Enbridge hasn’t earned social license for Northern Gateway
By Markham Hislop
I grew up in a town that was ground zero for a big resource development not dissimilar to the Northern Gateway pipeline.
My family moved to Gillam, the home of Manitoba Hydro’s Kettle Rapids generating station on the mighty Nelson River, in 1971. Kettle Rapids was huge, with 12 gigantic generators and a structure that stretched the width of the river, and a massive forebay the size of a lake.
Hydro planned other dams along the Nelson and throughout my teen years I recall the odd debate about the dangers of flooding rivers, destroying forest and fish habitat, and dislocating northern First Nations. Mr. Wild, my science teacher, was a bit of a greenie and used to bring up the issue in class occasionally. My father’s lone opinion on the matter was, “You can’t drown fish!”
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Not much of a public debate, really, so Manitoba Hydro had its way with the northern part of the province, building another three generating stations, the last of which was completed in 1990.
Fast forward three decades. The provincial crown corporation wanted to build the Conawapa Generating Station, the largest project it had ever undertaken, 90 kilometres downstream from Gillam. But times had changed. First Nations and environmental concerns could no longer be blithely swept under the rug. The Manitoba government needed First Nations buy in.
It needed the social license to build such a huge project in peoples’ back yard. Manitoba Hydro recognized the need to “work together in a new and structured way to cooperatively address issues of mutual interest and concern within the Gillam area,” according to its press release in 2004. The solution? An agreement with the Fox Lake Cree Nation that creates economic benefits for local First Nations and involves them in planning and regulatory issues.
Manitoba Hydro earned the social license to build Conawapa.
Enbridge and the Alberta energy industry have not earned the social license to build the Northern Gateway pipeline. Or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain proposed expansion that is supposed to follow a few years from now.
An April public opinion poll conducted by Forum Research showed 52 per cent of BC residents opposed Northern Gateway, compared to only 37 per cent who supported it.
And the opponents are loud and organized.
Over 100 First Nations have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration to ban on pipelines and tankers throughout the Fraser River watershed and the migration routes of the Fraser River Salmon. Chief Martin Louie of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, a member of the Yinka Dene Alliance whose members claim their lands represent 25 per cent of the Northern Gateway route, villified BC Premier Christy Clark for even considering pipeline approval.
“The Premier’s sales job shows how little she has listened to us. It should be very clear to her by now that this Pipeline will not be built. It is against our own laws for this project to proceed and our Rights and Title can’t be sold,” he said Friday.
All the West coast environmental organizations – Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, ForestEthics and many more – are solidly lined up against Northern Gateway. Popular Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson is against increased oil tanker traffic off BC’s coast, and by extension the pipelines that fill them. Adrian Dix and the BC NDP are thumping Clark in recent polls and lead the political charge against Northern Gateway.
As UBC transportation professor and pipeline expert David Farrell told me during a recent interview, he despairs that so many of his students are anti-development, anti-oil sands, and anti-pipeline.
In the face of such overwhelming opposition, I think it’s safe to say that Northern Gateway does not have the social licence to proceed.
Which begs the question, why doesn’t Enbridge have the necessary social license?
The answer is simple: Because it never took the time or spent the resources to build it. Neither did the Alberta government, which crows regularly about its vaunted support for Northern Gateway and the oil sands.
To be fair to Enbridge, the company claims to have signed up over 50 per cent of aboriginal groups along the route to a 9.5 per cent equity sharing arrangement. But the company refuses to release the names of the organizations, which completely undermines the credibility of the claims, however legitimate they may be.
How about telling the story of the project, giving supporters information they can get behind? Pathetically little, I’m afraid. A $5 million advertising campaign was launched several weeks ago, but it’s clearly too little, too late. The campaign itself became a news item under headlines like, “Enbridge on the defensive…” One imagines the world’s largest pipeline operator didn’t intend to spend that kind of money only to be ridiculed in media and social media.
The attitude of Enbridge and energy industry lobby groups has been that they will provide information if someone, like media, asks but they have no intention to be out beating the drum for Northern Gateway. That seems like an odd attitude for a $6 billion project on which the proponent has already spent hundreds of millions, but the facts speak for themselves.
And the facts are that Northern Gateway doesn’t have social licence because Enbridge and its supporters haven’t earned it. They haven’t done the hard work of communicating the facts of the project, listening, taking objections into account and coming back with solutions and compromises.
They haven’t engaged British Columbians. Without engagement, and eventual buy in, there is no social license. And without social license there is no Northern Gateway.
Enbridge may want to take a chapter from Manitoba Hydro’s book, but they better be fast readers, because time is running out on the company’s opportunity to earn the right to build Northern Gateway.