Canada's Prime Ministersaid that the Northern Gateway pipeline project will be approved on the basis of science, not politics. The Prime Minister has been under pressure by the opposition parties and has been demonized for including changes of environmental laws in his omnibus budget bill. Despite fillibusting the bill was passed by the majority conservative government and the conservative dominated Senate.
One of the keynote changes in the bill is the approval process for environmental assessments. The bill imposes a two year limit on the National Energy Board Review.
The Alberta oil sands are the favourite whipping child of environmentalists. Using outdated data they have demonized Alberta's bituman crude oil and of course aerial photographs taken from carbon spewing helicopters have been used to make their point. This totally disregards the land reclaiming process in place.
Enbridge, a Calgary based pipeline company, has been under fire lately for several spills, including the latest in Wisconsin, which has just been cleared to continue operation. The incidents have raised doubts on the safety of pipelines and the operators ability for a timely response.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline became the centre of a very public dispute between British Columbia's Premier Christie Clark and Alberta's Alison Redford.
Christie has demanded that five conditions should be met including a fair share of the royalties to cover the risks taken by BC by permitting the pipeline.
PM Harper was also pressed on that issue by reporters and said that he has no intention of getting in the middle of this dispute or discuss how to divide hypothetical royalties.
"I'm not going to share with you any private conversations with any premier. I'm not going to get into an argument or discussion about how we divide hypothetical revenues."
Harper said that the environmental review would end by the end of 2013 and that it would take approximately another six months before the Cabinet would decide on the fate of the pipeline.
The Premier of the North West Territories had earlier indicated an interest of having a pipeline constructed to move oil north and then to Asian markets. The Prime Minister was also pressed on his views on such a project.
He replied that all such projects would go through a thorough independent process.
"All such projects will go through a thorough independent assessment. In a broad sense, without getting into the specifics of any project, we think it's obviously in the vital interests of Canada and in the vital interests of British Columbia. As Canada's Asia-Pacific gateway, the economic growth we expect to have here in the future is going to be based on commerce with the Asia-Pacific region and we think it's important that we continue to diversify our exports through this province," Haper said.
What has been discussed with the Premier of BC and the Premier of Alberta is not being discussed. In the end Clark and Christie will have to reach some sort of an accommodation. A big factor will be the environmental review process, perceived and real risks and the co-operation of first nations.
With a heated issue, such as the Northern Gateway Pipeline, the federal government will not be in a position to approve the project without sound science behind it. A political decision would be self-destructive.
Enbridge has been put on notice to clean up its act and it is up to the pipeline giant to to assure the public that it is capable of eliminating most risks associated with pipelines. The second issue will be increased oil tanker traffic on Canada's west coast.