More than 4,000 people and groups have registered to speak at hearings into a proposed pipeline that would ship crude from Alberta’s oilsands to fill supertankers on the British Columbia coast.
Opponents of the $5.5-billion Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline hope the surge of public interest will pressure Ottawa not to approve the project.
Community hearings are to start in January. Each person will be given 10 minutes to speak.
Dana Adams is one of the people who has registered and says she is eager to tell a federal review panel what she thinks.
“I think this is an environmental disaster waiting to happen,” said Adams, who is the chef and owner of Queen B’s Cafe in Queen Charlotte, B.C.
Adams worries an oil tanker could run aground and foul the pristine coastal waters similar to what happened in 1989 when the Exxon Valdez hit a reef in Alaska.
“We are right on the water and it is gorgeous. For me it is too much to lose if we do have a spill.”
Calgary-based Enbridge says it welcomes public input, but is concerned the process could bog down.
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said the project is already eight months to a year behind. If approved, it’s possible the startup date for the pipeline could be pushed beyond 2017.
He said Enbridge is also concerned people could be manipulated by groups that hope to turn Northern Gateway into an anti-oilsands battleground similar to the Keystone XL pipeline debate in the U.S.
“There is no question that the groups internationally who are opposed to the development of oilsands oil are focused on both projects,” Stanway said.
“If this is a genuine expression of public interest, we have no concerns about that at all. What would be a concern is if this is a strategy being employed by political activists to try and undermine the regulatory process.”
A Victoria-based group called the Dogwood Initiative is claiming some credit for the number of people who have registered to speak at the hearings.
Spokesman Eric Swanson says Dogwood’s “Mob the Mic” Internet campaign was supported by a coalition that includes the Living Oceans Society and the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition.
Other groups such as the Sierra Club, Friends of Wild Salmon and Forest Ethics ran separate registration campaigns. They spoke at universities and knocked on doors in communities along the pipeline route.
Swanson hopes the number and sentiment of the presenters will pressure the B.C. government to oppose Northern Gateway and make the project too politically divisive for the federal government.
“People feel, I think, an intense need to defend their coast and their rivers and their homes,” Swanson said from Victoria.
“It will be on the record and we hope it will create a political moment for B.C. politicians to respond to. I hope it will spark a national debate.”
Enbridge and project supporters, such as the Alberta government, say the pipeline would provide new markets in Asia and the U.S. for raw oilsands crude and create thousands of construction and long-term jobs.
The pipeline would run 1,200 kilometres from central Alberta across two mountain ranges to Kitimat on the B.C. coast. When fully operational, it would carry about 525,000 barrels of oil a day.