Opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is not diminished by a proposal to build a $13-billion refinery near Kitimat, First Nations and environmental groups said on Friday.
"This doesn't change anything," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president. "We are still faced with the spectre of a very high-risk pipeline going through rugged terrain and being sponsored by a company that has an absolutely atrocious safety record."
If the pipeline and refinery are approved, tankers would carry refined fuel, which, if there is a spill, is easier to clean up than bitumen. But tankers would still face treacherous navigation issues, storms and a rugged coastline, Phillip said.
The unchanging opposition was echoed by Geraldine Thomas-Flurer, co-ordinator of the Yinka Dene Alliance.
About 25 per cent of the pipeline would be on Yinka Dene Alliance traditional territory and chiefs have made it abundantly clear that they will not allow it to cross their rivers, Thomas-Flurer said.
That will not be changed by the prospect of an oil refinery, which would pollute the air, or the promise of refinery jobs, she said.
"We have 130 First Nations who have signed on in support of a tanker ban and 130 First Nations can't be wrong," Thomas-Flurer said.
Heiltsuk First Nation Chief Marilyn Slett said the community was taken aback by the sudden announcement about the planned refinery. "Our concerns are still the great risk to the coast," she said.
The severity of an oil spill depends not only on the substance spilled, but also on the area in which it happens and whether there are salmon runs or animals such as whales in the immediate vicinity, said Eric Swanson of the Dogwood Initiative.
Like others, Swanson is concerned about the lack of community consultation.
"The best ideas are the ones that start at the community level, with First Nations and local government support, and work up from there," he said. "This is a $13-billion mega-project that came out of nowhere."
Josh Paterson, West Coast Environmental Law staff lawyer, said the refinery plan appears to be a desperate attempt to salvage the
Northern Gateway pipeline. "I don't think dumping an oil refinery in the middle of the Great Bear Rainforest and right beside the Kitimat River is the way to do that," Peterson said. "This is not a game changer."
Tankers would still be plying dangerous waters and the Queen of the North sinking demonstrates the lasting effects of refined oil, Paterson said.
"Beaches are still contaminated around there and First Nations can't use them for harvesting," he said.
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