CALGARY — Enbridge and its partners behind the Northern Gateway pipeline are asking for three more years to build support for the controversial project, but some First Nations say their opposition will never waver.
The company’s Northern Gateway subsidiary and 31 aboriginal equity partners said Friday they’ve asked the National Energy Board for an extension to the 2016 construction deadline to secure legal and regulatory certainty as well as continue consultations.
Northern Gateway president John Carruthers said the company had made mistakes and is committed to creating stronger partnerships with communities along the proposed route.
“From the beginning, Northern Gateway should have done a better job of building relationships with First Nations and Metis communities,” Carruthers said in a statement Friday.
“Northern Gateway has changed,” he said. “We are making progress and remain open to further changes. We believe this is the right course of action for Northern Gateway and the right thing to do as Canadians. We know this process requires time and we are committed to getting it right.”
Currently, Enbridge (TSX:ENB) is required to start construction by the end of this year as one of the 209 conditions attached to the 2014 federal approval of the project.
National Energy Board spokeswoman Sarah Kiley said there is no set process for reviewing an extension application. But when the Mackenzie Gas pipeline proponents requested one last August, the board asked for public comments in an ongoing process that is expected to take about a year.
Final approval of any extension would have to be approved by federal cabinet, Kiley said.
A spokesman for Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said the federal government is committed to regaining public trust with credible regulatory reviews. Alexandre Deslongchamps said the government encourages proponents of major resource projects to consult and engage indigenous peoples throughout the application process.
So far Northern Gateway has the support of the 18 First Nations and Metis communities in Alberta and 13 in British Columbia that form the aboriginal equity partners, five of which signed on in the past two years.
But the pipeline has faced stiff opposition from other First Nations groups and others who have voiced environmental concerns, citing the potential for leaks and the likelihood of increased carbon emissions.
The Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations won a court challenge in January when the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that the province must conduct its own consultations with the Gitga’at and issue a separate environmental certificate from the federal one already issued.
Northern Gateway said the ruling was one of the key reasons why it needs the extension in its application because it doesn’t expect the provincial certificate to be issued until after the 2016 construction deadline.
Kelly Russ, chairman of the Coastal First Nations that represents nine aboriginal communities along B.C.’s northern and central coast, said they don’t support the pipeline in any form. He said Enbridge can apply for its extension, but the extra time isn’t going to sway their position.
“The reply from us is going to be no different,” he said.
“We’re of the view it will have a severe impact on First Nations traditional territory in the event of a spill and we just don’t support it at the end of the day.”
The $6.5 billion project would carry an average of 525,000 barrels of oil from Bruderheim, Alta., near Edmonton to the deepwater port of Kitimat, B.C., through a 1,177-kilometre pipeline. It would help open up Alberta oilsands crude to international markets.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to formalizing a ban on tanker traffic on B.C.’s north coast that some say could derail the project. Last month, he reiterated his opposition to a crude oil pipeline through the Great Bear rainforest, through which Northern Gateway would traverse.
The Conservatives have long opposed any ban on tanker traffic. Still, Conservative natural resource critic Candice Bergen said the government’s delays on the moratorium and changes to the project review process were creating uncertainty in the industry.
“The Liberals don’t seem to understand the major implications that their whims — even their processes for other projects — they don’t understand the uncertainty that it causes, and uncertainty in the market is worse than a ‘No,”’ she said in Ottawa.