Rick Smith
The Hill Times
TORONTO—Enbridge has hit a unexpected wall of political opposition with its proposal to build a pipeline from the tar sands to Kitimat, B.C. and ship tar sands oil to Asia via supertankers. Enbridge will be seeking approval for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline from a joint review panel this year, but before anyone thinks this project is a foregone conclusion, let’s explore the issues.
No. 1: Enbridge’s safety record. The promise of pipeline companies everywhere (and nuclear plant owners as well, for that matter) is that everything is safe. Locals along the proposed Gateway route fear oil spills into important salmon-bearing rivers. And, if Enbridge’s record over the past decade of a spill a week carries on, they are correct to be scared.
Enbridge’s aging pipeline network snakes across the country and around the Great Lakes, and as we saw this summer when more than 800,000 gallons of oil spewed from a burst pipeline in Michigan into the Kalamazoo River, the impacts of a spill are devastating. And, that spill was hardly an ‘accident’—Enbridge knew the pipeline had hundreds of defects and regulators had urged the company to fix it before the spill.
Number 2: In who’s interest? The National Post reported that in an April 2010 editorial board meeting, Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel claimed that the tar sands can help save the world’s poor from energy shortages. From this perspective, Enbridge is being a noble global citizen by spurring increased tar sands production with Gateway and other projects.
Yet, last time I checked, it’s the world’s poor who are most at risk from the impacts of climate change. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has said that developed countries are “committing aggression” against African countries by causing global warming. I’d have more respect for a CEO who just told it like it is: we’re in this for our own profit. Let’s not try to dress that up.
Number 3: Would a pipeline be good for people in British Columbia? Now, admittedly I am not from B.C., but then again neither are any of the people on the joint review panel tasked with making the decision on Gateway. But, opinion polls have found that seven out of 10 British Columbians are opposed to the project, as are the Union of B.C. Municipalities and dozens of First Nations. Local fishing businesses have voiced opposition to tankers off the coast, fearing that a spill would destroy their livelihood. B.C. has spoken clearly, and so far Enbridge isn’t listening.
Number 4: The B.C. tanker ban. In late 2010, a motion passed the House calling for a legislated ban on tankers off Canada’s Pacific Northwest coast, and two private members’ bills have been introduced along those same lines. The aim of these is to prevent oil supertankers from navigating the treacherous and pristine waters in the region, protecting the coastal ecosystem and economy from an oil spill. A tanker ban would not, as some may suggest, impact existing shipping elsewhere in the country.
The Northern Gateway proposal isn’t the only tar sands plan Enbridge is putting before the country this year. It is also planning to ask the NEB for permission to reverse a pipeline that currently brings oil from Montreal to refineries in Sarnia, forcing Ontario to become dependent on tar sands oil and possible bringing tar sands oil into Quebec for the first time.
Unlike the Gateway proposal, this one is so far flying under the radar screen, without a real debate in Ontario or Quebec about whether we want Enbridge to make this key decision about our energy future.
Given the degree of opposition Enbridge is facing, even if the NEB rubber stamps the project, the company could find itself fighting First Nations legal challenges for years. Maybe it’s time, instead, for Enbridge to stop getting its way on Parliament Hill. Maybe it’s time for a real review of the pros and cons of an energy project before Ottawa tosses it an approval.
Dr. Rick Smith is executive director of Environmental Defence (www.EnvironmentalDefence.ca). The views expressed here are his own. news@hilltimes.com The Hill Times