Northern Gateway: Emissions and Omissions

In December, the Joint Review Panel, JRP, told the federal government the project is in the Public Interest. In June, the federal government will make its decision based, in part, on this recommendation. In a series of blogs this week, WWF looks at the flaws in the environmental review of the proposed Northern Gateway Project.
Is the Northern Gateway pipeline project in the public interest? The Joint Review Panel that recommended the federal government approve this project thought so:
“We determined what we believed were the major benefits and burdens associated with this project and found that the public interest of Canada was best served by recommending that the project should be approved.”
WWF does not share this conclusion. Why not? The Panel viewed the public interest through the lens of the project’s economic impact, but failed to consider its impact on the broader public interest of sustaining a stable climate. The Panel stated: “In our view, opening Pacific Basin markets would be important to the Canadian economy and society.”

Suncor Refinery
The Joint Review Panel chose not to consider the environmental costs of increased greenhouse gas emissions already threatening our environment, society and economy. ©Andrew S. Wright / WWF-Canada

The Panel made this value judgment based on the belief that North America’s future demand for oil will diminish and an increasing portion of that demand will be met by light and medium oil from shale deposits, mainly in the U.S. If demand for oil at home decreases, that means that the oil sands industry cannot pursue its ambitious growth plans without access to foreign markets. The Northern Gateway project is designed to secure such access.  Viewed through this lens, it’s pretty clear the project benefits the oil sands industry.
Regrettably though, the Panel did not view the public interest through the lens of the cost to our climate. They chose not to consider greenhouse gas emissions that would arise from increased production and consumption of oil inextricably linked to the project. Yet, as the International Energy Agency’s chief economist has warned, the development of further fossil fuel infrastructure will only increase the greenhouse gas emissions already threatening our environment, society and the economy. By refusing to consider the full extent of greenhouse gas emissions, the Panel made a fundamental omission.
Garth Lenz Gateway
One of the many waterways the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route will cross. Climate change impacts from greenhouse gas emissions are already affecting river flow in B.C.’s wild rivers. ©Garth Lenz

This omission was also a concern for JRP participants. They told the Panel it would be unfair to consider these financial benefits but not the costs to the environment. The Panel acknowledged the imbalance. But rather than considering both, the Panel’s final report indicated it had assigned no weight to the benefits of increased oil sands production. This remedy makes no sense. The Panel ended up ignoring two of the most important arguments for and against the project.
The Joint Review Panel failed to fully consider critical evidence in its assessment that Northern Gateway is in the public interest. These omissions make the Panel’s recommendation unreliable.