TORONTO - First nations and environmental activists say the oil industry is trying for an end run around U.S. concerns about oilsands pollution and will trample on native lands with Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) proposed pipeline from Alberta to the B.C. coast.
A small group journeyed from British Columbia to the pipeline company's annual meeting Wednesday in Toronto to protest against the Northern Gateway project.
"On this issue, of the Enbridge Gateway project, it's probably the most unified I've seen all of the first nations," Gerald Amos of the coastal Haisla First Nation said, wearing traditional regalia for a mixing-of-river-waters ceremony before the Enbridge meeting.
"A lot of people ... recognize that there's a larger game being played out here - and that's climate change," Amos said.
"Our people are quite knowledgeable about it, and they understand that if we become a part of this, and we buy into it, ultimately it's not just going to impact us."
Alphonse Gagnon, a Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief from the B.C. central Interior who joined in the water ceremony symbolizing native unity, observed that - like most B.C. first nations, which never signed land treaties - "we haven't relinquished our rights to our territory."
"We will do whatever it takes to defend our lands and waters against this threat from Enbridge," Gagnon stated.
Inside the annual meeting, shareholders voted down a proposal that would, among other things, require informed consent of affected Aboriginal communities before proceeding with construction projects.
The company's position was that it supports the need for "full consultation" with Aboriginal groups but that the approval of a project must balance the benefits and costs to all Canadians "with no segment of society having a veto."
It also said the regulatory and government approval process will ensure Enbridge meets its obligations to consult before giving a go-ahead for the Gateway project.
Enbridge envisages two parallel 1,170-kilometre pipelines between northern Alberta and Kitimat, B.C. One would carry 525,000 barrels a day of oil westward, largely from the oilsands. The eastward line would transport 193,000 barrels a day of imported condensate, used to thin heavy petroleum products moving by pipeline.
A tanker terminal in Kitimat would have 14 storage tanks and receive about 225 ship calls per year.
Exports abroad could avoid rising American climate-change concerns such as California's low-carbon fuel standards.
Enbridge is aiming for a review process through 2011, with construction to start in 2012 and start-up in mid-2014. It foresees 4,000 construction jobs and "thousands" of indirect jobs.
"This proposed Enbridge pipeline will have direct impacts on tar sands expansion, to the equivalent of about 1.6 million cars a year of carbon pollution," said Nikki Skuce of environmental group ForestEthics.
"We're concerned about the impact on climate change, and we're also concerned ... about spills," she said as a half-dozen people gathered for the brief sidewalk gathering.
"This crosses the Skeena and Fraser watersheds, and these are the two largest remaining salmon runs in North America."