This article examines various reactions to the announcement that the National Energy Board (NEB) has given a conditional green light to the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal. It goes on to explain some of the objections and actions that likely will occur if the federal Conservative government approves this project.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental science, politics, world issues

Key Questions to Explore:

  1. What is the National Energy Board?
  2. Is it truly independent from government interference?
  3. Who is opposed to this proposal?
  4. What are their objections?
  5. Is the federal Conservative government really neutral on this project as they claim to be?

New Terminology:

National Energy Board

Materials Needed:

Student access to the internet for group research

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Much attention has been paid to the Keystone XL pipeline proposal currently awaiting a decision by President Obama. The federal Conservative government has been quite vocal about its support for this pipeline and it will be seen as quite a political loss for them if the United States does not approve the proposal. Recently the U.S. State Department released a report that stated the Keystone XL pipeline proposal, if approved, would not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. Those in favour of the proposal hailed this as an endorsement and urged swift approval by President Obama. (See “In Alberta, fresh optimism for Keystone after pivotal U.S. approval review”). Some of the highlights of the review can be found in the article entitled “Keystone pipeline: Highlights of environmental review”. While the review is a key step in the decision-making process, it is by no means definitive and many considerations will take place before a final decision is made.

This being the case, the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal has received much greater attention of late, especially in Canada, as it would provide alternative increased access to foreign markets for Alberta tar sands crude and reduce the concern about the amount of time being taken to finalize the Keystone XL proposal. The Northern Gateway proposal is also seen as a way of putting increased pressure on President Obama to speed up his decision. Recently, the National Energy Board gave qualified approval to this proposal, which now means the final decision rests with the Conservative federal government. There is strong opposition to this proposal but the government has previously stated its support for the project. Now, however, the government is claiming that it is neutral on this issue and will make its decision solely on unbiased scientific research. There is much scepticism that this will be the case, with many feeling that the federal government had its mind made up long ago and is simply looking for a way to seem responsive to concerns.

This lesson will have the students explain why the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal has received increased interest. The lesson will also require the students to identify certain players in the debate and clarify and explain their stated positions. It will then require them to research the position which the Harper Conservative government has taken since the introduction of this proposal and, finally, after a class discussion, to complete a writing assignment in which they state whether they believe the federal government, as it claims, is neutral on the issue and will make a decision solely on a fact-based and scientific review.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Ask the students if they are in favour of pipelines being built or enlarged to move Alberta oil sands crude to foreign markets.
  • Once this brief discussion has been held, ask them to identify and explain what the National Energy Board is.(if they do not know have them go the website)
  • Having done this, have them explain what is involved in the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal (Northern Gateway)
  • With these two identifications in mind, ask the students what recent decision the NEB made relative to the Northern Gateway proposal.
  • Having established the recent ruling, indicate to the students that there is much opposition to this proposal and great concern over the qualified approval.
  • Hand out the article and allow the students time to read it.
  • At this point put the students into groups of five or six and give them the following task:
      • Who is opposed to this proposal?
      • What are their objections?
  • Give them time to research the questions and take up their answers.
  • With this completed, ask them to research the position the Harper Conservative government has taken on this proposal since its inception and ask the groups to individually discuss whether or not the Harper government is being honest when it says that it is neutral on the issue and will make a decision solely on the recommendations of the fact-based and scientific review.

Consolidation of Learning:

Have the groups report their decision to the class as a whole and hold a plenary discussion during which the students discuss whether or not they believe the stated position of the Harper government.

Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • The students will be able to identify the National Energy Board and explain its role.
  • The students will demonstrate an understanding of the importance of the Northern Gateway proposal discussion and decision.
  • The students will demonstrate a knowledge of the issues and concerns associated with this proposal.
  • The students will be able to offer an informed opinion as to whether they believe that the Conservative federal government is taking a neutral position and basing its decision solely on fact-based, scientific research.

Confirming Activity:

For homework the students will be asked to complete a two page writing assignment addressing the following statement:

“I believe that the federal Conservative government has (has not) already decided that they will approve the Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal and that they are (are not) basing their decision on impartial scientific evidence.”