The plan to build a massive oil pipeline between Canada and the US may be on hold, but Canada’s Conservative government – led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper – is still busy fighting for big oil. Now, there is another damaging proposal: to take oil from Alberta's tar sands to the Pacific Coast. The pipeline could destroy parts of the Great Bear Rainforest and British Columbia’s pristine coast.
Alberta has the third largest reserves of crude oil in the world. About 99% of that oil is trapped in tarry sand deposits. Environment minister Peter Kent uses the term “ethical oil” to describe the tar sands: his government believes that oil from “safe, secure and stable” Canada is more morally acceptable than oil from states like Saudi Arabia – even if its extraction means turning Alberta into an open pit mine and polluting one of north-western America's greatest rivers, the Athabasca.
The Harper government wants to ship Alberta's oil around the world. Last year, US President Barack Obama dealt a serious blow to those plans when he delayed TransCanada’s application to build the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried 830,000 barrels of “ethical” Alberta tar-oil 2,673 km south to Texas every day.
Now Harper is pushing hard to let Enbridge, a massive Canadian pipe company, build their Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands through the Great Bear Rainforest to the Pacific Port of Kitimat, British Columbia. Here, hundreds of massive oil tankers will transport the tar-oil down the west coast and to China.
High stakes; furious spin
Enbridge’s 1,172 km pipeline proposal has stoked fury among environmental groups, and the government has hit back with smears. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently criticised environmental groups for getting funding from outside Canada – even as Enbridge received $10m apiece from several foreign oil companies.
The reality is that the British Columbia coast is under threat. Oil pipelines are proven to damage the environment. The Polaris Institute reports over 800 spills across Enbridge's operations between 1999-2010. If the Northern Gateway pipeline is built, a spill could be catastrophic. Canada's wilderness – from the Great Bear Rainforest with its rare spirit bear population, to the coast’s salmon stocks – is too precious to risk for the sake of Enbridge profits.
Take action:Tell Prime Minister Harper that we don't want this pipeline.