The case of the Northern Gateway pipeline project


The Northern Gateway Pipeline project proposed to construct twin pipelines to deliver natural gas between Alberta and British Columbia – something that the government believes will help Canadians get better access to natural gas at a lower price. The project headed by Enbridge Inc. would enable it to export natural gas products through the marine port at Kitimat and also send it to the west.

If realized, the project would have contributed $32 million to the Canadian GDP and generated 4,000 jobs. The government would have also earned another $2.6 billion in form of tax revenues if the operations commenced. But the Northern Gateway Pipeline project ran into controversy over its impact on the environment and the native population of Canada including the First Nations and other Aborigine groups.

The controversy around Northern Gateway Pipeline Project

The pipelines if constructed would have passed through the land and territories occupied by over fifty tribes. The communities of the aboriginal groups and First Nations depend on the forests and related resources for their survival. The project would have made a negative impact on their livelihood affecting their survival.

The pipelines would also pass through 785 rivers including the important watersheds such as Skeena, Fraser, and Mackenzie. Apart from that, the pipes would have passed through areas prone to landslides and earthquakes. The local communities depend on the fishes and rivers for their livelihood and any devastation could lead to incidents like oil spills. Such events would threaten the local salmon habitats and affected the ecologically rich areas like Great Bear Rainforest. Marine life that depends on coastal rivers for survival would also be affected adversely.

The concern over its impact on the environment and the native communities is not baseless- according to the proprietary data of Enbridge Inc., 6.8 million gallons of fossil fuel leaked out in the environment between 1999 and 2011.

The project managed to receive initial approvals in spite of its potential threats. Soon many non-governmental organizations, voluntary groups, and aboriginal groups along with First Nation communities raised their voice against the project.

The fate of Northern Gateway Pipeline Project

In 2016, the court overturned the approval of the pipeline project citing that Canada has failed to consult the First Nations on the project. The ruling stated that Canada made a brief and hurried attempt, which did not provide adequate opportunity for discussion and exchange of information about the impact of the project. Canada was not able to engage in a meaningful dialogue with the native communities, which should have been a priority. This has resulted in further delays, which could have potentially been avoided in the first place.

Finally, the government of Canada had to direct the National Energy Board to disqualify the application of the pipeline project. The reason given is that the project was not in the interest of the public and it would have affected sensitive ecosystems such as the Great Bear Rainforest. The project would have caused more environmental damage which was not desired under the prevailing circumstances.