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Douglas Channel, the proposed shipping route for oil tanker ships in the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, is pictured in an aerial view just south of Kitimat, B.C.DARRYL DYCK

The Northern Gateway pipeline project is ambitious enough that it is routinely compared to nation-building exercises like the construction of the Canadian Pacific railroad and the TransCanada natural gas pipeline. It's important because it would open a new outlet for Canada's oil to flow to new markets in Asia - especially China - and California. And it would be a big outlet.

The biggest project ever pursued by Enbridge Inc., a Canadian industry heavyweight, Gateway would run two pipes between Bruderheim, Alta. and Kitimat, B.C., a distance of 1,172-kilometres that crosses hundreds of rivers in a region thick with mountains, forest and wildlife. At a cost of $6.6-billion, one pipe would carry up to 525,000 barrels of Alberta oil-sands crude to the coast. A second would bring east 193,000 barrels of condensate, which is used to thin heavy oil so it can flow in pipelines.

This map outlines the potential hazards involved in transporting oil from the harbour in Kitimat, B.C., to the open ocean.