Harper government announces new rules on oil tanker safety

Last summer, B.C. Premier Christy Clark outlined her five "minimum requirements" for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline. The conditions included: completion of the environmental review process, First Nations accommodation, a greater share of the revenues generated from the project and improved marine and land spill response.

On Monday, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and Transport Minister Denis Lebel delivered on one of those conditions.

At a press conference in B.C., the duo announced 8 new measures that, they say, will make Canada a world-leader in spill response.

Of note, the government will expand the National Aerial Surveillance Program, a fleet of aircrafts that keeps an eye out for illegal discharges of pollution at sea. The Feds will also appoint a "Tanker Safety Expert Panel" to advise the government on best-practices.

Moreover, all ships – whether they’re Canadian-owned or foreign-owned – will now require annual inspections.

"While our current tanker safety system has served us well for many years, it is essential that we strengthen it to meet future needs, as the transportation of Canadian exports is expected to grow and create many high-quality jobs in Canada," Lebel said in a statement.

"As a trading nation, Canada depends on marine shipping for economic growth, jobs and long-term prosperity. There will be no pipeline development without rigorous environmental protection measures and the tanker safety initiatives we are announcing today are an important aspect of our plan for Responsible Resource Development."

Also on Monday, Minister Oliver's office released a notice stating that there will be an announcement on Tuesday, "related to further enhancing engagement with Aboriginal peoples in the development of energy infrastructure."

It is becoming increasingly evident that the Harper government is putting a ‘full court press’ on the approval of the Gateway pipeline project that would transport oil from Alberta’s oil sands to a west coast port.

[ Related: Canadians support the idea of a cross-Canada oil pipeline ]

Last week, in Hong Kong, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told a business audience that a west coast pipeline was of great importance to Canada.

"When last year the [Keystone] pipeline was refused going to the United States, that was a real wakeup call in Canada, that it's a matter of national imperative to diversify our markets," he said, according to CBC News.

"We hope to see Keystone approved in the coming months, we're working tremendously hard with the Obama administration on this but it is a national imperative to get a pipeline to the west coast."

[ Related: Canadian minister lauds pipeline to U.S., eyes other markets ]

Meanwhile, the Federal environmental and regulatory review into the $6-billion pipeline are continuing in British Columbia.

The review panel’s report and recommendations are expected to be tabled by the end of this year.

(Photo courtesy of Reuters)

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