Kitimat, B.C. says ‘no’ to Enbridge pipeline in vote
CALGARY — Enbridge Inc. vowed to press on with its $7.9-billion Northern Gateway pipeline through British Coumbia despite a vote Saturday that saw a majority of residents in Kitimat vote against the project.
In a non-biding plebiscite, about 58% of 3,071 residents of the key coastal town said they did not support a federal panel’s decision last year to approve the contentious project.
The result ends a bitter campaign in the isolated community that pitted Enbridge against local groups, who accused the Calgary-based company of spending lavishly to sway the vote. While the vote is non-binding, opponents billed it as a symbolic blow to a project that remains deeply unpopular among some environmental and First Nations groups in Canada’s westernmost province.
“It disproves the power of advertising,” said Murray Minchin, spokesman for the Douglas Channel Watch, a community group that opposes the pipeline. “It also proves you can’t buy social licence, which is what Enbridge attempted to do. That message is now echoing in the halls of Ottawa.”
Gateway would transport up to 525,000 barrels per day of oil sands-derived crude from Alberta to a super-tanker port at Kitimat. A twinned pipeline would import about 193,000 barrels daily of condensate, which is used to dilute bitumen.
After months of hearings, a joint review panel of energy and environmental regulators last year approved the controversial pipeline with 209 conditions, setting up a long-awaited verdict from the federal cabinet expected in June.
The Kitimat plebiscite fulfills a 2012 pledge by local councilors to survey residents about the pipeline, although the municipality has so far refused to take a stance on the project. Mayor Joanne Monaghan did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday
“We’ll be talking about this Monday night at council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever council decides,” she said in a statement.
It is unclear what impact — if any — the result will have on efforts to build the 1,200-kilometre pipeline from the Edmonton region to the Pacific coast.
West Coast access has been touted by the Alberta-based oil patch as key to raising prices for oil sands bitumen.
The extra-thick crude has been subject to steep price discounts in recent years amid a lack of pipeline capacity, a situation blamed for bleeding corporate and government revenues.
An Enbridge executive in charge of the project on Sunday denied accusations of lavish spending to influence the outcome of Saturday’s vote. The company spent “just under” $10,000 on local radio and print advertising, said Janet Holder, executive vice-president of western access.
“There was an awful lot of support in Kitimat, too,” she said in an interview. “I would not say Kitimat is against the project.”
Roughly 1,280 people, or just over 41% of those who cast a ballot, voted in support of the federal joint review panel’s decision to approve the project, according to results posted on the municipality’s web site.
Ms. Holder said the company would continue to work with communities along the pipeline route to understand and address local concerns. Enbridge is willing to make some changes to the project, she said without elaborating.
The company this year recruited former Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice to negotiate with First Nations opposed to the project, which faces several legal challenges.
Enbridge has said it will spend an extra $500-million to boost the thickness of the pipeline and install additional isolation valves to mitigate concerns over a possible rupture. The company has also pledged to meet B.C.’s five conditions on pipeline and tanker safety.
In another potential hurdle, however, a Victoria-based advocacy group said it is now exploring whether to make Gateway the subject of an initiative petition under B.C.’s Recall and Initiative Act.
Beyond federal cabinet approval, Enbridge needs provincial and local permits for water and highway crossings, Ms. Holder said.
A province-wide vote could potentially withhold those permits provided supporting signatures are collected from 10% of registered voters in every riding in the province, the Dogwood Initiative said in a statement.