OTTAWA, O.N. – The federal fisheries minister says it will be harder for cabinet to give another green light to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion if – or more likely when – the National Energy Board’s new environmental review determines the project is going to harm killer whales.

Jonathan Wilkinson says such a finding wouldn’t mean cabinet will reject the project – but ministers will have to be convinced there are appropriate measures in place to protect the whales.

The pipeline is in limbo after the Federal Court of Appeal overturned its approval citing a lack of proper consultation with Indigenous communities, and the fact the National Energy Board failed to properly examine or consider negative environmental impacts of having more oil tankers leaving from Vancouver.

The NEB did determine the additional tankers, which amount to about six more each week, would harm the whales but didn’t take that into account in its original recommendation to approve the project because it deemed marine shipping was outside its jurisdiction.

Wilkinson said the government is looking at what else it can do but argues it has made great strides in whale protection including limits on fishing and closing shipping lanes in the areas the whales tend to congregate.

Misty MacDuffee, a biologist with Rainforest Conservation Foundation, said what the whales really need is fewer ships in the waters – because any increase may be the last straw that sends the Southern resident killer whales into extinction.