Pipelines a national infrastructure issue
By Bruce A Stewart
British Columbia is locking itself into a “no” on any pipelines carrying Canadian oil to tankers plying the Pacific.
Slowly but surely, positions are hardening. With Premier Christy Clark calling for money to make up for the potential environmental impacts, it won’t take long before the position actually becomes “no amount of money can make up for a spill”.
Well, that’s true. No amount of money makes up for ecological destruction. (No doubt there’s a few cynics around who recognize that if Clark succeeded in getting a share of royalties from Alberta — a bad idea in the first place — the money would just go into general revenues and be used for other things anyway.)
But what’s at stake here isn’t just the protection of the shoreline of British Columbia (or, given Enbridge’s history, worries about spills in BC’s rivers and elsewhere along the route to tidewater).
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What’s at stake at the end of the day is Canadian national interest.
As long as this country plans to export oil, it needs ways to move the product from where it is to the buyers.
As has been noted many times before, permission really isn’t needed — if the way to move the oil is to load it in tank cars and send it along the railway to the coast.
No environmental reviews. No First Nations treaty negotiation issues. No BC Government in the mix. Run it down the CN line to Prince Rupert and be done with it.
(Prince Rupert, incidentally, is where any pipeline should terminate. Not Kitimat, with its narrow passages. Direct access to the open Pacific is available at Prince Rupert — and terminal facilities could be built apart from the other types of port facility already there to provide for separate routing of tankers in and out. No intermixing of harbour traffic as is done today in the Port of Vancouver. Prince Rupert’s also closer to Asia than Kitimat — and safer, thanks to open ocean water operations the whole way down, to get oil to Californian refineries as well.)
This has become a Federal Government issue. Provinces should not hold each other up to ransom.
We expected Harper to lead on trying to get Keystone XL approved in discussions with the United States. Staying out of establishing pan-Canadian routings is not an option.
The real problem with the Northern Gateway, when you get down to it, is the company. Enbridge isn’t trusted. (They should save their money: Hill and Knowlton can’t fix that.)
We build pipelines because the probability of a spill occurring is actually less with a pipeline than with tank cars. Or road transport using tanker trucks. They’re not just cheaper in the long run, they’re safer.
Right now we leave routing questions up to companies. One of the reasons Keystone XL didn’t get approved this year was a routing question. Eventually the company amended its application, but by then it had become an election issue at both the state and federal level.
Northern Gateway suffers the same issues. The routing was chosen by the company that wants to operate it. The national interest gets hung up on the company’s record of operations and its routing choices.
Far better to say a pipeline is being built, following a route of Canada’ choosing, and we’re taking bids to build and operate it.