A federal environmental review panel has recommended Enbridge's Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline can proceed if 209 conditions are met.
After months of submissions from experts and the public, the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel concluded the benefits of a twin pipeline from northern Alberta to a proposed tanker facility at Kitimat outweigh the risks. Its two-volume report was released Thursday in Calgary.
"The environmental, societal and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant," the panel concluded in its report. "Through our conditions we require Northern Gateway to implement appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities, so that the likelihood and consequences of a large spill would be minimized."
The panel said there would be significant effect on some populations of woodland caribou and grizzly bear, and uncertainty remains over the effectiveness of Enbridge's plans to minimize the disruption the pipeline would cause.
"It is our view that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low," the report states.
Conditions include protection plans for whales and other marine mammals, measures to protect caribou and other land animals and development of methods to track and deal with diluted bitumen spills.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver reiterated his position that "no energy project will be approved unless it is safe for Canadians and safe for the environment." The federal cabinet must make a final decision on federal permits for the project by July 2014.
B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak said approval by the federal panel meets one of its five conditions, but doesn't change the province's position against the pipeline until its other four are met. They include satisfying legal obligations to consult and accommodate aboriginal communities and developing "world leading" safety and spill response on land and at sea.
"Now we have Alberta's agreement for the five conditions, the federal government is talking about the importance of weighing the environment in the balance, and even Enbridge is talking about the importance of the environment in this equation," Polak said. We believe we've made progress in highlighting the very important steps that are going to need to be taken … but we need to see evidence that this work is going to be achieved."
Janet Holder, Enbridge's project leader for Northern Gateway, said the company will work to meet the federal panel conditions, and those laid down by the B.C. government.
Northern Gateway has reached equity partnership agreements with 26 aboriginal communities along the pipeline route, but many others remain opposed.
"The Yinka Dene Alliance has clearly refused permission for Enbridge's pipelines to cut through our lands and waters," said Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation, speaking on behalf of the northern B.C.-based alliance.