Northern Gateway Pipeline: What the Hell Is Going On with the Northern Gateway Pipeline?
The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline sprang a leak before it was even built. As the review process enters its final phase, Premier Christy Clark has demanded that British Columbia receive its fair share of the pipeline’s profits or the province will not sign-off on the project. A classic bait-and-switch. That is, if someone used an enormous swath of pristine natural terrain as bait to make money. Clark’s demands have kick-started what has become an intense national debate about environmental protection, the Canadian economy, and “fair compensation” for inter-provincial resource projects.
The much-maligned pipeline would transport crude oil from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta to the BC coast where the gunk would be shipped to Asia by gunk tankers. The pipeline, with the expansions by Kinder Morgan and Keystone XL, is projected to earn Alberta half a trillion dollars in tax revenues over the next 25 years. British Columbia, however, is set to make only $9 billion, or about $8.18/year per BC resident. Which is about the same as 54 Timbits per person. Which is awesome, so I don’t really see what the problem is.
Originally proposed in the mid-2000s, the pipeline didn’t receive much attention until public hearings began last Fall where thousands requested to speak, largely in opposition to the pipeline. In response to the overwhelming opposition to the project Joe Oliver, the Natural Resource Minister, claimed that the project’s opponents were “radicals.” Because you’d have to believe some kind of fringe ideology to be against a black flammable liquid being unsafely transported through your community.
After Minister Oliver had a nap and a diaper change, he put into motion amendments to expedite the review process for future resource projects because, according to sources I just made up, he was heard muttering, “Fuck your fish, hippies.” Oliver also proposed investigating the charity status of environmental organizations who, he claimed, were receiving foreign-funding to undermine the Canadian economy. This was met with a surprising amount of earnest concern, setting in motion the process to audit these charities, rather than, say, laughing off Oliver’s assertion as the insane Red Scare conspiracy theory that it is. What’s more troubling is that Oliver is just echoing the same talking point made by Ethical Oil, a pro-oilsands lobby group who notoriously refuse to disclose their own funding.
After the federal government waded through the muck only to be drowned out by more protests this quagmire spilled over into provincial politics. And why not, it’s an unprecedented resource project where a pipe carrying disgusting black filth is being built over areas that are susceptible to mudslides and earthquakes. Not to mention tankers navigating some of the most treacherous waters along BC’s coastline. That is unless Enbridge somehow removes the 1,000 of square kilometers of islands like they did in their promotional video. Even in an artist’s rendition of Enbridge’s impact on BC they can’t help but destroy the environment.
[Excuse the chill reggae soundtrack]
Things didn’t get much better for Enbridge when, last month, 1,200 barrels of oil from an Enbridge pipeline spilled into a field in Wisconsin. This, only two years after the Enbridge Kalamazoo River spill where nearly a million gallons of crude oil flushed into the river resulting in damage to over 50km of wetlands and waterways. Of course, these are not isolated, it’s been estimated that since 1999 there have been anywhere between 600 and 800 spills from Enbridge pipelines. That means an oil spill from an Enbridge pipelines happens more frequently than Toonie Tuesday at KFC. Which happens weekly.
However, Enbridge has said that they’ve learned their lesson and are doing all they can to prevent a spill on the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Which is very comforting that it only took them a decade and hundreds of oil spills to figure it out. That said, it’s not their job to stop the oil from flowing, so I can understand it being a very confusing concept for them.
It’s surprising to see Premier Clark taking such a hardline stance on the pipeline considering, since becoming Premier, she has surrounded herself with industry stalwarts. Such as her chief advisor during the transition, Gwyn Morgan, the former CEO of one of North America’s largest natural gas producers who recently penned an op-ed in BC’s largest paper touting the benefits of the pipeline, or her Chief-of-Staff Ken Boessenkool, a former lobbyist for Enbridge and regular advisor to Prime MInister Stephen Harper. So you can understand the skepticism, when Clark’s employing people who have been paid to promote the oil industry, it’s hard to believe that she’s really fighting against the pipeline.
But she’s not “fighting for British Columbia,” or whatever she claimed. Judging by her list of demands, she’s only ensuring that BC receives more money and a guarantee that taxpayers won’t have to scrub the death stains off of seagulls in the case of a spill. Which turned out to be a pretty smart political play considering a recent poll found that while the large majority of British Columbians are against the pipeline about half of them could be “swayed by environmental and economic guarantees”.
But here’s the problem, it’s not an economic issue, it's an environmental one. And there’s no such thing as an environmental guarantee. The only guarantee anyone can make an economic one, such as, if Enbridge destroys the environment taxpayers won’t beheld economically accountable. Great deal. Flawless. Premier Clark was obviously the valedictorian of her graduating class at her negotiation school. Negotiation High! Go Negotiators!
Sure, Premier Clark's call to have Enbridge pay for the clean up makes total sense, especially since third-party insurance agencies are already saying that taxpayers need more protection in the case of a spill. But more importantly, OF COURSE THEY FUCKING SHOULD PAY FOR THE CLEAN UP. I’m not going to pretend to be an oil law expert guy [actual job title], but how is that stipulation not already in place? When did British Columbians agree to be the caregiver of some bratty child crying to have his spilled juice cleaned up? That idiot should be using a sippy cup! Or not drinking grape juice on the expensive rug. [Note that in this analogy, the child makes billions and billions of dollars to drink juice on the floor of a home he does not own. Perfect analogy. Boom!]
More importantly, if Clark is making arrangements for who should clean up a spill, that probably means she’s already accepted that there will be a spill, thereby making her claims to be fighting for British Columbia all the more dubious.
The cynic in me says none of this even matters, the pipeline is a foregone conclusion. If the government wants it, it gets built. If Clark’s demands are met, the pipeline will continue and she can campaign next May on "fighting for BC" and bringing in jobs. (Though, if PetroChina wins the contract to build the pipeline, BC/Canada loses thousands of temp jobs leaving only about 10 Tim Horton’s-worth of permanent employment.) If her demands are not met, she'll still be able to say she fought for BC when she knew there was actually nothing she could do.
But let’s not be cynical. Even the Conservative Government has been forced to tread lightly on this polarizing topic and top ranking Conservative ministers are scolding Enbridge for their lack of public consultation. Perhaps this on-going debate will just stall the entire project and force Enbridge to clean up its act or consider an alternative routing. That alone is a strange victory when you consider the unparalleled assault on those that have opposed the project.
Environmental advocates and shadowy foreign-funders don’t want to cripple the Canadian economy, and opposing this project or demanding tighter regulations and a thorough review process certainly won’t do that. We really don’t need to steamroll problematic resource projects that could very likely result in environmental destruction for the sake of the economy, no matter how much taxpayers are compensated. The economy fluctuates, it can be fixed if damaged.. The environment cannot. That’s not really a debate at all.