Canadian natives warn against pipeline to Pacific

Wed Jan 11, 2012 4:20pm EST
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By Jeffrey Jones

KITAMAAT VILLAGE, British Columbia (Reuters) - Aboriginal leaders opposed to a C$5.5 billion ($5.4 billion) oil sands pipeline backed by Canada's government warned on Tuesday that the project could devastate fishing and traditional life on the rugged Pacific Coast and called for it to be stopped.

As hearings into Enbridge Inc's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline opened with drumming and native singing, hereditary chiefs and elders of the Haisla First Nation told the regulatory panel their greatest fear was the potential impact of oil spills on their community of 1,500.

At stake, they said, are salmon, halibut and crab fishing and fur trapping that have sustained the Haisla for generations.

"It worries me to think that all of these will be lost and destroyed when there is a spill - mark my words - when there is a spill. Experience shows it will happen," Hereditary Chief Sam Robinson, 78, told the panel hearing Enbridge's application.

The oil industry and Ottawa are pushing hard for the project, especially after Washington delayed the $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline to Texas, as they seek new markets for the Alberta oil sands, the world's third-largest crude deposit.

The proceedings, expected to last two years, began at the community center in Kitamaat Village on the Pacific Coast's Douglas Channel, the terminus of the proposed pipeline. Battle lines have already been drawn between supporters on one side and environmental groups and aboriginals in the province of British Columbia on the other.

The pipeline would ship 525,000 barrels of oil sands crude a day 1,170 km (730 miles) from Alberta, across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, where it would be loaded onto tankers and shipped to rich Asian markets. An adjacent line would carry light hydrocarbons called condensate back to Alberta, where it would be blended with the thick oil.

Suncor Energy Inc, Sinopec Corp, Total SA and Cenovus Energy Inc are among oil sands developers that have put up tens of millions of dollars to help Enbridge move the project through the regulatory process.   Continued...