300 Scientists Urge Harper to Reject Panel’s “Flawed” Findings on Enbridge Northern Gateway

This post originally appeared on and is republished here with permission.

Some 300 scientists are urging Prime Minister Stephen Harper to reject a report that recommended approval of a major oil pipeline to the west coast of British Columbia, describing it as a “flawed analysis” that downplayed key environmental impacts.

Following lengthy hearings, a review panel last December recommended approving Enbridge's Northern Gateway project – a 1,177 pipeline network that would send 525,000 barrels per day of bitumen, the heavy oil from Alberta’s oilsands, to Kitimat, B.C. The panel recommended 209 conditions be attached to the project approval.

But the scientists, led by Kai Chan, an associate professor and principal investigator at the University of British Columbia’s Connecting Human and Natural Systems Lab, sent Harper a letter on Monday concluding that the review’s final report wasn’t balanced and had five major flaws that made it “indefensible.”

“We urge you in the strongest possible terms to reject this report,” wrote the scientists, who are mainly from Canada and the United States.

The five major flaws of the review, as identified in the letter, were:

  • A failure to articulate a rationale for numerous findings;
  • Considering narrow risks, but broad benefits and an omission of key issues such as the environmental impacts of increased production in the oilsands;
  • Relying on information from the project proponent, Enbridge, without an external review of the risks;
  • A contradiction of official government documents such as threats identified in federal recovery plans for species at risk;
  • An inappropriate treatment of uncertain risks and a reliance on yet-to-be developed mitigation measures.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford has said the government will make a decision on the project soon.

The Harper government hasn’t directly or openly stated its position on the project, but it has generally endorsed the idea of building new infrastructure to support expansion of Canada’s natural resources, starting with an open letter signed by former natural resources minister Joe Oliver — who is now finance minister — in January 2012, that attacked environmental groups and accused them of conspiring to hijack Canada’s economy with foreign funding.

Chan said the scientists are not trying to weigh in on the merits of the project, but instead are trying to highlight the “critical” mistakes made during the review that appear to downplay the risks.

He added that these weaknesses in the review don’t necessarily mean the project must be stopped.

“We recognize it’s not our call,” Chan said. “We just want to make sure that the decision doesn’t go forward relying upon a deeply flawed report as if it’s complete, balanced and accurate.”

Oliver’s 2012 letter kicked off an overhaul of Canada’s environmental laws that eventually led to the cancellation of nearly 3,000 environmental reviews of industrial projects in 2012.

One month before the letter was released, his deputy minister at Natural Resources Canada, Serge Dupont, drafted a series of personal notes that highlighted a strategy to “advance a strong and coordinated advocacy and communications plan, with early pre-positioning for legislative and other actions” including offering “support” for the Enbridge project, which would open up access to new markets in Asia for Canadian oil resources.

The oilsands are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, the heat-trapping gases that contribute to climate change, in Canada. The Canadian government hasn’t introduced plans to slow down the oil industry’s pollution, even though its own estimates show that oilsands emissions growth would prevent Canada from meeting an international climate change commitment made by Harper.

Enbridge says the project would create about 560 long-term jobs and about 3,000 jobs during construction. But the project has also generated fierce opposition from First Nations communities and environmentalists, among others who say the economic and environmental risks of a catastrophe or long-term damage outweigh the potential benefits.

Scientists Enbridge NGP by mikedesouza

Mike De Souza is National Observer's Ottawa-based Managing Editor. He has covered politics for more than a decade, focusing in…

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