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Northern Gateway has many 'weaknesses', says prof

Several UNBC professors expressed concerns about the federal government's approval Tuesday of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Several UNBC professors expressed concerns about the federal government's approval Tuesday of the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Phil Burton, an associate professor of ecosystem science and management, studied how the pipeline would impact the terrestrial landscape.

"There's no surprises there, in terms of many of the weaknesses in the original proposal have had some conditions put around them and we'll see how it sorts out in the details once some of those requirements are met," he said.

The first of three weaknesses he highlighted was the impact on caribou habitat. The pipeline would reduce the forest cover and introduce more human activity. The second was that the proposal had no specific limits as to how many litres of oil could be spilled or how many hectares could be covered by a spill. That has been mitigated by adding more check valves along the pipeline's route. The final was the hazard to the pipeline due to terrain, like stream, river and mountain crossings. That has been mitigated by having a requirement for more geohazard studies.

Some of these impacts can be mitigated by having more detailed engineering and environmental plans, more detailed route selection, and more reclamation efforts, but others are unavoidable, like the loss of forest cover, more humans in the area, more emissions at the port and more tankers.

"It becomes part of this overall social decision in that is that activity worth the unavoidable damage to the natural environment?" Burton said.

It's that social aspect that has Burton concerned. Working in Terrace, he hears the people around him expressing disapproval at the pipeline, especially if it sends refining jobs overseas.

"The entire culture of people and communities in the northwest is really focused much more on salmon and forest than it is around any desire to get into the petrochemical business," he said.

Brian Menounos, an associate professor of earth sciences, said he was worried that the pipeline would result in more greenhouse gases emissions, as the fossil fuels shipped would be used and increase demand for more in Canada.

"The production is the problem in terms of greenhouse gases," he said. "It's not necessarily whether it's coming in a pipeline or rail line."

Paul Bowles, a professor of economics, said the potential of a spill hurts the economic feasibility of the pipeline.

"The economics of the Northern Gateway for B.C. are that there are a few thousand short-term construction jobs, but after that, there are very few permanent jobs," he said. "What the pipeline would do in the event of a spill, either land or ocean, is put at risk a much larger number of permanent jobs in other sectors, for example in tourism and commercial fishery."

Bowles acknowledged the pipeline was estimated to produce $1.2 billion in taxes over 30 years, but he said that was a drop in the bucket compared to the amounts the province's coffers deals with. Health care costs the province $18 billion per year, while tourism for the entire province, which could be threatened by an oil spills, generates $1.2 billion in taxes each year.

Ross Hoffman, an associate professor of First Nations studies, said First Nation groups have been clear on the issue.

"I have never seen the First Nations of B.C. so united on an issue for many years," he said. "They have already spoken clearly about fighting it in the courts; they have already said they will go further than necessary."

He said he was dismayed that federal government hasn't talked to First Nations communities on a government-to-government basis

"I'm somewhat shocked once again at the government. When I read their press release, they clearly say it's the company, the proponent, who should consult with Aboriginal communities," he said. "I think it's the government who is shirking their responsibility."

Through Supreme Court cases, the federal government has a legal responsibility to consult with First Nations about project that would affect them, especially since most Aboriginal groups along the pipeline haven't signed treaties with the government.

Bowles said that the federal government's approval of the pipeline while most First Nation are opposed might also make it harder to negotiate deals on other projects, like Site C, LNG and mines.

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