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Northern Gateway: An Unacceptable Decision

Last week, 20,000 individuals signed a letter to the Prime Minister telling him that “No” is the only acceptable response to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline proposal.  Today, they received an unacceptable answer.

It is unacceptable by the standards of 300 scientists, who outlined serious and troubling flaws in the Joint Review Panel’s report recommending the project.  Unacceptable to over 100 First Nations communities that have expressed deep concern, both with the process and the impacts of the project on their families and livelihoods.  The people of Kitimat, at the center of the project, called for a “no” decision as did the majority of British Columbians, who will bear the brunt of the project’s risk.  Indeed, tens of thousands of Canadians across this country have stood together in opposition to this plan.  A plan that will bisect the Great Bear rainforest and its pristine salmon rivers with oil pipelines.  A plan that will bring 220 massive oil tankers every year into a rare and globally significant ecosystem.

spirit bear

A Kermode or Spirit bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) shaking water from its fur in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada © Tim Irvin / WWF-Canada

It is the wrong plan for Canada and today Canadians received the wrong decision.  Let’s be clear on why it was wrong.

First, there is no place in the world like the Great Bear region.  Anyone who has been there will attest, it is a natural marvel unlike anything else they have ever experienced.  It is also an ecological treasure—a place where humpback whales are recovering, where at-risk populations of caribou and grizzly continue to thrive.  The spirit bear, the fishing wolves—they live here and nowhere else on Earth.  And this place belongs to Canada, under our stewardship.

Second, the risk to this place posed by Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project is both serious and unmanageable.  I have sailed along the Great Bear’s channels. Even in a calm season it is apparent, those waters are as treacherous as they are precious.  It is not a question of if an accident will happen, but a question of when and how bad.  The reality is, there is no plan to respond to a diluted bitumen spill in the Great Bear Sea.  And there is no existing technology to do so in a way that anyone would call adequate.  Even the most “successful” oil spill clean-up operations recover only 10-15 per cent of the oil.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) at the surface in Douglas Channel, British Columbia, Canada © Tim Irvin / WWF-Canada

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) at the surface in Douglas Channel, British Columbia, Canada © Tim Irvin / WWF-Canada

Finally, what we stand to lose from this project far exceeds what we stand to gain.  The Great Bear is not only an irreplaceable ecosystem, it’s also the foundation of a sustainable coastal economy that supports upwards of 10,000 long-term Canadian jobs.  A worse-case scenario oil spill would wipe out any economic gains of this project.  Worse, it would devastate livelihoods and ways of life for generations to come.  It took over a decade of hard work to grow an economy in the Great Bear that thrives in harmony with the ecosystem upon which it depends. Replacing it with a project that fundamentally puts that ecosystem at risk is a step backwards for Canada and for the world.

Today’s decision does not end the discussion about these issues.  In many ways I believe it will spark a much broader national conversation about what sustainable development means in Canada in the 21st century.  And that conversation, and the responses triggered by today’s events, may have a profound influence on the future of this project and others like it.  For our part, WWF will continue our work in the Great Bear.  We will continue to engage local communities, governments and industries with the goal of establishing protected areas and smart management plans for the Great Bear Sea.  A goal that is now more important than ever. It is not the time to give up or to lose hope.  Rather, it is the time to redouble efforts, and to remember what we’re doing it for:  a future where people live in harmony with nature.  That future is worth fighting for.


  • Wendy Hunter

    I am disappointed, but not surprised by the Harper decision. Vancouver and the province of British Columbia are beautiful and rely on tourism for much of its’ income, so we are putting that in jeopardy. I am so thankful for Elizabeth May and Adrianne Carr who are trying to make various levels of government accountable. We need to vote in people who actually care about the country and their constituents.

  • ELMHS

    This saddens me so much. I signed the WWF petition to try to put a stop to this along with all the other people against it. Once again, big oil wins. This is NOT sustainable development.

  • http://www.lindastacey.see.me lindastacey1

    Mr Harper decision & the joint reveiw panel decision to approve the Northern Gateway Pipline is the wrong decision for the environment, wildlife, First Nations, Mammals ,all Marine life, & fishing industry & all of us that live along the coast, Global Warming is here & it is for real,extreme temperatures ,extreme flooding & extreme climate swings we have seen it all over the world & here in Canada. We can make a choice in Green energy, wind energy, solar panels on every home& business ,electric cars, water saving devices,drive less,recycle,reuse the list goes on. Mr Harper you should listen to our scientist they know what they are talking about that is why they are scientist. We can still do everything we can to ask Mr Harper to please change your decision to no for the pipeline & you would do the Planet Earth a favor & all of us & its Creatures that share this only planet we have to live on. So i hope we all can tie up the decision he made in the courts & more democratic protest against the Pipline, we have to work more together with the First Nations & all environmental groups & Governments who diapprove & Green partys so it is all about who you vote for so if we want to save this planet & protect what we have we must make our voices heard & make a stand & change for the better for mankind & all the creatures in this one world. We have treated this Planer Earth like a Garbage dump & itis about time we stopped our bad habits & depedancy on fossil fuels & try to switch to green energy as soon as we can. Thanks for your help & listening to what this Country Canada is telling you Mr Harper please rethink your decision & say no to the Northern Gateway pipline. Other Countries are way ahead of us in Geen energy & lowering there emissions lets get on board with the better choices to help our Planet. Thankyou

  • Mark Nye

    Harper & his cronies will be out in 2015!
    Vote Liberal Justin Trudeau & his Liberals will put a stop too this mess.
    Justin Trudeau for PM!
    Lets save Canada’s Natural treasures !

  • Matias Juarez

    Easy question… The answer is Greed
    They work for their pockets, not for any kind of future… Generations to come, wild life, nature, populations, they dont even care.
    They talk about the future while destroying the present. Do you see the “economic future” of your home while polluting your own water, dividing with lies the people who live in your home, destroying what sourround you?

  • wwf_disqus

    Hi David,

    Thank you for your comments and questions. In the case of Northern Gateway, we’ve taken the unusual position of saying no to a pipeline in this place because of the Great Bear region’s extraordinary conservation values, and the long-term jobs and economic health sustained by a healthy ocean economy in this place.

    WWF is committed to sustainable economies for Canadians. This is
    why we’re opposed to the oil pipelines and oil tankers in one of our country’s
    most productive, cold-water seas. A WWF-funded study undertaken by the University of British Columbia shows the devastating economic impact an oil spill would have on jobs, livelihoods and local businesses on B.C.’s north coast. You can read about it here: http://awsassets.wwf.ca/downloads/ubc_infographic_web.pdf

    To answer your question about how we reduce pressure on our fossil fuel resources, WWF is working to put Canada on the path to 100% renewable energy by 2050. Climate change is arguably the greatest threat facing our planet. A fossil-fuel dependent future will only contribute to already rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions and a warming planet. As an alternative to increased fossil fuel production, WWF’s Energy Report calls for increased investment in the world’s renewable energy potential. Please read more about WWF’s Energy Report here: http://www.wwf.ca/conservation/global_warming/energy_report.cfm

  • Jason

    You pose the valuable points. Yet I think the thought that must precede your question is this: fossil fuel must be considered a thing of the past. Successful and sustainable technologies for all of our energy needs are already available. What are we waiting for? Time to use the knowledge we have and do right. Right?

  • Roy Mills

    Refine the tar sands stuff in Alberta, thus creating jobs. Send it by a new pipeline eastwards to use within Canada, eliminating or reducing the amount of oil imported into the East Coast from Saudi Arabia and South America. There is already a distribution set of pipelines from the East Coast as far west as Saskatchewan I believe. Use it, along with one or two new major pipelines to service Central and Eastern Canada. Make Canada self sufficient for its oil needs. It will be less profitable for the Oil companies but that should not be our concern. No crude tar sands oil pipelines across BC, no tankers from the BC Coast to more Western locations.

  • rednuker

    Cut out the emotional rhetoric and grow up. If you want to lobby for your goals, then do so by applying pressure to the appropriate points (parties). As much as I support the cause, we must be pragmatic with a planned focus of attack. Don’t give me this crap about loving the country. What is more useful is which MPs (NAMES) support the cause and which MP do not!.

  • snowduck58

    Dear David,
    Asia could be thinking about ending their own use of fossil fuels just as any conscious nation would in these times. China in particular has such “bad air” already and they know what needs to be done. Although their environmental movement is a little behind our own, never doubt that intelligence will win the day. So if we allow this pipeline to be built, destroying much of our internationally known wild beauty, and then the market for oil dries up, (which it will)…there is no excuse for the greed the is pressing this project. It’s all about the “get the money now and screw whomever, whatever stands in the way!”

    We can sustain our own nation without the exploitative use of the “Tarsands” and other resources and myself along with a lot of other people in this province and across the country are not going to sit by and allow it to happen. We will fight. Do you understand any better yet?

    PS… it is not immigration that is putting pressure on our resources, but poor government decisions on resource management, poor education of all citizens (especially anyone older than 30) and a flat out lazy attitude.

  • Blaine

    We could use it more slowly ourselves, so it will last longer, instead of destroying our coast (there will be a huge disaster, it’s just a matter of when) to give China cheap oil. We could refine it ourselves to create jobs, and then send less dangerous product through the pipeline. We could maybe find a way that doesn’t require supertankers to zigzag their way to Kitimat. Plenty of options, but they don’t make the shareholders happy this quarter.

  • disqus_PiDJSVyl8d

    There is hope with the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision giving natives whose land the Northern Gateway Pipeline crosses some say in these types of projects. Also, there are at least two alternatives to Enbridge’s pipeline plans in the works. One is the comprehensive plan of David Black, a businessman I truly respect, to develop the pipeline and create jobs while minimizing the impact on the environment, in consultation with native groups. I am very supportive of the environment, but we also need to take into consideration the benefits of job creation now and for future generations.

  • Louise Davis

    Why can’t government/corporations just leave things alone, instead of finding ways to destroy nature and its habitat?

  • Jim

    How about refining it locally into something that is less hazardous to transport? Or maybe we could produce product for domestic consumption and save on imports.

  • Jocelyn Chouinard

    Haper should be immediately removed from office. We are supposed to have a democratic political system in Canada and we are now being subject to a ruthless and self-serving dictatorship that serves Big Corporations at the expense of Canada’s citizens and our precarious and rapidly vanishing environment

  • Hilary Knight

    You don’t get it. The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment. We’re risking the integrity and sustainability of the whole coastline so that we can continue to buy cheap plastic crap from China which ends up in landfill? When will we learn? We should have been on a war footing since the 1970s, when we first realized the tremendous damage we’re doing to the planet. Make no mistake–we won’t destroy the planet; we’ll just end up like the other 95% of species who’ve ever lived on this planet and couldn’t adapt: another failed Darwinian experiment. The moral problem is, we’re also destroying other species (and our children) who aren’t responsible for our stupidity. Homo not-so-sapiens is on its way out unless we grow up and take responsibility for our behaviour.

  • darla

    This is why it is important to make sure that this government is not re-elected, if we can do anything that is it, he does not listen to the people and has his own agenda, we must not let him have anymore control again.

  • Patricia Moore

    Hi there- I am also from Alberta I think the answer you are looking for is Yes (to reduced immigration) Yes (Keep it in the tar sands- Alberta has always fought with Canada and said Canada has no right to ‘thier’ resources- See National Energy Program(1980)) Locate elsewhere- Yes. We have other means to transport- CN and CP would support Canada better than a pipeline.

  • James Craig Irving

    The same way as it gets to Asia now….overland to Eastern refineries and then by tanker to Asia…..the pipeline won’t help us get new markets for the HEAVY OIL, just reduce the shiopping costs and INCREASE THE PROFITS for BIG OIL….The Harper gov’t has been in the pockets of BIG OIL for years, and only when they are kicked out of Ottawa will this disgusting pipeline be stopped.

  • Elaine Rose

    This is a troubling decision. What I do not know is what is a reasonable alternative? Is there a better place to have the pipeline? Would truck or rail transport be better? None of the alternatives seem good. What would be the risks of putting the pipeline somewhere else? Would that not endanger that area? What is the best solution? Is this financial greed that does not have to occur? There are so many questions and I have yet to hear an answer that is really satisfactory.

  • popsiq

    Harper government just excused itself from any position on the pipeline. Leaving it a matter for the provinces and the people to decide. Of course those ‘people’ include the oil companies, shareholders and the hundreds of thousands that they claim will benefit from all the ‘good jobs’ created.

    They’ve lost a few battles already but they’ll be back. We need to make sure they lose the war.

  • David Baldner

    How and where would you suggest the oil get transported to Asia from Alberta? You talk about a sustainable environment which I agree with; however, we must sustain the Canadian people as well. Should we reduce immigration to reduce the pressure on these resources? Should we just leave the oil in the tar sands and pass on the economic value to Canada? Should the pipeline be located somewhere else? Please help me understand your position better.

  • John Bacher

    The assault on the Great Bear Forest is an international disgrace.

  • bitchofrome

    As a resident of BC for my entire life, my heart broke when I heard ‘King’ Harper’s decision. Politicians who do not live in this province have no business deciding to destroy it. This is beautiful British Columbia, the most stunning and magical place in Canada, and our national government wants to run the sludge of the tar sands, Canada’s great shame, through the most pristine and stunning areas of this great province? This is a crime in every way imaginable! As Canadian Naomi Klein has said, this is the time to be putting on the breaks, not hitting the gas. We need to be reducing our use of fossil fuels and start working on better options, and Canada has been the leading dinosaur in the world on this issue because of those damned tar sands. Now not only are we failing to work to reduce our CO2, but we’re looking to increase it, and threaten some of our greatest environmental treasures in the process. This is completely unacceptable. I think Canadians do love our country – the actual LAND on which we live. So let’s smarten up and start protecting it so there’s a Canada for generations to come.

  • aries02

    Mr. Harper does what ever his corporate masters tell him to do.