First Nations groups opposing the Enbridge project point to the catastrophic effect a pipeline rupture or tanker spill would have on land, water and wild life on their traditional lands. Photo: Monika Wieland
The six Anglican bishops of the ecclesiastical province of British Columbia and the Yukon have urged the National Energy Board (NEB) to show “integrity, fairness and freedom from political pressure” in its hearings on the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project.
Recent pronouncements by federal government officials have raised concerns that NEB hearings “may become subject to improper time restrictions and industry influence,” said the bishops’ statement issued April 6. The bishops referred, in particular, to Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s announcement March 29 that major resource projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline will now undergo an environmental review process of no more than two years. Some proposals currently go through six to seven years of review.
The bishops said the magnitude of the pipeline project requires that the NEB’s final report be “thorough and credible and command wide public support.”
It is critical that the NEB hear the views of all people who will be affected by the pipeline, in particular, First Nations groups whose traditional territories and waters the pipeline would cross, the bishops said.
The $5.5 billion project will comprise two 1,170 km petroleum pipelines from Bruderheim, Alta., (near Edmonton) to Kitimat, B.C. The pipelines’ daily cycle will include transporting 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to the west coast for export, and returning 193,000 barrels of condensate (a light petroleum product used to dilute bitumen) to Alberta.
Various First Nations in Alberta, Northwest Territories and the interior and coastal regions of Northern British Columbia oppose the project, pointing to the catastrophic effect a pipeline rupture or tanker oil spill would have on water and wildlife on their traditional lands. The pipelines will cross more than 1,000 streams, rivers and landscape that are prone to major landslides and occasional earthquakes, according to the Canadian ecumenical justice group, Kairos.
Enbridge has argued that it “invests heavily in innovative leak detection technology,” and its vessels employ “the highest worldwide safety and navigational standards.” But Kairos, in a statement, noted that Enbridge pipelines underwent 67 spills in 2006 and 65 more in 2007.
The bishops urged the NEB to seriously consider the concerns expressed in the Save the Fraser Declaration, which has been signed by various First Nations in B.C., Alberta and the Northwest Territories. Prepared in 2010 by the the Yinka Dene Alliance of northern BC., the declaration states that the project “violates our laws, traditions, values and our inherent rights as indigenous peoples under international law.” Signatories vow to uphold their ancestral law, titles and rights, saying, “We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.” The Coastal First Nations have also issued a similar declaration.
On its website, Enbridge said that it has had “extensive consultations” with more than 40 aboriginal groups in Alberta and B.C., and some First Nations groups are supporting the project. Enbridge estimates that about the project would create 1,150 long-term and 5,500 construction phase jobs and bring in $2.6 billion of local, provincial and federal tax revenues over a 30-year period.
The bishops, at their provincial House of Bishops meeting in March, decided to release a statement after hearing concerns expressed by Anglicans in their dioceses, said the diocesan bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham. “We decided that we would express concern about the fairness of the hearings rather than take a position for or against the pipeline,” Ingham told the Anglican Journal.
Ingham said it would be up to dioceses to decide if they would like to take action on the issue, noting that some people are in favour of the project because they will benefit from jobs and investments. His own diocese will consider a motion opposing the project at its diocesan synod in May, he said.
National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald said he was glad that the bishops called for “a continuing public conversation, when there are some real pressures to short-circuit a proper process.” He said that many indigenous people have expressed their gratitude for the statement.
The other signatories to the bishops’ statement are: Archbishop John Privett, (metropolitan of the Province of British Columbia and the Yukon and bishop of Kootenay), and Bishops James Cowan (British Columbia), Barbara Andrews (suffragan to the metropolitan for the Anglican Parishes of the Central Interior), William Anderson (Caledonia), and Larry Robertson (Yukon).