Emboldened Canada pipeline opponents push for referendum

Mon Apr 14, 2014 7:48pm EDT
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By Julie Gordon and Scott Haggett

VANCOUVER/CALGARY (Reuters) - Opponents of Canada's Northern Gateway pipeline, bolstered by a coastal town's vote against the project, said on Monday they will now push harder for a provincial referendum they hope would kill Enbridge Inc's plan to move oil sands crude to Asian markets.

Residents of Kitimat, located in British Columbia's remote northwest, voted against the proposed project on Saturday, with 58.4 percent of residents opposed in the non-binding poll. The small town is where the terminal facilities for the C$7.9 billion ($7.21 billion) pipeline would be built.

The victory has fueled calls for a vote to determine if there is public support in the rest of the West Coast province of British Columbia, which would host more than half of the pipeline and all the marine transport facilities.

"This is a turning point in Enbridge's campaign to buy social license," said Kai Nagata, energy & democracy director at the Dogwood Initiative, an environmental group campaigning for a provincial vote on Northern Gateway.

The group hopes to use a so-called citizen's initiative, legislation last used to launch a British Columbia-wide vote that succeeded in getting rid of an unpopular sales tax.

Saturday's vote in Kitimat came after a month of divisive campaigning by both sides. Supporters pointed to the jobs and tax revenue that would be generated, while opponents cited their fears of an oil spill.

As with TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline to the United States, environmentalists also fear that Northern Gateway will hasten the development of Canada's oil sands and exacerbate climate change.

The line would be Canada's first major export route to the oil-hungry economies of Asia. It's backed by Canada's energy industry, which currently sells most of its oil to U.S. buyers at a steep discount to benchmark prices.   Continued...