British Columbia against pipeline to west coast

Rob Gillies, Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) -- Canada's Pacific coast province of British Columbia told a federal review board Friday that it opposes a pipeline that would allow tankers to export oil to Asia

In its final written submission to a Joint Review Panel of energy and environmental officials, the British Columbia government recommends the $6 billion Northern Gateway project should not be approved as it has been proposed by Enbridge.

The province said the Calgary, Alberta-based company has not presented any real assurance that it would be able to meet its commitments to prevent oil spills.

"'Trust me' is not good enough in this case," said the 99-page submission.

The fear of oil spills is especially acute in pristine British Columbia, with its snowcapped mountains and deep ocean inlets. There is fierce environmental and aboriginal opposition.

Environment Minister Terry Lake said after more than a year of hearings and testimony under oath, there remains a lack of detail from the company on the oil spill response plans.

"What we're saying is that everything we've seen to date simply doesn't make the grade at this point in terms of assuring British Columbians that the environment would be well-protected," Lake said.

"These are questions that are left hanging and we feel those need to be answered before we would support a certificate being issued."

The rejection shows that the British Columbia Liberal government hasn't softened its stance since the recent provincial election.

Janet Holder, the Enbridge executive overseeing the project, said in a telephone interview that British Columbians are skeptical because they are building a pipeline in Northern British Columbia, where they have not been built before.

"'Trust me' maybe a little strong," Holder said of the province's statement. "We know what we're saying and we know what it means. We have filed more evidence to date that any other pipeline proponent would do at this stage in the game. We have definitely taken this pipeline to a new level of standard. We have been making some very significant commitments, but they are commitments."

Pipeline opponents cheered the decision. John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club Canada, called it an "historic."

"Days like this give meaning to 50 years of environmental activism," Bennett said in a statement.

The review panel will hear final arguments starting next month, and a final report is due to the federal government by the end of the year.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is determined to get the Pacific pipeline built and export oil to China after U.S. President Barack Obama initially rejected TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline from oil-rich Alberta to Texas. The decision to initially reject the pipeline went over badly in Canada, which relies on the U.S. for 97 percent of Canada's energy exports.

The Obama administration is considering whether to approve the pipeline, which would carry 800,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta across six U.S. states to the Texas Gulf Coast. A decision is expected this summer.

The Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway project are critical to Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. The northern Alberta region has the world's third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.

A lack of pipelines and a bottleneck of oil in the U.S. Midwest have reduced the price of Canadian crude and have cost oil producers and the federal and Alberta government billions in revenue.

The Keystone XL pipeline has become a flashpoint in the U.S. debate over climate change. Republicans and business and labor groups have urged the Obama administration to approve the pipeline as a source of much-needed jobs and a step toward North American energy independence. Environmental groups have been pressuring Obama to reject the pipeline, saying it would carry "dirty oil" that contributes to global warming. They also worry about a spill.