Don’t think “stop”, think “what’s in it for us?”
By Bruce A Stewart, Beacon News Columnist
British Columbia has a problem. It sits on the Pacific coast.
This means that products being shipped to the Pacific go out of the rest of Canada via BC.
Normally, this would be thought of as a good thing. But mix the oil sands into the shipment profile, and watch crazy talk emerge.
First, let’s be clear. There is already a set of pipelines to the shore, and a set of railway lines to tidewater.
No one needs to do anything to send tanker trains westward. Those are already approved. So, too, to fill existing pipelines.
There’s a capacity problem, and a product mix problem, with what exists, but things can move if they have to.
Just as they have been for decades (although apparently Vancouver’s Mayor Gregor Robertson hadn’t ever noticed all the oil tankers in Burrard Inlet before the past few days going to and from the terminals in Burnaby).
Still, since there’s a desire to build new transport capacity, the question on the table ought to be “what’s in it for us?”
This is a real opportunity to build out some other needed provincial infrastructure.
For instance, the Northern Gateway pipeline may need to be a heated pipe (much like the one from the North Slope in Alaska). So could some energy-use offsets be bundled in?
Maybe run the pipeline close to the existing rail line across the centre of BC, and electrify the line — maybe double track it — at the same time and as part of the same project?
Maybe run the pipeline to Prince Rupert instead of Kitimat when you do that? There’s fewer constricted passages and islands to navigate around that way, overcoming some of the First Nations’ worries.
Not to mention that the Port of Vancouver is full, whereas Prince Rupert has room to expand — and is closer to Asian markets.
Less time sailing with a hold full of oil means less chance for a spill. Good all around.
These are just some first thoughts. The people of BC could no doubt come up with better ones.
But it’s the kind of discussion to have, and soon. Especially since the environmental review process is changing: there’ll be less time start-to-finish to think up trading points to reach agreements on projects.
BC should be thinking about how to use this opportunity, as opposed to taking the “build nothing anywhere near us” mentality. It already has the necessary expertise in working out these issues inside its Ministry of Forests. Borrow their Cognitive Edge-trained people and start doing pipeline consultations.
Understand: a chunk of the oil sands are now owned by a Chinese company. Other chunks by American-controlled firms. Both countries are hungry for the product.
The oil sands will be developed and the product shipped so that those that are providing the capital get their payback and their oil.
Might as well make it work better and leave a positive legacy for the province.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blogs on management (Getting Value from IT) and social affairs (Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right) and for his daily stream of commentary on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at email@example.com.