Integrity First designed to promote pipeline industry best in class technology, education
By Markham Hislop
After being on the ropes for several years, the Canadian pipeline industry is fighting back with a big new advertising campaign and a (somewhat) new program to prevent spills.
Why did it take so long? And will it make any difference in British Columbia in the fight over Northern Gateway or Trans Mountain Express?
Pipeline operators have been getting the stuffing kicked out of them for a while now. Hollywood celebrities going to jail over Keystone XL protests in Washington, American-funded environmental groups and First Nations packing federal review hearings for the Northern Gateway project, and all those spills (click here and here). At least it seems like a lot of spills because every one makes the evening news. Oil-soaked birds make good TV visuals, after all.
But as Beacon News pointed out last November, pipelines are still the cheapest and safest way to transport oil. The problem from the energy industry point of view is that no one believes that argument, particularly in BC, where the dominant meme is that pipelines are inherently leaky and they carry nasty, evil oil sands bitumen from the anything-goes-for-a-buck Wild West (Alberta) that is only slightly less corrosive than battery acid.
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As of Thursday, the pipeline industry is going on the offensive. The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association held a press conference to announce that it had taken out full page ads in some Canadian newspapers to tell its story.
“Recent pipeline incidents have raised concerns about pipeline integrity. Canadian pipeline operators have a strong track record for pipeline safety borne out of continuous improvements and deployment of technology. Recent events have demonstrated, though, that we need to do more to reduce the frequency and impact of pipeline events,” CEPA CEO Brenda Kenny wrote in the ad.
The message from the pipeline industry couldn’t be clearer: We heard your concerns and we’re planning to do much better. And by better, Kenny means an industry-led program called Integrity First, which has been around for several years already.
Kenny say the initiative is based on “sharing best practices and applying advanced technology throughout the industry” and focuses on four key areas:
- Prevention – programs and processes related to pipeline integrity
- Emergency Response – response systems our members have in place for incidents
- Reclamation – post-incident activities
- Education – CEPA will supply additional information about pipelines in Canada
The industry’s opponents were quick to dismiss Integrity First.
“Generally after a rash of oil spills or industry failures we see this type of announcement. Unfortunately these fairly hollow announcements don’t keep our communities or our environment any safer,” said Mike Hudema of Greenpeace.
Which is not surprising. Pipelines are only part of the play for environmental groups. They oppose the oil sands because of its high greenhouse gas emissions, the infrastructure that supports it, and tankers that would transport oil sands bitumen to Asia. Magically fix the issues with any of these components and there’s still plenty for the Greenpeaces of the world to not like.
CEPA gets that. It will never convince the eco warriors.
But as I noted in a recent column, an Angus Reid poll says 51 per cent of British Columbians are “on the fence” about the project. That’s a big pool of undecided voters – and the obvious target of the CEPA advertising campaign.
Speaking of voters, British Columbians head to the polls next spring and Premier Christy Clark has already lined up Northern Gateway as her primary wedge issue by laying out five tough conditions for approving new pipeline development. With the BC NDP solidly anti-pipeline, Clark can levy a tax or linear assessment on the pipelines and create a billion dollar slush fund with which to buy votes. Fighting with Alberta and Ottawa over “fiscal and economic benefits” for BC, as she’s been doing the past few weeks, should generate a few votes, too.
Bottom line, the gateway to Asian energy markets is still open a crack. But a prerequisite to throwing the door wide open and gaining the social licence the energy industry needs to expand in BC is convincing voters crude oil can be safely transported across pristine wilderness. Without that it’s game over.
CEPA took a cautious first step yesterday with Integrity First. Now we’ll see if its window dressing, as Greenpeace claims, or a genuine effort to improve pipeline safety.
Christy Clark and the oil sands producers who need pipelines through BC will be watching anxiously.