Environmental groups and First Nations quickly condemned the National Energy Board's recommendation to approve the Northern Gateway oil pipeline project and predicted it will never be built.
Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president Grand Chief Stewart Philip said the battle will likely move into the courtrooms as First Nations mount legal challenges to Enbridge's project – assuming it is approved in the months ahead by the federal government.
"This is about the environmental integrity of the watersheds we all share and we are willing to go to any lengths to defend our watersheds," he said. "We are prepared to go to the wall against this project. We have no choice."
Wilderness Committee policy director Gwen Barlee called it a reckless, foolish, disappointing decision that will run into a wall of opposition in B.C.
"It's going to be tied up in courts for many, many, many years," she said. "Environmental organizations will be standing with First Nations and standing with the hundreds of thousands of other British Columbians who oppose this project and don't want to see it proceed."
Barlee said the recommendation of approval flies in the face of a newly released federal report that flagged an insufficient capability to respond to an oil spill on the coast.
"This is a project that's dangerous to our climate, dangerous to our coast and dangerous to our rivers and our salmon," she said.
"We vow to stand shoulder to shoulder with First Nations, and the thousands of others who oppose this project," said Murray Minchin of Kitimat-based Douglas Channel Watch, which was an intervenor in the hearings. "We are determined to keep the north coast of B.C. bitumen-free."
The twin pipelines, carrying diluted heavy bitumen from northern Alberta to Kitimat and condensate used to dilute the heavy oil in the opposite direction, would carve across hundreds of creeks and rivers and send oil tankers out through the narrow passages of B.C.'s north coast.
Ecojustice staff lawyer Barry Robinson said the NEB ignored a huge volume of evidence indicating Northern Gateway is unsafe, unsustainable and unnecessary.
Others argued Enbridge has not proven itself competent to be trusted with B.C.'s environment, citing its 2010 spill of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
Most environmental campaigners said they were not surprised, citing federal government moves to weaken environmental standards and protection for habitat in the Fisheries Act.
Ninety-six per cent of written comments to the Joint Review Panel, including the submissions of the province, opposed the Northern Gateway pipeline.
ForestEthics campaigner Ben West predicted the ruling will inflame already widespread opposition.
"Really what happened today was more like throwing fuel on a fire," he said. "It's the people that truly grant the permission. In this case the people have clearly rejected the pipeline and that is what will matter in the end."