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Enbridge outlook for Northern Gateway unchanged following Supreme Court ruling

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CALGARY - The Supreme Court of Canada's recent ruling on aboriginal title has not swayed Enbridge Inc.'s outlook for its controversial Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast, CEO Al Monaco said Wednesday.

"I think, in many, ways the decision does provide some clarity on the law that was already there. It puts into practice what the law was," Monaco told a TD energy conference in Calgary.

"So I think that's positive."

The high court decision last month granted aboriginal title — for the first time in Canadian history — to the Tsilhqot'in Nation in the B.C. Interior. The ruling was celebrated by critics of Northern Gateway, which would ship 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day from the Edmonton area to Kitimat, B.C.

There, the crude would be loaded on huge tankers and shipped to energy-hungry countries on the other side of the Pacific.

Enbridge (TSX:ENB) says it has reached agreements with 26 First Nations along the pipeline's proposed route, which would go through large tracts of First Nations territory that have not been ceded to the Crown.

Monaco said the Supreme Court's decision reinforces the approach Enbridge had been taking all along.

"We've always come to agreement through dialogue and through building economic partnerships with First Nations," he said, noting the company has been in discussions with First Nations within an 80-kilometre radius of the pipeline route.

"We've always taken aboriginal title into consideration as we work through these projects."

Ottawa gave the project the conditional green light last month, but Enbridge has said it's in no rush to begin construction.

Monaco said Enbridge will take 12 to 15 months to pore over the 209 conditions that were tied to the project's approval, more than half of which must be met before construction can even begin.

One of the biggest concerns raised about Northern Gateway has been the spectre of bitumen-filled tankers traversing rough coastal waters. At least three proposals are in the works to refine Alberta bitumen before it is loaded on those ships, making a potential spill significantly less damaging.

Monaco said Enbridge is a "little bit agnostic" on those proposals, as a pipeline would still be needed to ship the product to the coast.

And he said he has his doubts as to whether oil producers would buy into such a plan.

"If you're a producer, the last thing you want to do is hamper your bargaining position by only heading to one refinery. From that perspective, it's a bit tougher in my view."

Follow @LaurenKrugel on Twitter

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