Enbridge is so confident of a favourable decision by the federal government that it is already preparing to launch a procurement process for the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
A Joint Review Panel recommended approval of the 1,200-kilometre project in mid-December, saying it would be in the best interest of Canadians. The federal cabinet has 180 days from the time it receives the report to make a final decision. Since the JRP announced its findings, the pipeline has come under increased attack, with several environmental groups and First Nations filing applications in Federal Court calling for a judicial review.
"I'm not giving up. Number one," Janet Holder, an Enbridge vice-president replied when she was asked at a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon if the company might abandon the controversial pipeline in the face of those legal challenges.
But Ms. Holder, who is the lead figure for the Northern Gateway project in British Columbia, said Enbridge is hoping – and planning – for final government approval in June.
"We are probably one of the few pipeline proponents who are actually going ahead with a website on how B.C., especially small businesses, can be involved in this project, without having approval to build the project," she said. "We realize we need to get ahead of the game, and make sure people understand our processes, how they can get involved in the processes, what roles they can play, and the procedures around doing that. Because once we get the approval, we want to hit the ground running pretty hard, so we're sort of putting a bit of the cart before the horse here."
Ms. Holder said more information would be made available shortly to businesses interested in participating in the $6.3-billion project.
Ms. Holder, who has been touring the province constantly talking to any groups prepared to listen, was asked what Enbridge would do if government rejects the project.
"We don't have a plan," she said.
She then modified her blunt response, adding: "You can't speculate on that answer because if they say no, we need to understand why they say no. And that will determine what our next steps are."
Ms. Holder said the numerous legal challenges shouldn't delay the project, because there is time for the court process to play out before the construction stage is reached.
And she said Enbridge has the support of the majority of First Nations along the route, although she declined to name them because of confidentiality agreements.
"We've got 60 per cent of First Nations, aboriginal communities … along the corridor who have signed on for an equity partnership. We're offering 10 per cent of the pipeline to First Nations and Métis … and we continue to have dialogue, one on one, with these First Nations [that are opposed]," she said.
Ms. Holder said Enbridge feels it can meet all 209 conditions imposed by the Joint Review Panel and is planning to build the safest, most modern pipeline in the world.
"We can't say it will never ever happen," she said when asked about the possibility of a spill. "But what's important is what we've done to mitigate that risk … we've put more isolation valves in this pipeline than any other pipeline, and we can shut down the pipeline in three minutes … [so] the impact of those incidents will not be anywhere near what people may think."
Ms. Holder dismissed environmental critics who say the review process was flawed because the JRP didn't look at the upstream impact of the oil sands on global climate change.
"That is the Canadian process," she said of the JRP hearings.