Gulf spill a new factor in Canada pipeline fight

Wed May 26, 2010 5:30pm EDT
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - The oil spill fouling the Gulf of Mexico has handed a public relations weapon, and possibly some legal ammunition, to opponents of a plan to export crude oil by tanker from a port on Canada's rugged Pacific Coast.

Enbridge Inc is expected to ask regulators in the next few weeks to approve its Northern Gateway pipeline, which could move up to 525,000 barrels a day of oil produced from Canada's vast oil sands in northern Alberta to the port of Kitimat, British Columbia, by 2016.

Opponents of the C$5.5 billion ($5.1 billion) project aimed at exporting oil sands crude to world markets, especially Asia, say it creates the risk of a major spill in a sensitive coastal region that attracts tourists from around the world and is often referred to as the Great Bear Rainforest.

The accident off the Louisiana coast involved a drilling rig, not a tanker, but opponents have been quick to cite the BP Plc spill in their campaign.

"It just reinforces what we have been saying all along," said Art Sterritt of the Coastal First Nations, a coalition of aboriginal nations fighting Enbridge.

Opponents released a survey on Wednesday that they said showed that 80 percent of British Columbians oppose tanker traffic on the coast in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico incident.

Sterritt says the Gulf spill also gives Canadian aboriginal groups a new legal card to play in the court fight that is likely to erupt if regulators eventually approve Enbridge's plan.

Canada's courts have ruled that government and industry have a legal duty to consult aboriginal communities whose territorial rights might be infringed by developments such as a pipeline.   Continued...