Disrupting Northern Gateway session not way to get concerns considered
By Bruce A Stewart
Tuesday saw hearings into the Northern Gateway pipeline in Vancouver.
Tuesday also saw protesters, having gotten all fired up with a mass rally in Victory Square Monday night, invade the meeting. Forcible ejection followed.
Protest spokespersons complained that the hearings weren’t talking about the climate change implications of the development of the oil sands in Alberta “as they should be”.
Could we keep these issues properly separated, please?
Alberta’s oil sands are already in development. Not only that, but the question isn’t whether stopping Northern Gateway stops the oil sands in their tracks anyway.
Product will go south, using existing delivery infrastructure, if it doesn’t go west. Or it will go west using existing rail infrastructure as well as south.
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Northern Gateway isn’t about whether the oil sands are developed. It’s about whether a safer means of transport to market than road or rail will be laid down to the west coast.
You can argue about the destination (I certainly have), you can argue about the details of the proposed route, and you can argue about the safety design of the pipeline proposal. You can argue about the likelihood of a spill, the possible consequences, and the clean-up mechanisms proposed.
You can even argue about shipping issues once the coast is reached. All of these are legitimate concerns for presentation at these hearings.
But Northern Gateway isn’t a spigot drilled directly into the oil sands itself. It’s a proposal to branch off the existing network of pipelines in Alberta.
It’s easy to try and shut down a meeting — or to march in the streets. It’s easy to shout and grab a headline or two.
It’s not so easy to do the homework involved in being a formal intervenor, preparing a case, presenting it concisely, and allowing the hearing to consider your facts and arguments as a part of the deliberations being undertaken.
But that’s what would make a difference.
The basic assumption here is that if Northern Gateway isn’t built, oil sands product will never move to the Pacific coast.
Wrong, wrong, and wrong.
Existing pipelines can be repurposed (existing pipelines elsewhere in Canada’s pipeline network are already being repurposed to handle diluted bitumen rather than either natural gas or light crude, or are proposed to do so). In both Canada and the United States, unit tank trains ride the rails daily. Refiners are taking delivery by road (including in British Columbia), where oil products of various types are intermixed with other traffic on the highways.
Not to mention that other proposals for pipelines are coming, and will be coming, just as they will be to fan out in other directions (where Vancouverites won’t be a part of the decision process).
The place to intervene on whether more of the oil sands should be developed is at the applications to do exactly that. That’s the place to discuss the impact on watersheds, the emissions questions, the wisdom of using up natural gas supplies to heat the sands, and the like.
Of course, for that, you might have to go to a hearing in scenic Fort McMurray, instead of being able to party in downtown Vancouver. (And you’ll still have to do your homework, make a submission, etc. there, too, if you want to make a difference.)
Given that, at Victory Square Monday night, the environmental protesters linked up with Idle No More, there are a whole slew of issues that could have been put on the table that weren’t, thanks to choosing the path of disrupting the meeting rather than working within the process.
Wouldn’t hiring First Nations teams to be on-site inspectors, safety and clean up crews actually bring a tiny bit of the economic wealth to the various Nations’ bands and lands the pipeline will pass through? Couldn’t the need — in the BC back-country — to have these resources on the ground ready for need have been a part of presenting on safety issues (perhaps pointing to the US National Transportation Safety Board’s findings on Enbridge’s spill in Midland, Michigan in 2010)?
Wouldn’t the concern for the Great Bear Rainforest, and the Inland Passage waterways, where the BC Ferries’ ship Queen of the North sank just off the entrance to the fjord headed by the proposed terminal at Kitimat, be better served by presenting an analysis of waterway risks and passage difficulties by tanker ship size at Kitimat vs a proposed alternative (say, Prince Rupert) rather than just adopting a “hell, no, it won’t go!” attitude? (Especially considering that rail-delivered oil products reach the coast at Prince Rupert, the Port of Vancouver, or potentially at Squamish, and nowhere else?)
Wouldn’t consideration of route changes to minimize the disruption in relatively-virgin lands compared to reusing existing corridors be worth the effort to make a real presentation?
British Columbians concerned about their province’s back-country environment, the economic health of its north coast and interior, the potential to improve economic prospects with the First Nations of BC, and safety on its salt water passages, have a responsibility to use the hearing process effectively to achieve those ends.
If all that was required to kill the Northern Gateway proposal was to take a sampling of public opinion, then we wouldn’t need hearings.
Instead, these clowns showed the world that British Columbians with concerns aren’t serious people. They just want their Andy Warhol “fifteen minutes of fame” and the chance to shout.
The similarity to Stanley Cup hockey rioters is not lost on the rest of us, whether we’re for or against this pipeline proposal.