The National Energy Board ruled to approve the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline today at a media lock-up event in Calgary. The pipeline was approved with 209 conditions.

The 1,177-kilometre pipeline would bring tar sands bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, BC, for shipment to Asian and U.S. markets. It has been fiercely opposed by Northern BC residents and a coalition of over 130 First Nations.

Legal action and protests forthcoming: Grand Chief

“It will trigger a nasty backlash,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, who viewed the decision as “the death of the integrity with respect to the JRP and environmental review processes in the country.”

“There will be a multitude of lawsuits, protests, demonstrations, marches and at the end, if the company goes for site preparation, people will be physically out there confronting bulldozers.”

Although the decision has shocked the large number of BC residents who opposed Enbridge’s proposal, many suspected that the NEB would approve it after the federal oversight group announced that it would make the decision in Calgary.

“We know that this whole JRP process has been undemocratic. As you uncovered regarding NEB coordinating spying on ordinary citizens who are participating in the democratic discussions and making their voice heard, we’ve known that they’re siding with industry on this,” said North Coast MLA Jen Rice, who represents constituents in Prince Rupert. 

“What this shows is that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is autocratic,” she said, noting that many in Northern BC were against the project. 

At the federal level, NDP and Green party strongly criticized the decision. 

“We have been very clear: New Democrats stand with British Columbians and oppose the Northern Gateway project because it puts our jobs and our BC coastline at risk,” NDP environment critic Peter Julien said. “This pipeline would threaten existing industries, and even a modest spill will contaminate this pristine coastline for decades—ravaging tourism and the salmon fishery. The risks are simply unacceptable.”

“I’d like to know the economic analysis of the Northern Gateway project, which no one has done,” federal Green leader Elizabeth May said. “The logic of shipping dilutent from the BC coast to Alberta, to then add it to raw crude, only to ship back to the coast doesn’t make sense.”

Doubts over safety and accountability

The project was broadly opposed throughout BC during the Joint Review Panel hearings. Of over 1,000 speakers who presented at the hearings, only a small handful spoke in support of the projects. Some communities near the pipeline route, such as Smithers and Burns Lake expressed 100 per cent opposition to the project, with mayors speaking out strongly against the project.

BC Premier Christy Clark went as far as to reject the project in May, saying that Enbridge did not fulfill the requirements needed to operate in British Columbia. She also warned last October that BC was “unprepared” to deal with an oil tanker spill off the coast.  

This article originally appeared on Vancouver Observer and is reprinted with permission. Support the Vancouver Observer’s Tar Sands Coverage Kickstarter Campaign here.