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Westward Passage for Canada's Tar Sands Oil Also Challenged


Natives from the Yinka Dene Alliance march through downtown Calgary in May to protest Enbridge Pipeline's Northern Gateway project. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Republicans opponents in Congress and many of the candidates for the GOP presidential nomination commenting on Obama's decision to hold off approval of the Keystone XL pipeline frequently make the argument that if the US decides not to allow such a project the obvious result would be that Canada's tar sands oil - regarded by most environmentalists as the "dirtiest fuel on the planet" - would simply shipped "straight West" for consumption by the Asian energy market, most notably by Chinese companies looking to diversify their imports.

This argument, however, misses that a fight equal to that waged against the Keystone pipeline in the US is being fought by campaigners against Enbridge's Northwest Gateway Pipeline that would carry tar sands oil west from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia. 

Like their counterparts in the US, those concerned site environmental concerns as their primary reason for opposition. The Vancouver Sun reports that opponents of the pipeline "don't buy the assurances" of Enbridge to transport the oil safely.

They fear a spill by even one massive tanker could wreak havoc on marine life and coastline.

Environmentalists opposed to the project say it creates risks that have not previously existed on B.C.'s north coast — specifically, oil-carrying supertankers navigating the same rock-shrouded channels that sank B.C. ferry Queen of the North.

Oil spills are common on the B.C. coast, but they tend to be small and involve petroleum products such as diesel fuel from vessels that disperses relatively quickly.

Canadian Coast Guard statistics show more than 550 "marine pollution incidents" in B.C. in 2011 as of mid-December, about 27 per cent of them level-three incidents requiring "cleanup or threat mitigation measures."

For environmentalists, the conclusion is obvious: Despite shipping advancements the risks are just too great.

And though this may be new on the rader of many in the US, this battle is not new, as noted in another recent report from the Vancouver Sun:

The mostly B.C.-based environmental groups have been fighting the proposed Enbridge pipeline for years.

There are about a dozen such groups, including the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics (with offices in B.C. and the U.S.), West Coast Environmental Law, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation.

All have similar concerns: the risk and the potential catastrophic effects of a pipeline or tanker spill on the environment and communities; and the expansion of the Alberta oilsands and increases in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative has an active campaign to halt the project.

Recently it ran a campaign that helped sign up 1,600 people to testify at the National Energy Board's regulatory hearings that begin Jan. 10 in Kitimat.

Although the Dogwood group says the decision on Northern Gateway should be made by British Columbians, it has no problem with the addition of the American-based NRDC to the campaign. "The more attention that can be placed on this issue, the better," said Dogwood Initiative official Eric Swanson, who heads the group's no-tanker campaign.

"We all share the planet, and we share the Pacific coast with many others," he added.


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