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Moot Point: The Pipeline

Big Risks and No Rewards

Natasha Edgar (3L)

BC and Alberta have reached a deal on the as-yet unapproved Northern Gateway pipeline. That’s not a good thing. No matter how safe a pipeline purports to be, they are not foolproof. The proposed line stretches almost 1200km from Bruderheim, AB to Kitimat, BC. In fact, there will be two lines – the east-west line will carry diluted bitumen (dil-bit), and the west-east line will carry condensate – critical for thinning the bitumen to the point where it’s capable of being pumped through the pipeline. Enbridge proposes to send 525,000 barrels of dil-bit to Kitimat every day.

There are two major problems with this pipeline proposal. First, Canada, and especially BC, is taking a huge environmental risk by pumping over half a million barrels of oil to our coast every day. Even if, as Enbridge claimed during the Joint Review Panel hearings, they are pumping 99% without a spill – in a year 1% is still 1.9 million barrels of oil spilled (in comparison BP’s Deepwater Horizon spilled almost 5 million barrels). We also face problems getting the dil-bit safely out of our waters via tankers. Second, we are sending a raw, unprocessed resource out of the country to be refined without real economic benefits. We are not refining the bitumen here, we are letting someone else do it, only to have it sent back to this country for purchase as the final product. It will likely only create a few thousand temporary construction jobs and maybe a couple hundred permanent jobs.

But my real concern is for environmental safety. The pipeline crosses remote BC terrain where the ability to respond quickly to emergencies is neither assured nor likely. The pipeline proposes to end in Kitimat. Yes – Kitimat has an ocean port – but the channel into Kitimat is notoriously long, narrow, and dangerous for ships. The Joint Review panel heard countless hours of testimony from people who live in the area about heavy fog, high winds, and raging storms. Enbridge proposes to allow tankers to enter into this channel carrying condensate in, and dil-bit out. What happens if a ship crashes? Aside from the obvious destruction and devastation to the area – an area of BC with many First Nations communities who rely on traditional fishing, hunting, and gathering, how does Enbridge propose to clean up the ocean floor of a substance which is heavier than oil? The clean up of the Kalamazoo River, an Enbridge spill, was the costliest oil pipeline spill in US history (over $800 million) largely because of the composition of dil-bit.

There’s also the risk of Enbridge itself. In June of this year Enbridge disclosed that it was not in compliance with National Energy Board Regulations at 117 of its 125 pump stations: 83 stations had no emergency shut-down buttons, 117 had no back-up power units – a rule on NEB books since 1999. Nor does Enbridge have a good record with its pipelines. In 2012 there were two spills, one in 2011, and the disastrous 2010 Kalamazoo River spill.

I don’t care how many fancy ads or pictures of whales and green trees Enbridge runs, the facts are clear that this pipeline is not safe and our environment is not worth the risk, or the reward.


The Alberta-BC Pipeline Agreement: Benefits for all!

By: Pipeline Paramour

Pipelines are so hot right now! I notice Northern Gateway, KeystoneXL, or Trans Mountain pop up on Google news daily. I could be noticing all of these articles because in Alberta we have such an interest in the approval of these pipelines. Or maybe it is because pipelines like Energy East are being seen in a different light after recent rail transportation tragedies. Whatever the reasons may be, if you keep your eyes open pipelines are all over the news. Most recently, in a somewhat surprising announcement considering the historic vitriol between our premiers, Alison Redford and Christy Clark reached an agreement regarding moving energy resources via pipeline.

A statement has been released indicating that Alberta accepts BC’s five conditions for pipeline approval. These conditions include completion of the environmental review process, an oil spill response system to mitigate environmental risks, Aboriginal involvement to ensure the population benefits from the oil pipelines, and economic benefits to BC. In return, BC has agreed to sign the Alberta Energy strategy and to keep Alberta royalties off the negotiation table.

While the framework agreement purports not to support any single pipeline deal, some pipeline projects currently on the table between Alberta and BC include Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, various gas transmissions with TransCanada Pipelines, and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project. The agreement between the provinces is designed to set out the terms through which any project will be negotiated. As a born and raised Albertan cattle and grain farmer, you might be able to guess how I feel about this deal. While of course there are environmental concerns with any method of transportation, this agreement to move forward could prove to be a great choice for both Alberta and BC.

The obvious arguments for pipeline approval are the vast economic benefits that oil transportation will have for both provinces. Not only does oil bring money, but it also creates jobs through construction, monitoring, and maintenance of the pipeline and facilities. Northern Gateway alone is estimated to bring $1.2 billion in tax revenue to BC, add $270 billion to Canada’s GDP and provide $4.3 billion in labour related income over the next 30 years. Another argument is that the oil sands are going to be developed either way. It may not be ideal, but halting pipeline production is not going to halt activity around Fort Mac. Also, pipelines provide a safer alternative to transport via rail or truck. A somewhat controversial study has recently come out of the Fraser Institute citing fewer fatalities and greater safety overall when transporting oil through pipeline rather than rail.

A pipeline agreement between Alberta and BC is great news. Being neighbors isn’t always easy, but this agreement is hopefully an indicator of an improved relationship going forward.

Note: The photo is one I took on my phone close to the Alberta-BC border on the highway 93 during the summer.