Enbridge plots next steps after Northern Gateway gets federal nod

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CALGARY - Shovels won't likely be hitting the ground on Enbridge Inc.'s Northern Gateway pipeline anytime soon, but observers say the company has time, given the trajectory of oilsands growth and Asian crude demand.

The multibillion-dollar project that will stretch from the Alberta oilsands to the B.C. coast, passed a key hurdle on Tuesday, with the federal government's approval. But the company itself has already signalled it would be in no rush to proceed if it got Ottawa's blessing, as it must get B.C. First Nations on board with the project.

Enbridge CEO Al Monaco called the approval an important milestone.

"However, we have more work ahead of us," he said in a release.

"The decision is one more step in the process; a process that requires a considered and respectful approach with our stakeholders."

Jack Mintz, with the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy, says demand from new markets on the other side of the Pacific Ocean isn't going anywhere.

"There's huge Asian coker demand for oil and I think that demand is not going to disappear," he said.

"In fact, the Asian market is actually the growing market for oil products and there is a very big demand for Canadian oil."

Laura Lau, a senior portfolio manager with the Brompton Group, agrees the window of opportunity should stay open for some time, given the rate at which oilsands production is expected to grow.

"We still need as many pipelines as possible, so perhaps it would be past the end of this decade," she said.

However, Lau believes other pipeline proposals to the south and east, such as TransCanada's Keystone XL and Energy East, have a much better chance of going ahead than Northern Gateway does, given the First Nations and political challenges that are specific to B.C.

A Joint Review Panel, which made its recommendations to the federal government in December, set December 31, 2016 as a deadline for Enbridge to start building the project, unless the National Energy Board says otherwise.

Organizations: Enbridge Inc., B.C. First Nations, University of Calgary School of Public Policy Brompton Group TransCanada Energy East National Energy Board

Geographic location: CALGARY, Alberta, B.C. Ottawa Pacific Ocean

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