On June 30, 2016, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals decision to overturn the government’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline project was made public. A week earlier, on June 23, two of three judges struck down a previous approval of the project, citing insufficient consultation with eight First Nations who are in the direct route of the pipeline. This is a major victory for First Nations within the colonial court system.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway project was initially approved in 2014 by the National Energy Board and the Harper government. Enbridge was given 209 conditions to meet in order to implement the pipeline project, including consultation with impacted First Nations communities. If built, the pipeline would connect the Alberta Tar Sands to British Columbia’s north coast, stretching 1,177 kilometers from Bruderheim, just north of Edmonton, to Kitimat. It would also require a parallel pipeline to flow in the opposite direction, from Kitimat to Bruderheim, to send a thinning agent to prepare the bitumen for shipment. Once in Kitimat, the bitumen would be shipped to international markets.
Eight First Nations, four environmental groups, and the labour union Unifor brought the appeal of the Northern Gateway project to the Federal Court of Appeals in October, 2015. The First Nations included in the legal challenge were: Haida Nation, Gitxaala Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Haisla Nation, Heiltsuk Nation, Kitasoo Xai’Xais Nation, Nadleh Whut’en, and Nak’azdli Whut’en. And the four environmentalist groups included B.C. Nature, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, ForestEthics Advocacy, and Living Oceans Society.
The overturn of the Northern Gateway approval could act as a precedent for other struggles against natural resource extraction and pipelines, like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion, which would increase the amount of bitumen piped from the Tar Sands to Burnaby, B.C. by 300%. The National Energy Board approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion in May, 2016 with 157 conditions required, much like the conditions attached to the Northern Gateway Project.