07/29/2012 08:57 EDT | Updated 09/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Enbridge Oil Spill Worries B.C. Pipeline Critics

An oil spill on an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin has critics in B.C. questioning the safety of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

About 1,200 barrels (190,000 litres) seeped out of an Enbridge pipeline in Wisconsin, which was delivering Canadian crude to Chicago-area refineries. According to Reuters, Enbridge plans to replace the leaky Wisconsin oil pipeline Monday, though it is not clear when the line will restart.

About 300 million litres of heavy crude spilled from a ruptured Enbridge pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. Investigators with the U.S. Transportation Safety Board released their findings earlier this month and ripped into the company, noting it did nothing for 17 hours after oil started gushing and that it knew about small cracks in the pipeline for five years.

While officials with Enbridge say the situation in Wisconsin is being treated as a top priority, that doesn't reassure environmental groups and native communities that have staunchly opposed the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

“I think the U.S. and Canadian authorities that regulate the pipeline should immediately suspend operation permits and licensing and conduct a full scale inquiry into the operations and safety practices of Enbridge,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix is heading to Terrace, B.C., on Monday to meet with aboriginal leaders about the pipeline. He also plans to visit Kitimat, the western terminus for the Northern Gateway, where 500,000 barrels of oil a day would be loaded aboard tankers and shipped overseas.

For Dix, the Wisconsin spill shows yet again just how risky a pipeline through British Columbia could be.

“This just builds on other evidence that this is not in B.C.'s economic or environmental interest and shows the folly of attempting to sacrifice environmental risk for B.C. money,” he said.

Seeking reassurances

The pipeline must pass a National Energy Board review, which is currently underway. B.C. will get its chance to cross-examine Enbridge this fall.

“We need to be assured by the company, the National Energy Board and authorities on the coast that there are systems in place that will be able to minimize the risk and response to risks without the taxpayer being left with a problem,” said B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake.

The review is expected to wrap up sometime in 2013.

The $5.5-billion, 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway project would bring bitumen to Kitimat from the Alberta oilsands. The company recently announced a slate of safety improvements, including thicker pipe and better monitoring, that pushed the project's pricetag by $500 million to $6 billion.

Northern Gateway is at the centre of an argument between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford over how to fairly divvy up the project's risks and rewards.

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