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Canadian Natives Seek to Stop Enbridge’s Oil-Sands Pipeline

Canadian aboriginal groups testified against an Enbridge Inc. pipeline that would carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the British Columbian coast, saying the risk of a spill is too great.

A three-member panel appointed by the country’s national energy regulator to determine the environmental impact of the C$6.6 billion ($6.5 billion) project began listening to testimony yesterday, a process that will be completed next year. The hearings were held in Kitimat Village, a native preserve near the coastal town of Kitimat.

“This might end up in a court battle,” Sam Robinson, a Haisla First Nation hereditary chief, said in an interview after testifying before the panel. “We’ll do whatever we need to do to stop it.”

Oil producers and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have said the 36-inch-wide pipeline is needed to allow tar-sands crude to be shipped to Asian markets, reducing dependence on the U.S., where demand for fossil fuels is stagnant.

The 1,177-kilometer (731-mile) line would wind though one of the world’s largest remaining temperate rainforests, crossing more than 700 streams and rivers before arriving at export terminals of Kitimat.

Haisla leaders yesterday told the panel and hundreds of participants about the importance of oolichan, a fish species, and other animals and plants used for food throughout their 2,000-year history. Such lifestyles will be destroyed with an oil spill.

“It worries me to think all these will be lost when there is a spill,” Robinson told the panel. “And mark my words, there will be a spill.”

National Energy Board

“We believe we can operate the pipeline safely,” Paul Stanway, an Enbridge spokesman, said in an interview.

When the hearings end next year, the panel will make a recommendation on whether Enbridge should build the pipeline. Canada’s National Energy Board will then decide if the project should proceed.

“We’re here to listen,” said Enbridge Vice President Janet Holder. “That’s what this is about. It’s fair and open and that’s what’s great about being Canadian.”

After listening to groups living in areas that will be affected by the pipeline, Enbridge has already made “slight” changes to routes and valves, she said.

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