Environmental groups in federal appeal court to oppose Northern Gateway pipeline

Environmental groups say the Northern Gateway pipeline project would pose a serious threat to humpback whales and, if allowed, would set an important precedent for future projects.

VANCOUVER — Environmental groups say the Northern Gateway pipeline project would pose a serious threat to humpback whales and, if allowed, would set an important precedent for future projects.

ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans Society, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and BC Nature are part of a Federal Court of Appeal challenge arguing the government erred in granting approval to Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) for the controversial, $7-billion megaproject.

Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee said a bump in tanker traffic increases the likelihood of fatal collisions with whales and underwater noise seriously interferes with feeding and communication.

“The waters between Kitimat and Hecate Strait, where Enbridge wants to put its tankers, are critical feeding grounds,” said MacDuffee, speaking outside the court building in Vancouver on Monday.

“As a (species at risk), Canada is obligated to protect habitat that is critical to the survival and recovery of humpback whales.”

The proposed, 1,200-kilometre twin pipeline would carry bitumen between the Alberta oilsands to B.C.’s coast for export to foreign markets.

More than 200 conditions were attached to the government’s approval, which was issued in June 2014.

A Joint Review Panel — the independent body mandated by the National Energy Board to assess the environmental effects of the project — recommended in late 2013 that the project be approved with the conditions.

The Federal Appeal Court is considering 18 legal challenges during the hearing, which is set to conclude Oct. 8.

The push to have the court overturn the approval goes beyond opposition of this project and could set a pattern for all future pipelines, said lawyer Karen Campbell, who represents three of the four environmental organizations.

“If they continue with processes that are increasingly geared toward facilitating approval then we’re going to see more and more cases in court,” said Campbell. “We’re hoping that we can stop that by getting a good precedent out of this case.”

Joie Warnock with Unifor, which was also expected to argue against the approval Monday, said the labour union does not oppose pipelines but takes issue with a faulty approval process that she describes as “rigged from the beginning.”

“The playing field was never level between the powerful interests between foreign oil companies and those working Canadians who have concerns that need to be addressed,” she said.

Eight First Nations argued in court last week that the federal government violated its duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal bands before approving the pipeline.

Ivan Giesbrecht, a spokesman for Northern Gateway, has said the firm accepts First Nations’ traditional land-use rights and remains committed to working with aboriginal communities.

Lawyers for the federal government and Northern Gateway are expected to make legal arguments later this week.

Enbridge estimates the project would boost Canada’s GDP by $300 billion over 30 years.

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