A federal panel has recommended the controversial Northern Gateway Pipeline project be approved — with conditions.
Calgary-based energy company Enbridge had been seeking approval to build the 1,177-km pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta to the coast of B.C., bound for oil-thirsty Asian and U.S. markets.
Environmentalists and many residents who would live near the pipeline are fiercely opposed to the project.
Several legal challenges from various First Nations communities have also held up the project.
After four years of debates, environmental reviews, consultations with aboriginal populations and a year-long hearing, the National Energy Board ruledthey are convinced the project is vital for the Canadian economy.
The Joint Review Panel of the NEB released its report Thursday, giving the project the green light but with 209 conditions.
"After weighing all the oral and written evidence, the panel found that Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project than without it," the panel said. "
The panel also found that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low."
In a decision spanning nearly 500 pages, the panel also concluded the project's environmental risks can be managed and mitigated through dedicated monitoring and scientific research.
Some of the major conditions Enbridge must follow include a $950-million carry liability, an emergency response plan for oil spills and plans to restore caribou habitats and marine mammal ecosystems.
Enbridge must also develop a dedicated research program on the behaviour and cleanup of oil spills, and a comprehensive training program for pipeline monitoring.
The panel also acknowledged construction of the project could hurt the migration patterns of wildlife, such as caribou and grizzly bears. It also acknowledged that an oil spill would cause "significant" environmental, societal and economic problems, but said a spill would be "unlikely and not permanent."
The costs of the project itself have ballooned from $5.5 billion in 2010 to $7.9 billion on Thursday.
"The panel's report represents a rigorous, open and comprehensive science-based assessment," Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver said in a statement following the announcement.
"Now that we have received the report, we will thoroughly review it, consult with affected aboriginal groups and then make our decision. We also encourage everyone with an interest to take the time and review the report."
The panel heard from more than 1,450 participants in 21 different communities, reviewed more than 175,000 pages of evidence and received 9,000 letters of comment.
The federal government now has 180 days to make a final decision on Northern Gateway. While the Conservatives have supported Enbridge's ambitions in the past, the opposition parties are firmly opposed to the project.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, who says he supports Keystone XL and oilsands development, spoke out against the pipeline during a 2012 stop in Calgary. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair on Wednesday called the project "madness."
-- With files from Vincent McDermott