OTTAWA—The Harper government, which never foresaw that pipelines would become the battleground in a frenzied struggle over climate change, is contending with a continent wide wave of political opposition that has imperilled plans to sell more Canadian petroleum in foreign markets.
In British Columbia, a few thousand people in the small coastal town of Kitimat have given powerful symbolic momentum to the movement against pipelines designed to carry oilsands-derived crude for export.
In one of the first soundings of voter attitude toward the proposed Northern Gateway pipelineplanned for B.C., the citizens of Kitimat turned out to reject the project in a referendum.
The result of the unusual April 12 plebiscite, though non-binding, was seen as a serious blow to Enbridge Inc., the company behind the planned $6.5-billion conduit to carry oil from Alberta across the Rockies to an export terminal in Kitimat.
Less than a week later, U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a setback to another major Canadian pipeline proposal, the Keystone XL project designed to move petroleum from the oilsands to the United States.
Obama, whose supporters are bitterly divided over Keystone, again put off a final decision on whether to allow the pipeline. Some had expected a yes-or-no answer on the project by mid-year. But Obama’s April 18 announcement means no ruling is likely until after the Nov. 4 U.S. congressional elections and possibly not until well into 2015.
These are the latest in a series of developments that have called into question the Harper government’s strategy of tapping oilsands-derived crude to cement Canada as a global energy superpower for decades to come.
With the future of multibillion-dollar projects hanging in the balance, the issues surrounding energy development are becoming more heated by the day.