Environmentalists and First Nations commend the federal government’s decision to ban crude oil tanker traffic along British Columbia’s north coast, considering it the beginning of the end for the Enbridge Pipeline. On November 13th, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau instructed his incoming Minister of Transport, Fisheries, Natural Fesources, and Environment to formalize a moratorium that experts say will block the highly controversial Northern Gateway project from continuing. Karen Mahon, ForestEthics Advocacy director, explains, “This ban ends the dangerous Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. Without tankers crude oil has no place to go, that means no pipelines, no oil trains moving tar sands to the northern BC coast.”
In 2010, the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion which would put the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound off limits to tanker traffic. The moratorium solidifies the government’s attempt to protect important ecological areas. Former prime minister Stephen Harper was the only one to oppose the ban since it was introduced. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau worked with an MP from British Columbia more than four decades ago to pass a ban involving the coastal waters of Vancouver Island.
Mahon sees recent events as part of a bigger change. “We are living the tipping point on climate disruption. President Obama killed the Keystone XL pipeline; now Prime Minister Trudeau killed the Enbridge pipeline. This is the beginning of the end for the dirtiest crude oil on Earth.”
According to the Calgary Herald, spokesman Graham White stated, “Today, Enbridge reduced its workforce by 5%, representing approximately 500 people at all levels across our operations and 100 unfilled positions.” However, Enbridge remains positive; a spokesman for Northern Gateway said the company remains committed to ”essential” infrastructure. Ivan Giesbrecht stated that staff look forward to updating Trudeau on the project. He noted a tanker ban has a potential economic impact on First Nations and Métis communities in the region, according to DeSmog Canada. He said, ‘‘We share the vision of the Trudeau government that energy projects must incorporate world-leading environmental standards and First Nations and Métis ownership.”
The $7-billion Northern Gateway project received government approval in June 2014, contingent on 209 conditions and review by the National Energy Board. The Federal Court of Appeal is currently considering whether to overturn the approval after a court challenge by First Nations and environmental groups.
Leaders are pushing for a more assertive approach to energy strategies. “There are probably community leaders and First Nations and people all across the northwest waking up this morning with a sense of relief that that particular pipeline is no longer looming over our heads,” Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach told DeSmog Canada. “It’s been a long road and it’s brought people together, but it will be nice to move on to other conversations about the future of our region.”
Terry Teegee, tribal chief for the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council said, “We really are testing our rights and title, we’re testing our mettle as people. It really helped us develop relationships beyond our asserted title.” He explained, “Asserting our rights and title collectively, we can really determine our own future, we can determine how development happens in our territory, we can determine what happens on a national scale. It would really send a message to oil and gas companies that it’s not ‘business as usual.’ You really need consent of First Nations.”
Teegee believes the Northern Gateway issue created the perfect time for a more proactive, productive approach to energy. “The next step is to keep the momentum going and start really discussing our issues. I think we need to have a real talk about energy and having an energy strategy for our people,” he told DeSmog Canada. While the battle is not over, there may be real hope in Canada’s new government protecting its precious environment, and the tanker ban may renew faith that communities can come together and stand up for their rights to make a real difference.