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B.C. Premier puts Enbridge on notice over pipeline safety

Workers clean up oil on the banks of the Kalamazoo River in Marhall, Mich., in 2010 after an Enbridge pipeline ruptured, spewing more than 3-million litres of crude into the waterway.

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and mail

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark has issued a public warning to Enbridge Inc. about its proposed Northern Gateway pipeline in the wake of revelations about the company's handling of a massive 2010 oil spill in Michigan.

"I think the company should be deeply embarrassed about what unfolded, we saw that in the report. If they think they're going to operate like that in British Columbia – forget it," the Premier told reporters in Kamloops.

With the provincial NDP staunchly opposed to the pipeline, Ms. Clark's sudden condemnation of Enbridge calls into question the viability of Alberta Premier Alison Redford's hopes for a national energy strategy, at least in the political sphere.

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For its part, Enbridge said the Northern Gateway project isn't dependent on provincial approval – although British Columbia does have the power to withhold permits needed to actually construct the pipeline, which would bring bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to tankers sailing from B.C.'s northern coast.

Until now, Ms. Clark has not taken a public position on the Northern Gateway pipeline, saying she will wait for the outcome of the National Energy Board review. But the B.C. Premier said Wednesday that the province will use its intervenor status to question Enbridge, prompted by a report by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and the head of the board's comparison of Enbridge conduct to the Keystone Cops.

Ms. Clark promised sharper questions for the company. "We need to ask them those questions if they think they want to do business here and I agree with that," she said. "I think Enbridge has some pretty important questions to answer, because the results of that report are absolutely unacceptable. … That kind of spill that happened in Michigan is not acceptable in British Columbia."

In the July, 2010, spill, more than 3-million litres of crude oil spilled from an Enbridge pipeline into Michigan's Kalamazoo River and adjoining wetlands, with the board noting that the company failed to act quickly to deal with the spill or act on long-standing knowledge that the pipeline suffered from corrosion.

Enbridge, however, does not believe it is losing ground in B.C., beyond the wall of opposition it already faces. The company says it has seen no change in stance by the Clark government on the project.

"We have a struggle here in B.C. and we know that," said Janet Holder, the Enbridge executive vice-president in charge of Gateway. She said hearings this week in Prince George "did not take on any different focus because of what was released by the NTSB. People in B.C. still are very concerned and we will continue to try to find ways to help them understand that we can build this pipeline in a very safe, reliable and, I think importantly, sustainable way."

Besides, she said, "there has been an awful lot done already" following the Kalamazoo River spill. "We took our lessons learned when the incident happened."

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She pointed to corporate increases in leak-detection spending, "and our leak-detection department has been refocused," she said. The company has discussed installing additional flow meters, which can be used to detect a leak, on Gateway and has created teams charged with looking for new ways to protect pipelines.

Enbridge also believes its project is not dependent upon support from Victoria. Even if the provincial NDP takes power in B.C., "I don't think it's the kiss of death, by any means," Ms. Holder said.

Because it crosses a provincial boundary, Gateway is a federally regulated project, its approval subject to consideration by the National Energy Board. That limits the authority of individual provinces. B.C. does, however, have substantial power when it comes to individual components of the project, since permits to cross rivers and highways, for example, must come from the province.

Still, B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix restated his unstinting opposition to the project Wednesday, joined in an appearance before the media by federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who said the U.S. report was the "final nail in the coffin" of Gateway.

Mr. Dix vowed a tough fight to kill the project if he becomes premier, noting he has already assembled a legal team to derail the pipeline if he wins the next election.

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About the Authors
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More

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