Northern Gateway pipeline big social concern in BC
By Bruce A Stewart
As opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline solidifies in BC, and in the wake of the Alberta Energy Resources Board undertaking a pipeline review, Enbridge yesterday announced $500 million in extra engineering measures to make the Northern Gateway even safer.
First, the good news.
The thicker pipe segments crossing rivers, the extra valves to close leaks remotely at the first sign of a pressure change, and other engineering approaches Enbridge has put on the table are good ideas and worth the extra 10 per cent on the projected cost of building the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Indeed, retrofitting these sort of capabilities into their existing pipelines would go a long way to defusing the current review underway in Alberta — and in responding to the US National Transportation Safety Board findings for Enbridge’s 2010 spill in Michigan.
Time goes on, we get smarter and learn what works better, one size doesn’t fit all, and all that.
Second, the bad news. If Enbridge thinks this makes a bit of difference to the opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline in BC, think again.
The opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline has nothing to do with thinking the project could have stood to be engineered for more safety — although now that this is on the table, you can bet that the baseline for a safe pipeline has just shifted.
Engineering-centred firms never seem to get this. (Even BC Hydro has problems like this from time to time, and they’re right there in the province and theoretically attuned to the nuances of its communities.)
You don’t solve social and political problems with an engineering solution.
That, by the way, was what Enbridge’s move a week ago was, too. Hiring Hill & Knowlton — a well known government advocacy and public relations firm — to change the social and political temperature in BC was another “engineering solution” (thinking the problem was that the right people didn’t have the “facts”).
Socio-political issues aren’t about facts. They’re about values.
In British Columbia, you’ve got people who remember the Queen of the North going down very near Kitimat on the inner passage who know that that’s the same route tankers from the end of the Northern Gateway will be traversing day after day. They’re worried about an accident. (A different terminus might have peeled some of these over to supporting the project — the ones that want no oil moving at sea, period, can’t be won.)
You’ve got lots of people in dying rural communities looking for jobs of any sort, and not seeing this project bringing anything to them. (Staffed monitoring stations in place of remotely-controlled valves might have gone a long way to swinging these people around.)
You’ve got the First Nations communities (still treaty-less, remember): burying the pipes might have mollified some of them (pipelines interrupt the movement of game, dividing ecosystems). Otherwise, they’re just as job hungry as anyone else. “What’s in it for us?” is a big part of local opposition.
The BC NDP, even though they’re riding high, are going to oppose the project anyway: otherwise, they risk losing votes to the BC Greens in the South Coast and Island ridings they want to win. The BC Liberals, on the other hand, are trying to hold onto power: they need a win to be able to come out in support. (The same holds for the BC Conservatives, who are running second in the northern ridings the project passes through.)
Then, think about Alison Redford’s national energy campaign: other premiers are lining up for a west-east solution and refining in Canada. A refinery at the terminus serving BC and the US northwest coast (BC gets its refined products from California at the moment) might turn the thing around.
The engineering changes are good, but nowhere near enough, if Northern Gateway pipeline is to happen.