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Regulator OKs oil pipeline to Pacific Coast

"We are of the view that opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society," The report says. "We find that the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated."

The National Energy Board's panel's conditions, which will be considered by the Harper government over the next six months, cover everything from protecting caribou habitat to research into how the oil would behave in the ocean. The panel said Enbridge must carry liability coverage of $950-million.

Enbridge said in a statement that it will work toward meeting the conditions.

The fear of oil spills is especially acute in the pristine corner of northwest British Columbia, with its snowcapped mountains and deep ocean inlets. Canadians living there still remember the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. British Columbia Environment Minister Mary Polak said the province is not yet in a situation to support the pipeline because its own conditions need to be met.

Environmentalists and First Nations a¿¿ a Canadian synonym for native tribes a¿¿ could delay approval all the way to the Supreme Court, and First Nations still hold title to some of the land the pipeline would cross. That means the government will have to move with extreme sensitivity.

"While we are deeply disappointed with the JRP's recommendation, this does not mean the pipeline is approved or will even be built," said Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson, who represented a number of environmental groups.

Critics also dislike the whole concept of tapping the oil sands, saying it requires huge amounts of energy and water, increases greenhouse gas emissions and threatens rivers and forests. Some projects are massive open-pit mines, and the process of separating oil from sand can generate lake-sized pools of toxic sludge.

Meanwhile, China's growing economy is hungry for Canadian oil. Chinese state-owned companies have invested billions in Canadian energy in the past few years.

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