Alberta Premier Jim Prentice wants Enbridge Inc. to reroute the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, but the coastal community that is touted as the obvious alternative to locate the marine terminal is no longer rolling out the welcome mat.
Prince Rupert's Mayor Jack Mussallem said residents in his resource-dependent community don't want to play a role in getting Alberta oil products to Asia.
Earlier this week, the newly elected Alberta Premier called for Enbridge to find a new terminus for the project because of deep-rooted opposition to the current route, which would see Alberta crude oil loaded onto supertankers at Kitimat, B.C.
When Enbridge first proposed the crude oil pipeline a decade ago, Kitimat and Prince Rupert battled for the privilege of playing host to the new marine terminal for the project.
Prince Rupert boasts the closest North American port to Asia, already bustling with container terminals and commodities such as coal and grain, but in 2005, Enbridge chose Kitimat instead, saying the pipeline route to Prince Rupert would be riskier and more expensive.
But the prospect of piloting supertankers through the narrow Douglas Channel to open waters has increasingly become a rallying point for the project's opponents, led by First Nations on the coast
Mr. Prentice told The Globe and Mail the Haisla First Nation's deep opposition to the Kitimat terminal makes it "pretty tough" to win support for the project as it stands, and he urged Enbridge to look for a different route.
"I don't doubt that Enbridge is looking at alternatives," Mr. Mussallem said in an interview.
But the mayor said Prince Rupert has a thriving local fishing industry that employs hundreds of people and is critically important to the local First Nations. He is convinced the community would not be willing to put that at risk.
"Overwhelmingly people in my community are much more comfortable with liquefied natural gas, with wood pellets, with coal, than any oil product," he said.
A spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority said Wednesday there is currently no room for Enbridge to build at the port even if it wanted to. "We are fully subscribed," Michael Gurney said. There are two large vacant lots within the port authority's jurisdiction, but both are locked by other energy companies, earmarked for LNG projects.
However, Enbridge has an alternative if the company did opt to change the current proposed route. Late in 2013, the company purchased a $20-million parcel of land at Grassy Point, near the city of Prince Rupert. "We haven't designated it, we purchased it for future business opportunities," Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht said Wednesday. He said the company is not contemplating any route change right now, however, noting that it would require an application to the National Energy Board to change the design – something that could set the project back years.
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan was unfazed by Mr. Prentice's suggestion to move the marine terminal. Her community is no longer enthusiastic about the promised benefits of the project, and wants dramatic changes if it is built.
Ms. Monaghan said her city council will be considering a motion next Monday to contact the Alberta Premier to discuss his views on Northern Gateway. The community held a non-binding plebiscite on the project last spring, and more than 58 per cent of voters said "no" to the pipeline.
Ms. Monaghan said in an interview she would like the Enbridge pipeline to run into a Kitimat refinery proposed by publishing executive David Black, rather than be shipped as crude oil. The benefits, she said, would be twofold – hundreds of jobs in the northwest of the province and a bitumen product that would cause less environmental harm in the event of a spill.
"We would very much like to see the resource refined here," she said in an interview.
Of Mr. Prentice's comments to The Globe, she said her initial reaction had been, "This is interesting." Ms. Monaghan said she agreed with Mr. Prentice's view that First Nations have to be involved with the project.