Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal could see Alberta crude reach eastern Canadian refineries next year, and while critics of federal energy policy are pleased at the prospect of job creation in the East, they expect regional divisions over energy projects to persist without a national energy strategy.
 
The National Energy Board approved Enbridge’s proposal to reverse the flow of part of its Line 9 pipeline from Sarnia, Ont., to refineries outside of Hamilton in July, and the company plans to apply to reverse the remainder of the line to Montreal before the end of the year. The first leg of the project, Line 9A, is expected to be in service next year.
Line 9’s regulatory progress has been welcome news to Enbridge and the federal government, as the company’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to port facilities in Kitimat, B.C., has been bogged down by public opposition within British Columbia.
Last week, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (Eglinton-Lawrence, Ont.) told CBC Radio that the federal government hopes to see all pipeline projects approved.
“These projects are not mutually exclusive. We want to seem them all go ahead, if they pass, from a regulatory point of view,” Mr. Oliver told CBC’s The House. “[P]rovided they’re safe for Canadians and safe for the environment, we see the need for a lot of infrastructure because there are a lot of resources that we have to transport to tidewater, so that we can export them to the markets where they want it.”
Meanwhile, the NDP has welcomed the prospect of a West to East pipeline flow, provided that the project is based on strong environmental standards and public consultation.
“We’ve lost tens of thousands of value-added jobs in the refining sector over the last few years,” NDP energy critic Peter Julian (Burnaby–New Westminster, B.C.) told The Hill Times last week. “There are a number of refineries in Eastern Canada that are either closed or threatened with closure. Having that supply in Eastern Canada makes good economic sense.”
In July, B.C. Premier Christy Clark withdrew her support for Northern Gateway over environmental concerns. Ms. Clark trails B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix by more than 20 percentage points in public opinion polls and faces an election in May, 2013. Mr. Dix is likely to succeed her and has stated that Northern Gateway will not go ahead under an NDP government. An August poll by Abacus Data showed that 56 per cent of British Columbians opposed the Northern Gateway project.
Premier Clark’s about-face on the project has led to a rift between her province and Alberta. Ms. Clark was the only first minister to decline signing on to Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s proposed national energy strategy at last July’s Council of the Federation meeting in Halifax.
Liberal natural resources critic David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.) said that regional divisions will continue to emerge with each new mega project without a national energy strategy in place.
“I don’t care if it’s Keystone, Northern Gateway, Nexen, or a West-East pipeline. These are flashpoints that will continue to arise, issue by issue. Because we don’t have a serious roadmap and strategy on Canada’s energy future, we’re going to continue to flip flop around like fish on a dock,” said Mr. McGuinty. “This is not going to stop. We’re going to jump from ice flow to ice flow because the Harper government doesn’t want to have an adult conversation about choices.”
The remainder of the Line 9 reversal still faces public opposition. Quebec-based environmental group Equiterre fired off a missive on Oct. 4 calling on communities and the Quebec government to oppose the reversal of Line 9B from Hamilton to Montreal.
Environmental groups have also raised doubts over whether or not the oil carried by Line 9 will actually be refined in Canada. 
Environmental Defence recently released documents obtained through freedom of information legislation in the U.S. showing that Canadian Consul General Pat Binns met Maine Governor Paul LePage and members of the American Pipeline Institute and Portland Pipeline Corporation on Oct. 17, 2011 to discuss refining Alberta oil sands crude in Maine refineries.
Joseph Arvai, applied decision research chair at the University of Calgary’s Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, said that regional divisions over Canada’s energy future would continue to emerge without a national energy strategy.
“There’s not a lot of clarity around what the goals and objectives are around the decisions that we need to make,” Prof. Arvai observed. “It’s easy to say that we want to utilize our resources while at the same time protecting the environment so that we can provide better economic security and better quality of life. None of those things are really operationalized to actually help decision makers.”
Mr. Oliver has stated that resource development could generate $500-billion in investment over the next decade, contributing to the revenue base for social programs, health, and education, but Prof. Arvai said that it’s impossible to make sound policy decisions unless the goals and objectives of the development are clear.

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“Until you can really get a lot of clarity around those almost micro-level questions, it’s very difficult to actually evaluate the pros and cons of any alternatives,” he said, pointing out the sudden pivot towards a West to East pipeline as evidence of unsound decision-making.

“Everyone’s writing now about how Northern Gateway is dead and we’re going to move oil, gas, and heavy oil east. This is a very radical shift in the decision making landscape,” Prof. Arvai observed. “All of the sudden Asia’s off the table and we’re talking about moving it east to some other market.”
Prof. Arvai said that there was a need for governments, industry, and the public to engage on the issue within a clear framework for decision making.
“These conversations are definitely happening, but what’s missing in the conversation is any kind of useful structure for making a decision,” he said. “This isn’t just an indictment of government—you look at Pembina, Suzuki, CanadaWest— groups that have weighed in on the energy strategy. They generate a lot of really great conversation, and some really fantastic wish lists, but no real mechanism for ploughing through the tough decisions. Until we have that, we’re screwed.”
cplecash@hilltimes.com
The Hill Times

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