Energy Corridor proposed in Throne Speech sends shivers down the coast

The new Throne speech energy corridor proposal turns rumblings from a pipeline giant into a real threat of oil spills.

Announcements by energy giant Enbridge and the BC government look to clear First Nation and environmental obstacles to tanker traffic along BC’s coast. But public opinion remains firmly against tankers on our coast.

Two events in the past week have made those concerned about the possibility of oil spills along BC’s coast stand up and take notice. The first was Enbridge’s February 9th announcement that it had secured “third party funding” to push its Gateway pipeline project through the regulatory process. The Gateway Project is a pipeline proposal to export up to 1,000,000 barrels of tar sands crude per day to China via a tanker port in Kitimat. The project has met strong resistance from First Nations and environmental groups concerned about the likelihood of oil spills in Queen Charlotte sound, near Haida Gwaii and along the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest.

A year and a half ago, after numerous delays to the project largely due to the efforts of First Nations and environmental groups, the money for Gateway particularly Chinese financing began to dry up and Enbridge shelved their proposal.  The rumoured new money behind the push indicates that wheels are once again turning.

The second event was a single line in a press release accompanying this year’s Throne speech. It said the government would be “pursuing creation of a new northern energy corridor from Prince Rupert to Prince George.” For ‘energy corridor’ read ‘pipelines and transmission lines’. This seemingly innocuous language means that the government is willing to do the heavy lifting with First Nations negotiations and environmental assessment for energy projects in the north, “streamlining” the process for companies like Enbridge.

To date the greatest obstacle to tanker traffic and oil spills on our coast has been determined First Nations opposition. Enbridge initially shelved its Gateway Project after the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council filed a law suit to halt Enbridge’s joint National Energy Board/Environmental Assessment. In a move that echoed a successful First Nation suit involving the McKenzie Gas Pipeline, they claimed the crown had failed in its obligations to consult the First Nation. That lawsuit hasn’t been resolved.

An ‘energy corridor’ would significantly undermine First Nations ability to have input into individual projects. The government is looking to grant a general right of way for energy transmission – be that oil, gas or condensate pipelines or power-lines. Good news for energy companies, not such good news for the rest of us.

There are currently oil and gas proposals on the table that, if approved, would see up to 320 tankers per year plying our northern coastal waters. At that rate industry averages suggest we would see a major oil spill every 6-7 years. For those of us who love our coast and are aware of the long term impact of the Exxon Valdez spill that’s just not acceptable.

Despite the rhetoric about aggressive action on climate change, the BC government is now trying to undermine the ability of First Nations to ensure the continued health of our coast. Now it is up to the people of BC to say no to tanker traffic. With polls showing 75% of British Columbians oppose oil tanker traffic we have the numbers on our side. Now it’s time to raise our voices.

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