The project will be assessed by a federal joint-review panel (JRP) of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and that review is expected to take until late next year or longer to complete. There are two ways to participate in that process – applying to submit an oral statement (the deadline for those applications is Oct. 6, 2011), or applying to submit a letter of comment (that deadline is March 13, 2012).

The JRP is expected to hold its hearings in communities along the pipeline corridor starting in January, 2012, though dates and locations are yet to be determined.

The Northern Gateway project actually involves two parallel pipelines that would stretch nearly 1,200 kilometres from central Alberta through British Columbia to the Port of Kitimat. One 36-inch pipeline is proposed to carry 525,000 barrels a day of crude oil to Kitimat, while the other 20-inch pipeline would carry 193,000 barrels of natural gas condensate to Alberta to be used in the production of crude oil in Alberta’s oilsands. The project is estimated to cost $5.5 billion.

Marnie Yohemas, senior advisor of stakeholder relations for the Calgary-based company, said the project represents a “game-changer” for the Canadian economy as it would allow the country to diversify the sale of crude oil into energy-hungry Asian markets.

“Right now we’re reliant on the United States as the only source for selling our crude. Over 90 per cent of our crude is sold to the United States. That makes us price-takers for our crude rather than price setters,” she said.

In northeast British Columbia, the pipelines would cross nearly 116 kilometres of land about 30 kilometres south of Tumbler Ridge, and would involve the construction of one pump station near Tumbler Ridge. However, Yohemas said the company expects to spend about $112 million on procuring  goods and services in the Northeast.

“Part of the reason we’re engaged with Dawson Creek is because you’re really seen as a staging centre,” she said. “You have the industry, the workers, the hotels, fuel supplies and businesses we will draw from.”

She said they expect to employ about 2,000 to 3,000 workers during peak construction, including 800 workers required during peak construction for the local section of the project. She added the projected direct tax revenue to the Province of British Columbia would be $1.2 billion over 30 years, including a projected $3 million in property taxes paid to the Peace River Regional District.

Nationally, she said the project to generate $4.3 billion in labour income, create 1,150 long-term jobs across the country, and generate an estimated $270 billion increase in gross domestic product (GDP) according to a study done by an economist at the University of Calgary.

A number of environmental groups, First Nations communities and other groups have come out against the Northern Gateway project, citing the danger posed to sensitive wildlife areas – mainly marine ecosystems along the West Coast and the many watercourses the pipelines would intersect – and the impacts to the traditional land uses of First Nations. Enbridge has also been criticized for its environmental safety record – last year, an Enbridge pipeline rupture resulted in about 19,500 barrels of sour crude oil leaking into tributaries of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, and later that year, about 6,100 barrels of oil leaked from a pipeline in a small town in Illinois. In 2009, Enbridge was successfully sued by the State of Wisconsin for a total of 545 construction and environmental infractions during construction of a pipeline.

In Canada, the National Energy Board confirms Enbridge pipelines have ruptured nine times since 1992.

The company maintains it is applying the lessons learned from those incidents to ensure the Northern Gateway project is the safest it can be. Yohemas said every weld along the pipelines will be inspected during construction, an epoxy coating will be applied to prevent corrosion, and remote control valves will be strategically placed along the pipelines – including on either side of water crossings – in case of a leak or spill.

“We’ve also committed to put more strategic valves on this pipeline than on any that we have currently constructed to date,” she added.

Yohemas said the pipelines will be monitored by a sophisticated, 24-hour monitoring system based in Edmonton, with a back-up system in another location in case of a power outage. She added a strategic emergency response plan will be developed to determine the locations of emergency response equipment along the pipeline right-of-way, in coordination with local first responders and other companies.

“We have committed to making sure we can respond anywhere along the right-of way – during winter conditions or any kind of conditions – within six hours,” she said.

Along the West Coast, she said the company has committed to installing navigational aides, radar installations, weather monitoring facilities and emergency response equipment that will improve safety for all tanker traffic along the Douglas Channel. She said only compartmentalized, double-hulled ships will enter the terminal at Kitimat, and they will be tethered to tugboats while entering or exiting the Douglas Channel. She added a closed-loading system to prevent spills during loading or unloading of petroleum products.

“Containment booms will actually surround the ship as it births, and we will also have a vapour recovery system, so there should be nothing that leaks into the environment.”

Yohemas said there are over 31 federal agencies involved in the permitting process for the project. She added there is no doubt there is a great interest in the project, as nearly 210 interveners have submitted about 2,000 requests for information since the company submitted its proposal to the JRP back in May, which she said is unprecedented even for a major pipeline project.

She said if approved, the project has an anticipated  in-service date of 2017 following a few years of construction.

More on the regulatory review process and how to participate can be found at