On January 19, the federal Joint Review Panel released its decision on the List of Issues to be covered in the environmental assessment of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, and what additional information Enbridge must provide to the Panel.
The Panel rules that Enbridge has failed to provide adequate information on the risks of pipeline oil spills created by building this pipeline in challenging, remote terrain and sensitive ecosystems, and how it plans to deal with those risks. Enbridge was ordered to provide more evidence as to how it will account for these risks in its project design and response plans. This ruling comes as no surprise, because of the significant and obvious gaps in the information provided in Enbridge’s application, and the many submissions pointing out Enbridge’s failure to provide sufficient information.
However, the Panel decides to reject consideration of a number of key issues raised by numerous First Nations, community groups, conservation groups and individuals. As a result, it appears as though the Panel will overlook critical issues raised by the proposed pipeline, which need to be considered in order to make a fully-informed decision about the Enbridge project. For example, the Enbridge environmental assessment:
- will NOT consider the broad climate change and greenhouse gas implications of the project and the related increase in tar sands production, or the impact of the Enbridge project on Canada’s international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- will NOT consider the land, water, air, health and social impacts of the increased tar sands developments facilitated by this pipeline;
- will NOT consider the environmental and climate change impacts of burning the oil and fuel that travels through Enbridge pipelines and tankers; and,
- will NOT consider the question of whether this tar sands pipeline scheme should be a part of Canada’s energy future, given the need to transition away from fossil fuels.
In the Panel sessions, many people took the position that considering these questions is essential to the credibility of the environmental assessment. While we may not be able to predict exactly how much additional tar sands oil production will result and where, it is certainly foreseeable that this pipeline will drive an increase in production over time – entailing significant environmental, health and social impacts, and contributing to climate change. By leaving these key, big-picture considerations out, the environmental assessment of the Enbridge pipelines will make its decision in the dark.
In addition, nothing in the Panel ruling addresses the serious concerns of First Nations with the process. The JRP does not respect the decision-making authority of Indigenous peoples. The JRP was unilaterally imposed on First Nations by the federal government. Its terms of reference and list of issues to be considered were developed without meaningful consultation. The JRP lacks the authority to fully assess potential impacts on Aboriginal Title and Rights, and there is still no established process outside of the JRP to assess these impacts. As a result of these flaws in consultation, there continues to be significant, ongoing legal risk to the Enbridge project.