By Randall Palmer
OTTAWA, March 31 (Reuters) - It is impossible to say whether the Northern Gateway oil pipeline or liquefied natural gas projects will go ahead in the near future, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark said on Monday.
"I don't know the answer to that," Clark said when asked if Northern Gateway, an Enbridge Inc project to take oil from Alberta to British Columbia's Pacific Coast and on to Asian markets, would proceed any time in the near future.
"It's hard for me to predict the outcome."
Canada's regulators recommended on Dec. 19 that the federal government approve the C$7.9 billion ($7.2 billion) project, and Ottawa expects to make its decision by mid-June but it is expected to face legal challenges after that.
The pipeline is fiercely opposed by environmentalists who fear the risk of a spill and the potential for the pipeline to speed the development of Alberta's oil sands. Many of the aboriginal groups, known as First Nations, who live near the proposed route are also fighting to block it.
Clark noted former federal Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, hired by Enbridge to smooth over relations with aboriginal communities, has a good track record.
Separately, she said she hoped some liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects get the corporate go-ahead soon but noted: "These are private-sector decisions and we don't control them. They are looking at their investment all around the world, from British Columbia to Mozambique to Australia to Qatar."
She added: "My job is to do everything we can in terms of the tax structure, readying the work force, making sure we're building relationships with First Nations and communities, so that British Columbia gets to the top of their list of the places (where) they want to invest. So I hope we'll see some final investment decisions by the end of the year, but I can't predict that."
Federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said proponents of the LNG projects, which would carry British Columbian gas to China and other foreign markets, had made it clear that the biggest barrier was the gap in needed skills.
The federal and British Columbia governments signed labor agreements on Monday which they said would help the LNG plans move forward.
($1=$1.11 Canadian) (Additional reporting by Louise Egan; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and David Gregorio)