After the delay of the Canada-U.S. Keystone XL pipeline, opponents of the Northern Gateway project running from Alberta to British Columbia are preparing for a tougher battle, even as Enbridge Inc. maintains it has no plans to change tactics.
With Ottawa becoming more anxious to ship Alberta's oil to Asia, it will intensify the fight for anti-Gateway activists, even though they view the Keystone decision by the United States as a victory.
"I would expect [Keystone]would increase the resolve for the oil companies to try to come west, as opposed to south. It will also increase the resolve of the federal government," said Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, one of the leading groups in the fight against Gateway.
"It's just going to mean we're going to have to double our efforts as well. That is what we are gearing up to do."
More than 4,000 groups and individuals have registered to speak at hearings starting in January that will review Enbridge's $6.6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline. The project proposes to transport oil underground from Bruderheim, Alta. to Kitimat, B.C., where it would then fill supertankers at a port and travel to customers in Asian markets.
Gateway opponents, which include a handful of well-organized coalitions representing native communities, environmentalists and some municipalities, are hoping for a new surge in support in light of the Keystone decision last week.
There is hope the Keystone activists will now join the battle against Gateway, and possibly bring along some of their funding.
"We know there is going to be a lot more pressure to get Gateway built, but the reasons for not building it are just as sound as they were last week," said Greenpeace Canada spokesman Keith Stewart.
Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway said the Keystone delay won't have an impact on how the company approaches getting approval for Gateway.
"We put an enormous amount of work into the project and will continue to do that," he said.
The pipeline's fate is expected to be determined largely in B.C., a province known for its environmental activism where more than half of the 1,177-kilometre pipeline will be laid.
Those against the development worry about the environmental impact of building a pipeline, and the possibility of an oil spill given the 200 or more large oil tankers that would pass through a series of narrow coastal channels each year if Gateway goes ahead.
"I think B.C. has always been the wall for Northern Gateway," said Eric Swanson with the Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based land reform organization.
"B.C. bears the burden of risk. It should be up to the people of this province to decide."
Proponents argue the pipeline will open up trade with the crucial Asian market, and expand port facilities as well as road and rail infrastructure that will help drive economic growth.
"Saying yes to these projects is saying yes to creating the infrastructure in B.C. that will position us for global leadership in socially and environmentally responsible trade," a coalition of business and union leaders said in a recent statement about the project and others pending in the province.
Many B.C. politicians are steering clear of the issue, including Premier Christy Clark, who has said she will wait until the federal environmental assessment is complete, which is not expected for a couple of years. That's also when the next provincial election will likely be held.
Kitimat City Council passed a motion to wait until after the review before making a decision on whether to support or oppose the pipeline project, according to Mayor Joanne Monaghan.