Oil sands producers will have to pay BC for green lighting Northern Gateway pipeline
By Markham Hislop
Alberta’s energy industry just lost its fight with BC over the Northern Gateway pipeline. And it has no one to blame but itself.
Premier Christy Clark has been fudging her position for months. She didn’t want to pick a fight with Alberta Premier Alison Redford, but public opinion and the BC NDP kept hemming her in. The NDP position that Northern Gateway bears too many risks without enough benefits has been adopted wholesale by the man on the street. Everywhere I go on the lower mainland citizens say the potential for a catastrophic spill is just too high. The few construction jobs, and even fewer operations positions, on offer from Enbridge have done nothing to persuade them.
“We need to continue to send a clear message to Premier Clark and the Liberals that British Columbians are firmly opposed to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline,” NDP leader, and premier presumptive, Adrian Dix said only a few days.
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Clark appears to have heard the message. Monday morning she released five conditions for possible approval of oil pipelines across BC:
- Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Enbridge, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
- World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments;
- World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines;
- Legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
- British Columbia receives a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.
Conditions one through four are no surprise to anyone. The NEB’s approval is required in any case (though the Stephen Harper government has been publicly signalling for months that it thinks Northern Gateway is of national strategic importance, meaning Cabinet might overrule its energy regulator if it didn’t like the decision). Preventing oil spills on and off-shore has always been a huge issue, which Enbridge acknowledged last week by committing an extra $500 million to improving pipeline safety. And the Calgary-based pipeline operator has been quietly negotiating with First Nations for years, signing up over 40 to equity participation deals thus far (though this number is disputed by critics).
Those were baseline requirements that were never up for discussion, let alone negotiation.
But condition number five is different. It’s never been on the table before. And it’s the one most likely to catch the eye of cynical Albertans, who have been muttering for months that what BC really wants is a bigger share of the oil sands pie.
What did they expect? Better yet, what did Enbridge, Redford and the Alberta oil sands industry expect?
BC’s open palm is a direct consequence of Alberta losing the public relations battle. And losing it badly.
Northern Gateway opponents have been organizing for years. When NEB public hearings began in January in Kitimat, BC they were stacked with vocal critics and attracted a media frenzy that focused on the opposition and not the benefits of the project. Since then it’s been an onslaught of criticism in the media and on social media websites.
I warned in a column several months ago that Alberta and the energy industry just weren’t paying attention, that they had a tin ear when it came to Northern Gateway criticism. Enbridge’s response? A paltry $5 million advertising campaign started just a few short weeks ago that actually made its own headlines (“Enbridge on the defensive…”) and no doubt did more harm than good.
Oh, and it hired national PR firm Hill & Knowlton to quarterback its new communications strategy around the same time. That worked well, didn’t it?
Albertans can snigger about greedy British Columbia all they want, but instead of pointing fingers across the Rockies they should look for the bad guys in downtown Calgary and the Alberta legislatur, who had their asses collectively kicked, and kicked hard, by a rag tag group of environmentalists and the hard charging BC NDP.
The smart guys and gals in power suits lost this battle without really engaging their enemy.
When Alberta oil sands producers write cheques for the inevitable “fund” they’ll have to pay into for the privilege of accessing West Coast export facilities, they would do well to remember who really screwed up on this file.