01/28/2012 01:20 EST | Updated 03/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Oil Pipeline Decision Not Foregone Conclusion, Says B.C.


B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake says critics are wrong to suggest the provincial government has already decided to support the Northern Gateway pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta to Kitimat.

Internal documents released in response to a Freedom of Information request show the industry was lobbying the government well before the start of a federal review this month, but publicly, the province has refused to take a stand.

The 371 pages of documents include stacks of notes and e-mails, including a brief by Enbridge to the environment minister last year, saying the pipeline would bring billions of dollars in benefits.

But any options or recommendations from ministry staff have been blanked out, as NDP environment critic Rob Fleming points out.

"Really, the good parts have been left out of these documents for the public to see," Fleming said.

But Lake says it's not true to suggest the government is quietly supporting the project. Environmental hearings on the project are now under way.

'We absolutely have not made up our minds on this. It's important we go through the process," said Lake.

Calls NDP 'irresponsible'

“It's an interesting contrast that the NDP has made up their minds before the information is complete. I think that's irresponsible.”

Lake said only after the province has weighed all the technical issues will it say yes or no to the Northern Gateway.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural resources Minister Joe Oliver stirred up a controversy earlier this month when they suggested that “foreigners” could “hijack” the review process.

The federal government’s concern is that well-funded environmental groups from Europe and the U.S. who are opposed to the project could dominate the hearings.

The $5.5-billion project is a proposal by Canadian oil and gas company Enbridge to build two pipelines stretching 1,177 kilometres between the Alberta oilsands and the West Coast.

Northern Gateway would have the capacity to transport 525,000 barrels of oil per day.

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