• CEO says ‘door has been opened slightly’ by political support
  • Company working to win coastal support after inland approval

Enbridge Inc. sees political momentum shifting toward support of the Northern Gateway oil pipeline as the company brings on more indigenous communities as partners.

Canada’s largest pipeline company is hearing encouraging messages from the federal and Alberta governments, Enbridge Chief Executive Officer Al Monaco said on Thursday. The company said last week it had increased the indigenous ownership stake in the project to one-third as it asked for a three-year extension from the National Energy Board regulator to build the pipeline, which would carry crude from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific Coast for export.

“I’m encouraged,” Monaco told reporters after the Calgary-based company’s annual meeting. “The way I look at is that door has been opened slightly and we’re seeing some positive momentum.”

Canada’s energy industry is seeking to move its rising volumes of crude to the East and West coasts in order to secure better prices and new customers overseas as the U.S. meets more of its own demand. Even as a market downturn slows development, companies are trying to overcome environmental opposition that has stymied pipeline proposals. Gateway was approved by the previous federal government in 2014 with 209 conditions and Enbridge pledged to build more support from indigenous communities along the route before moving ahead.

Softening Opposition

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has opposed Gateway in the past and pledged a "moratorium" on crude oil tanker traffic along the British Columbia’s north coast, but has since softened his position and demurred on whether certain ships, or types of petroleum products, would be permitted under the moratorium. Trudeau remains committed to a moratorium, a spokesman said last month.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has been speaking out about the need for market access for the province’s crude and recently has included Gateway among projects she would consider supporting. Notley has changed her skeptical stance on Gateway after seeing progress on some of the project’s hurdles and hearing from people involved who are optimistic about its chances, a spokeswoman said last month.

“The messages that I’ve heard from Ottawa are pretty complimentary and particularly recently out of Alberta,” Monaco said on Thursday. Enbridge has support from 31 First Nations and Metis communities who are equity partners, up from 26 previously, and the company has more work to do in winning favor from indigenous communities on the coast, he said. “This is not a slam dunk, even with a third ownership.”

The Coastal First Nations organization, which represents a group of aboriginal communities along British Columbia’s north and central coasts and the Haida Gwaii archipelago, said last week Enbridge’s request for an extension to its permit for Gateway should be rejected. The group continues to be opposed to the project because of the risks of crude oil tankers along the coast, it said in a May 6 statement.

“We’ve had very good progress on the terrestrial part” of the project, Monaco said. “We need to have the same success now on the coast.”

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