Enbridge – Government cheerleaders back a losing team

Watching the Grey Cup, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the sideline cheerleaders and the BC and Canadian government’s efforts to wave pom-poms for oil and gas corporations.

Like scantily clad pom-pom girls braving the cold with smiles chiseled into their faces, our elected governments continued cheerleading of massive fossil fuel projects is a spectacle that harkens back to a bygone era, an era before the link between carbon emissions and climate change became scientifically accepted. As obstacles mount to the Governments’ pet projects they should not only wonder if they are backing the wrong team, but if they are in the wrong game altogether.

Although many predicted Enbridge’s Gateway project would be a leading contender in the rush to build export capacity for the tar sands, it has fallen behind its competitors despite its many cheerleaders in industry and government. The twin pipeline project would facilitate the growth of Alberta’s tar sands by allowing the export of up to 1 million barrels of oil a day, transporting the crude overland to Kitimat and, by oil tankers, on to China via the Inside Passage. Oil tankers would also bring “condensate” (a petroleum byproduct used to dilute heavy oil for refining and transportation) through the same treacherous coastal waters for transport to Alberta via a parallel pipeline.

The Conservatives took their cheerleading efforts on the road recently when Gary Lunn (MP Saanich-Gulf Islands), the Minister of Natural Resources, attempted to secure Chinese financing for Enbridge’s floundering project.

Mr. Lunn’s junket came after it was reported that Enbridge has been unable to get tar sands producers to sign supply contracts committing their future production to the Gateway pipeline. This little reported fact indicates that tar sands producers are betting on competing pipelines and are unwilling to commit to Gateway. For tar sands producers the opening of the Gateway route would see US and Chinese interests competing for their oil, yet if even these producers are unwilling to commit to the Gateway, then Enbridge may need a Hail Mary pass to save their project.

The Federal Court has recently shown its willingness to call penalties for unnecessary roughness by ruling that the Federal Government “have breached and continue to breach their duty to consult with the Dene Tha’ First Nation on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline”. The court stayed the ongoing Joint Review Panel of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline until the Dene Tha’s issues had been dealt with. This ruling not only will cause further delays on the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, it has likely sacked Enbridge’s Gateway pipeline proposal as well.

But the Dene Tha’ ruling wasn’t the only sack the Gateway project suffered recently. Other legal actions by First Nations keep moving Enbridge further away from the goal-line. Like general managers constructing an All-Canadian defense, First Nations concerned about the impacts of the pipeline and associated tankers on their lands and waters are preparing to tackle the project. The lawsuit filed last month by the Carrier Sekani challenging the Joint Panel Review for Enbridge’s Gateway project is just the first of many lawsuits expected against the project.

And other First Nations are preparing for a goal line stand against the project. The Oweekeno, Kitasoo and Nuxalk recently sent a scathing letter to the federal government “conveying their unanimous opposition” to the project. They went on to say that they “depend to a very large degree on the health and sustenance of the mairine environment. Significant risks are inevitable created when hydrocarbons are transported by tanker.”

The clock is ticking on the commercial viability of the Gateway project, at least for the near future, either Enbridge-or Kinder Morgan who has a competing, but less advanced, project along virtually the same route-are unlikely to abandon efforts for a western pipeline that would allow Alberta oil companies to trade oil to China.

Thus, notwithstanding statements that it would de-prioritize the Gateway project, Enbridge hasn’t withdrawn their National Energy Board application. They may proceed with the regulatory process hoping to secure project approval while the fossil fuel industries biggest cheerleaders, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, remain in power.

Despite the lack of financing, supply contracts and mounting First Nations legal and political opposition, Gary Lunn’s cheerleading efforts in China indicate that Enbridge is attempting to mount one last drive for a touchdown. 

Enbridge isn’t the only team with a game plan for the north coast.  Six other proposed projects would bring oil and gas tankers into BC’s Inside Passage-three competing condensate proposals are planned for Kitimat, along with Kinder Morgan’s Tran mountain oil pipeline and two Liquefied Natural Gas projects (one in Kitimat, another for Prince Rupert).
Stephen Harper’s government is not only acting as the cheerleader for Enbridge, and the other oil and gas projects that would bring tanker to BC’s Inside Passage; he is acting as rule maker. The Conservatives are poised to remove a moratorium on “crude oil tanker traffic through Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and Queen Charlotte Sound”. This moratorium, enacted 34-years ago “due to concerns over the potential environmental impact” of oil tankers.

This is a risky move for a floundering franchise seeking their first clear-cut victory (majority government) in thirteen years. Three polls commissioned by Dogwood Initiative since January confirm that over 70% of Conservative voters and 3 in 4 British Columbians support a ban on tankers in the Inside Passage.

As the evidence of global warming mounts, our governments are fumbling ball. A replay of the game surrounding the Gateway pipeline illustrates that even with powerful cheerleaders, formidable opponents can be beaten. It’s time our government got out of this dirty game and stopped trying to score big wins for the fossil fuel industry. The team to support are those concerned with the long term sustainable future of  our Country.

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