond to a phone call or an e-mail from a Kitimat resident, working hard on issues from restoring old sidewalks to bringing new industry to the valley. She was always available to show up at a local event, even if it was just for a few minutes.

So want went wrong with her campaign?

Monaghan was successful in bringing Tim Horton’s to Kitimat, an asset to any community. She worked hard to bring other business small and large to Kitimat.

If nothing much ever happened in Kitimat, if it was a small one industry town expanding into tourism, Monaghan would probably have been re-elected on Saturday.

If Kitimat was a town facing one major issue, Monaghan might still be mayor.

What made Joanne Monaghan a great small town mayor was also her weakness, trying to do too much and thus while trying to handle a growing number of cascading important issues, becoming overwhelmed by them.

Kitimat is facing Northern Gateway, three liquified natural gas projects, Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization, the airshed problems from all those projects, the housing crisis, bettering relations with the Haisla, just to name a few, as well as sorting out normal municipal priorities like maintaining sidewalks.

As early as a year ago, a feeling began to grow in Kitimat that Monaghan wasn’t skeptical enough about some of the companies coming to town bearing gifts. Monaghan tended to avoid the tough questions on Northern Gateway, punting issues (to continue the sports analogy) until the Joint Review Panel reported. Monaghan was not alone among council in burying its head in the sand over the Joint Review Panel but as the leader of a group that is supposed to operate with collegial consensus, Monaghan blocked any real involvement by the District in the JRP.

While Monaghan had helped bring Kitimat from gloom after Eurocan to current fragile boom with the KMP and LNG, there was a feeling that hungry for good news, she was too often willing to accept the assurances from the big corporations dealing with council.

At council, other members began to outshine Monaghan. On different sides of most issues, Phil Germuth and Mario Feldhoff, despite both working full time, always came prepared, files full of documents, facts and figures. Rob Goffinet was always ready to ask a skeptical question. Rookie Edwin Empinado wore his idealism on his sleeve, although he sometimes struggled expressing his focus on issues. Monaghan, on the other hand, often seemed unprepared and inflexible on major issues.

Throughout the summer, there was speculation and conversations around Kitimat, about whether Joanne Monaghan would stand for another term as mayor. In a metropolitan city, polling would have confirmed that there was a growing feeling that it was time for a change. If Monaghan noted the warning signs, and they were noticeable in a small town, she chose to ignore them.

When Monaghan said in her campaign literature that she would “stand up to outside influences and special interest groups” who did she mean by “special interest groups?” If she meant Douglas Channel Watch the most prominent “special interest group” in town or the no vote in the plebiscite in general, she narrowed her options, since Trish Parsons was the “pro-development” candidate.

all candidates debate
Both Trish Parsons and Phil Germuth put forward strong arguments in the all candidates debate while Monaghan appeared to be upnprepared. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

If there was a moment where Monaghan really lost the election, it was her performance in the all candidates debate at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre. Phil Germuth shone in the debate and Trish Parsons was a close second. They were clearly prepared and rehearsed, ready with their statements and with their answers to the questions, winging the questions that were totally out of left field. The generational difference between Monaghan and her rivals was clear on stage. It appeared she hadn’t properly prepared, her answers rambled and she was frequently cut off by the moderator for going over the time limit. A solid debate performance might have brought some of Monaghan’s former supporters back into her camp but that never happened.

Although Parsons performed well in debate, the feeling in the community was that, despite her work with the Chamber of Commerce and community groups, she should have “paid her dues” by at least one term on council before trying for the mayor’s chair. So Parsons was unable to build support beyond her pro-development base.

With Monaghan’s support slipping away and Parsons stalled, the community vote went strongly to Phil to Germuth.

So what is Joanne Monaghan’s legacy? That legacy is that she is the model small town mayor who answered everyone’s phone calls and e-mails, who listened to everyone’s points of view, even those she clearly disagreed with, while also being the model small town mayor who worked hard to tackle district wide issues.

As far as the national media is concerned, Toronto’s notorious Rob Ford created his Ford Nation supporters through a personal touch, by always returning phone calls, making sure Toronto responded to even the most minor complaints. But even before Ford’s personal problems became worldwide media fodder, it was clear that Ford was too often neglecting handling the big picture, the Toronto wide issues, for a constituent’s crack in a sidewalk.

Monaghan was working on that personal touch when Ford was still in high school. Monaghan was smarter than Ford (if Monaghan was a A, Ford was an F), for 35 years she balanced the personal touch with active concern and dogged work for the entire District.

Between 2011 and 2014, Kitimat jumped from the minor leagues to the Premier League, and there was a clear demand for fresh blood to strengthen the political team. The voters decided that the veteran team coach should retire. But Coach Monaghan still does have a shelf full of trophies from those 35 years. If this really was the sporting world, her number should be retired as well and lifted to the rafters.


Sending the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert: A dumb, dumb, dumb idea—and here are the photos to prove it.

There’s a dumb, dumb, really dumb idea that just won’t go away—that Enbridge could solve all its problems if only, if only, it would send the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert.

Enbridge long ago rejected the idea. Before Enbridge updated its website to make  Gateway Facts, to make it slick and more attractive, the old website had an FAQ where Enbridge explained why it wasn’t going to Prince Rupert.

Did you consider running the pipeline to Prince Rupert where a major port already exists?

We considered Prince Rupert and Kitimat as possible locations. We carried out a feasibility study that took into account a number of considerations. The study found that the routes to Prince Rupert were too steep to safely run the pipeline, and that Kitimat was the best and safest option available.

Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)
Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)

Here in the northwest even the supporters of the Northern Gateway roll their eyes when they hear the old Prince Rupert story come up again and again – and it’s not just because these people support the Kitimat plans for Northern Gateway, it’s because those supporters (not to mention the opponents) have driven along the Skeena from Terrace to Prince Rupert.

There just isn’t any room for a pipeline. It’s a game of centimetres.

A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014.  Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014. Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Alternatives to Kitimat?

Now the new premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, who should know better if he’s going to lead that province, is hinting that Kitimat isn’t the only possible solution for the Northern Gateway.

Without specifying Prince Rupert, according to Gary Mason reporting in The Globe and Mail, Prentice was speculating about an alternative to Kitimat.

Asked whether he believes the Gateway terminus should be relocated to Prince Rupert or another destination, Mr. Prentice said, “Everything I’ve heard from the Haisla who live there is they don’t agree with the terminal being in Kitimat.” Is it possible to get First Nations approval if there is no support at the planned terminus site? “It’s pretty tough,” the Premier said.

A couple of days ago, the Prince Rupert’s Mayor Jack Mussallem told The Globe and Mail in Mayor, port authority say no room for Northern Gateway pipeline in Prince Rupert

Prince Rupert has a thriving local fishing industry that employs hundreds of people and is critically important to the local First Nations. He is convinced the community would not be willing to put that at risk.
“Overwhelmingly people in my community are much more comfortable with liquefied natural gas, with wood pellets, with coal, than any oil product,” he said.

The Prince Rupert Port Authority also rejected the idea

A spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority said Wednesday there is currently no room for Enbridge to build at the port even if it wanted to. “We are fully subscribed,” Michael Gurney said. There are two large vacant lots within the port authority’s jurisdiction, but both are locked by other energy companies, earmarked for LNG projects.

So not only is there no room on the road to Prince Rupert, there is no room in Prince Rupert.


Let’s just consider for a moment that if Prince Rupert was the ideal location for the Northern Gateway terminal (which it is not), what would be needed to get the project going today.

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel would have be reconstituted or a new JRP created by the National Energy Board. That’s because the bitumen comes from Bruderheim, Alberta, crossing provincial boundaries and thus it’s in federal jurisdiction.

Even under the fast track rules imposed on the NEB by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, new environmental and social impact studies would be required, starting from scratch. So add another five years of paperwork before a single shovel goes into the ground.

The pipeline would have to cross the traditional territory of First Nations that, so far, have not been part of the negotiations, mostly the Tsimshian First Nation as well as the Nisga’a First Nation which has a treaty establishing local rule over their territory.

Traditional leaders of the Gitga'at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Traditional leaders of the Gitga’at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

In February 2012, the largest anti-Enbridge demonstration outside of the Lower Mainland took place in Prince Rupert, with the elders of the Tsimshian First Nation welcoming the elders and members of the Gitga’at First Nation, at Hartley Bay, which had organized the protest.

While Kitimat Council long stood neutral on the issue, the councils at Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers as well as the Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District had voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Audio Slideshow; No to Tankers Rally, Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012

The Skeena Route

The Skeena is one of the greatest salmon rivers on the planet. The Petronas LNG project has already run into problems because its planned terminal at Lelu Island would also impact the crucial eel-grass which is the nursery for young salmon leaving the Skeena and preparing to enter the ocean. Note that northern BC is generally in favour of LNG terminals, if the terminals are in the right place, so expect huge protests against any bitumen terminal at the mouth of the Skeena.

When I say there isn’t room for a pipeline along the Skeena, it also means that there isn’t any room for the pipeline corridor right-of-way. Enbridge, in its submissions to the Joint Review Panel, said it requires a 25 metre wide right of way for the pipeline corridor. (For the record that’s just over 82 feet).

Along that highway, as you will see, there’s barely enough room for the CN mainline and Highway 16 (also known as the Yellowhead Highway) and on a lot of places both the highway and the railway roadbed are built on fill along the side of a cliff.

Now I’ve said this all before, two years ago, in a piece for the Huffington Post, Get Over it! A Pipeline to Prince Rupert Is Bust

Albertans’ desperate desire to see the Northern Gateway go to anywhere to what they call “tide water” keeps coming up like the proverbial bad penny. The latest came when Jim Prentice speculated about a new route for the Northern Gateway.

I knew I had an appointment coming up in Prince Rupert on Monday, September 29. So I decided that only way to prove to people sitting in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray playing with Google Maps that the pipeline to Prince Rupert was a really dumb idea was to shoot photographs to show just why the Northern Gateway will never go to Prince Rupert—at least along the Skeena.

As you drive out of Terrace, you pass two large swing gates (also called by some “Checkpoint Charlie” gates after the Cold War era crossing in Berlin.) At the first rest stop west of Terrace, there are another set of gates at the Exstew. There’s a third set of gates just outside Prince Rupert.

A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014.  (Robin Rowland)
A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014. (Robin Rowland)

The swing gates are avalanche gates and, in the winter, Highway 16 can be shut down if an avalanche closes the highway or the danger from avalanche is too great to allow motorists to proceed. When you drive the highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert in the winter (the signs were covered up when I drove Monday) you are warned “Avalanche danger Next 13 kilometres. No stopping.”

The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The drive along the Skeena from just west of Exchamsiks River Provincial Park all the way to Tyee where the highway turns inland to reach northwest to Prince Rupert on Kaien Island is one of the most spectacular drives on this planet. The highway snakes along a narrow strip of land with steep mountain cliffs on one side and the vast river on the other.

The problem is that apart from locals and tourists, none of the “experts” whether journalist, think tanker, bureaucrat or politician have, apparently ever driven from Prince Rupert to Terrace.

When both Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were in the northwest earlier this summer to “engage” with the local people, apart from short boat trips down Douglas Channel, they flew everywhere. Scheduling you know. Stephen Harper has never visited northwest BC and probably never intends to. His cabinet members fly in for photo ops and then are on the next plane out of town.

Of all the visiting journalists who have come to the northwest only a couple have bothered to drive around the region. Most fly-in fly-out. These days, most often budget-strapped reporters never leave their offices, interviewing the same usual suspects by phone on every story.

On Monday, I took most of the photographs on my way back from Prince Rupert to Terrace after my appointment, so the sequence is from west to east. There are also very few places along the river where you can safely stop. There are concrete barricades on both sides of the highway to prevent vehicles either going into the river or onto the narrow CN right-of-way.

There are, however, two rest stops and a number of small turnoffs on the highway, the turnoffs mainly intended for use by BC Highways, but which are also used by tourists, fishers and photographers.


The first image was taken at one of those highway turnoffs just east of Aberdeen Creek. This is what the highway and rail corridor are like all along the Skeena, the highway, bounded by concrete barricades, the CN rail line and then the towering mountains. Note where the telegraph and telephone lines are—further up the cliffside.


A closer view of the highway and rail corridor just east of Aberdeen Creek.


Here is the view of the Skeena River from the Aberdeen Creek turnoff. You can see to the east, a mountain and the narrow strip of fill land that supports the highway and the rail line.


You see the broad width of the mighty Skeena, the Misty River, as it is called by the Tsimshian First Nation and by everyone else who lives in the northwest and on the right side of the image, the highway and rail corridor built on fill.

Any room for a pipeline?


There’s another turnoff on the other side of the headland east of Aberdeen Creek, looking back the way we came.


The final small turnoff is just by the Kylex River. Again you can see how narrow the highway and rail corridor are.


A few kilometres further along—as I said the highway snakes and curves its way along the riverbank–  you come to the Basalt Creek rest area. So this telephoto image shows a logging truck heading west,   taken from Basalt Creek, looking back at the highway.

Again you can see both the highway and CN line are built on fill. Is there any room for a pipeline?

Any room for a 25 metre pipeline right-of-way?

Between Basalt Creek and Telegraph Point, a few kilometres to the east, again the highway and rail line hug the narrow strip between the river and mountains.


This shot, taken from Telegraph Point, in October 2013, shows a CN intermodal container train heading to Prince Rupert. The container trains and the coal trains usually have between 150 and 180 cars. If a winter avalanche took out a train, there would be environmental damage, but that damage would be insignificant from coal or containers compared to a train of railbit tankers carrying diluted bitumen.

At Telegraph Point, the second of the three rest stops between Prince Rupert and Terrace, again there is just a narrow strip between the mountain, the highway and the river.



Across the highway from the rest stop, you can again see the narrow corridor, the first shot looking west the rail line close to the cliff face, the second, east, with the waterfall, which you don’t see during the rest of the year, fed by the fall monsoon.


telegraphmarch2013Two shots from the same location, Telegraph Point, taken in March, 2013, of a CN locomotive hauling empty coal cars back to the fields around Tumbler Ridge. (No waterfall in March)



Alternative routes

Everyone has assumed that if Northern Gateway changed its route, the most likely choice given the configuration of the pipeline at the moment is to follow the Skeena.

There are alternatives. The Petronas LNG project and its partner TransCanada Pipelines have proposed a more northern cross-country route, which would go north from the Hazeltons, avoiding the Skeena 

Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)
Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)

The BG Group and Spectra Energy are also contemplating a pipeline…although details on the website are rather sparse.

If Enbridge wanted to try a northern route, similar to the one TransCanada contemplates for Petronas, Northern Gateway would again run into trouble.

It would require reopening or creating a new Joint Review Panel, many more years of environmental and social impact studies of the route, even under Stephen Harper’s fast track system. The TransCanada/Petronas pipeline would also cross the traditional territory of the Gitxsan First Nation and if Enbridge tried that the company would have to deal with the fact that it signed a controversial agreement with Elmer Derrick that was immediately repudiated by most members of the Gitxsan First Nation and eventually dropped by Enbridge.

So why does this idea of a pipeline to Prince Rupert keep coming up?

In most cases, the idea of the pipeline to Prince Rupert is always proposed by Albertans, not from any credible source in British Columbia, or the suggestions come from desk bound analysts in Toronto and Ottawa both in think tanks and in the newsrooms of dying newspapers who have never seen the Skeena River apart from a tiny handful who have looked at Google Street View

(Yes you can Google Street View Highway 16 along the Skeena, I recommend it if you can’t do the drive)

Perhaps the worst example of this failure of both analysis and journalism came in the Edmonton Journal on July 7,2014, when it published a piece by Bob Russell, entitled Opinion: Make Prince Rupert the terminus, which went over the same old inaccurate arguments.

The overland route currently proposed by Enbridge is fraught with environmental issues because it goes over coastal mountains and streams before entering Kitimat’s port. This port will also be the base of perhaps as many as four liquefied natural gas terminals, which will result in the channel always busy with LNG ships outbound and returning from many Asian ports.

There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands. The technical issues of narrow passages can be overcome with engineering. In fact, the pipeline can be buried in the roadway at some restricted locations if absolutely necessary, but two different engineers have assured me that for the most part, the right of way should be able to handle the pipeline. A vital factor, of course, is to reduce the impact by eliminating the need for two pipelines.

The clue is how the Edmonton Journal describes Russell;

Bob Russell has an extensive background in planning and was a member of the Edmonton Metro Regional Planning Commission. He has flown the Douglas Channel, visited Kitimat and toured the Port of Prince Rupert.

This is so typical of the Albertan attitude toward northwest British Columbia,  people fly in for a couple of days, make a quick observation, and fly out again and present themselves as experts on the region. (Some “experts” on Kitimat, very active on Twitter have apparently never left Calgary).

It obvious that the “two engineers” who assured him “the right-of-way could handle of pipeline” have no idea what they’re talking about. As the photos show there is barely enough room for a highway and a rail line much less a 25 metre wide pipeline corridor.

If the pipeline was to be built as Russell proposed, the only highway between Prince Rupert and the rest of Canada would have to be closed for years, there are no detours.  All so a pipeline can be buried under the asphalt not in solid ground, but in the fill on the side of a riverbank in an avalanche zone?

Of course, closing a highway up here won’t inconvenience anyone in Edmonton or Calgary, will it?

Would CN be happy with years of disruption of their lucrative traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal outbound to Asia and all those containers coming in to feed Chinese products to the North American market? (you can be sure Walmart wouldn’t be happy about that, not to mention prairie farmers including those from Alberta)

Russell’s statement

There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands.

Is also inaccurate.

I was told by First Nations leaders during the Idle No More demonstrations in the winter of 2013, that, a century ago, when the Grand Trunk built the railway along the Skeena , they did just that, built it without consulting the First Nations along the route, sometime digging up native cemeteries and sacred spots.

While apparently CN has worked in recent years to improve relations with the First Nations along the rail line, according to those leaders some issues of right-of-way remain to be resolved.

If there were any plans to build a diluted bitumen pipeline along that route, that would likely mean another court battle adding to those already before the Federal Court, a court battle that would cost Enbridge, CN, the federal government, environmental NGOs and the First Nations more millions in lawyers’ fees.

It’s doubtful if in the long gone (and perhaps mythical) days of “get it right” journalism that the Russell opinion piece would have passed the scrutiny of an old fashioned copy editor and fact checker.

In 2012, the Edmonton Journal (in a story no longer available on their website) also cited former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, as also favouring Prince Rupert.

Dodge, who was in Edmonton Tuesday to deliver a speech on the global economic outlook at MacEwan University, said Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat looks like even more of a long shot.
“I think the project to Kitimat looks, objectively, more risky. So why hasn’t much greater effort gone into looking at Prince Rupert and taking (bitumen) out that way? My guess is, the easiest place to get B.C. to buy into the project would be to go to Rupert.”
Dodge’s views echo those of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who also favours looking at an alternate pipeline route to Prince Rupert, where ocean-going supertankers can navigate more easily.

Back in 2012, I finished my piece for the Huffington Post by saying:

So why do people insist, despite the evidence, that the Northern Gateway go to Prince Rupert? It’s no longer an pipeline; it’s emotion and ideology. Ideology in that opposition to the Northern Gateway is seen by conservatives as heretical opposition to free enterprise itself. Emotion among those who see promoting the oil patch as an issue of “Alberta pride” and even Canadian patriotism.
For the promoters of the pipeline to Prince Rupert, ignoring the science of geology and the study of geography across all of northwestern B.C. is no different than repeatedly knocking your head against the Paleozoic metamorphic greenstone of the mountain cliffs along the Skeena. It only gives you a headache.

Things haven’t gotten much better in the past two years. In fact they’re getting worse as opposition to pipelines mounts.

It seems that in 2014  the Alberta and the federal government policy in promoting pipelines Northern Gateway, KinderMorgan’s TransMountain, Keystone XL, Line 9 Reversal and Energy East (slick PR and smiling representatives at open houses, politicians at strictly controlled photo ops) is to ignore facts on the ground and to refuse to deal with the concerns of local people from coast to coast.

There could, perhaps, be a more inclusive and truly science-based pipeline planning process that could see pipelines go on optimum routes but that isn’t happening.

The policy  for the oil patch and its politician supporters when it comes to pipelines is facts and geology don’t really matter. So they put on ruby slippers, knock their heels together three times and send pipelines down a yellow brick road to an Emerald City (while telling the locals to ignore the man behind the curtain)

Related links

The Save Our Salmon website has a different view, arguing that federal government and the energy companies have a plan to create an energy corridor for bitumen pipelines to Prince Rupert.

Enbridge Kalamazoo cleanup now set at $1.157 billion and growing

The cost of Enbridge’s cleanup from the spill at Marshall, Michigan in 2010 is now $1.157 billion the company said Friday as it released its second quarter results. That is an increase of $35 million from the estimates Enbridge released at the end of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

As of June, 2014, Enbridge faces possibly $30 million in fines and penalties from the United States government.

In its quarterly report Enbridge said

EEP   [Embridge Energy Partners] continues to perform necessary remediation, restoration and monitoring of the areas affected by the Line 6B crude oil release. All the initiatives EEP is undertaking in the monitoring and restoration phase are intended to restore the crude oil release area to the satisfaction of the appropriate regulatory authorities.

On March 14, 2013, as previously reported, the United States Environmental Protection Agency ordered in Enbridge to undertake “additional containment and active recovery of submerged oil relating to the Line 6B crude oil release.”

new Enbridge logoEnbridge says it has “completed substantially all of the EPA order, “with the exception of required dredging in and around Morrow Lake and its delta.”

“Approximately $30 million of the increase in the total cost estimate during the three months ended June 30, 2014 is primarily related to the finalization of the MDEQ approved Schedule of Work and other costs related to the on-going river restoration activities near Ceresco,” Enbridge reported.

Enbridge also said it is working with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “to transition submerged oil reassessment, sheen management and sediment trap monitoring and maintenance activities from the EPA to the MDEQ, through a Kalamazoo River Residual Oil Monitoring and Maintenance Work Plan.”

Enbridge also said that costs may still go up, saying there continues to be the potential for “additional costs in connection with this crude oil release due to variations in any or all of the cost categories, including modified or revised requirements from regulatory agencies, in addition to fines and penalties and expenditures associated with litigation and settlement of claims.”

Enbridge said that “a majority of the costs incurred in connection with the crude oil release for Line 6B are covered by Enbridge’s comprehensive insurance policy…. which had an aggregate limit of  $650 million for pollution liability.” So far, Enbridge has recovered $547 million of the $650 million from its insurers. Enbridge is suing its insurers to recover the rest of the money.

That means that “Enbridge and its affiliates have exceeded the limits of their coverage under this insurance policy. Additionally, fines and penalties would not be covered under the existing insurance policy,” the company said.

Insurance renewed

Enbridge said it has “renewed its comprehensive property and liability insurance programs under which the Company is insured through April 30, 2015 with a liability aggregate limit of $700 million, including sudden and accidental pollution liability, with a deductible applicable to oil pollution events of $30 million per event, from the previous $10 million.”

It adds:

In the unlikely event multiple insurable incidents occur which exceed coverage limits within the same insurance period, the total insurance coverage will be allocated among Enbridge entities on an equitable basis based on an insurance allocation agreement among Enbridge and its subsidiaries.

All Enbridge figures are in US dollars

The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel required Enbridge that “its Northern Gateway’s Financial Assurances Plan must provide a total coverage of $950 million for the costs of liabilities for, without limitation, cleanup, remediation, and other damages caused by the Project during the operations phase. The plan should include the following components and minimum coverage levels.” (That figure in Canadian dollars)