Foes of Canada's Pacific pipeline vow legal blitz

Tue Jun 17, 2014 1:19am EDT
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By Julie Gordon

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Opponents of Enbridge Inc's (ENB.TO: Quote) proposed Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline are vowing to ramp up their legal challenge to the politically charged project if Canada lives up to expectations and approves its construction.

With a Tuesday deadline looming, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government appears ready to bless the C$7.9 billion ($7.3 billion) project despite fierce resistance from aboriginals and environmental groups.

The pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels of crude a day from Alberta's landlocked oil sands to the Pacific Coast for export. While its capacity would represent a fraction of the 2.5 million barrels that flow each day to Canada's largest customer, the United States, Ottawa sees market diversification as crucial to the industry's long-term health and Canada's economic future.

But Harper may not have the final say. Approval will set the stage for a flood of lawsuits by opponents intent on stopping what they view as an environmental disaster in the making. A wave of protest marches and road blockages is also likely.

"We've been putting together a number of legal strategies," said Art Sterritt, head of the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of aboriginal groups in the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia. "The federal government will get a lesson in democracy if they try to bully their way through this province."

Litigation could hold up development for years, frustrating efforts by Canada's energy industry to ease its reliance on the United States, where a second pipeline project, Keystone XL, is also in jeopardy.

Even so, experts say lawsuits alone are unlikely to kill the project. As a best-case scenario, litigants may buy more time.

"With the challenges we are likely to see ... the best-case outcome for the First Nation litigants is having the matter sent back for further consultation and accommodation, essentially a delay of the project," said Gordon Christie, an aboriginal law expert at the University of British Columbia.     Continued...

A Protest sign hangs from a building in the town of Kitimat, British Columbia, April 12, 2014.  REUTERS/Julie Gordon