CBC pretends Trans Mountain’s 69 oil spills never happened

Truth is the first casualty of the pipeline wars

The next time Canada’s public broadcaster publishes a column by Calgary pundit Duane Bratt, it should come with a disclaimer: Warning! Entering fact-free zone!

This week, Bratt penned a passionate defence of the National Energy Board titled “It’s not a sham: A rebuttal to Mayor Robertson’s Trans Mountain stance”. The Mount Royal University professor, who chairs the department of Economics, Justice and Policy Studies, earnestly claimed that in 60 years of operation, the Trans Mountain pipeline had never spilled a drop.

Had Mr. Bratt, or his fact-checkers at the CBC, bothered to look up the “spill history” page on the pipeline company’s own website, they would have found 69 oil spills reported to the federal government since 1961, plus more than a dozen leaks of natural gas, jet fuel, diesel, solvents and contaminated water.

Since Texas-based Kinder Morgan bought the line in 2005, there have been 13 oil spills totalling 5,628 barrels of crude. CBC even reported on some of them, including the 2007 gusher  that coated houses in Burnaby’s Westridge neighbourhood before draining into Burrard Inlet.

CBC Calgary has since toned down the title of Bratt’s column and issued a correction for his most egregious mistake:

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 1.41.03 PM

However, the editors at the CBC left this bizarre section of Bratt’s column intact:

“The Vancouver mayor also alleged the NEB was politicized by the former Harper government, which flies in the face of the changes the new Liberal government introduced in January. These changes include analyzing the direct and upstream greenhouse gas emissions linked to the pipeline projects, additional public input and enhanced Indigenous consultations — a new process that was used when the NEB adjudicated the Trans Mountain project.”

Again, Bratt is basing his argument on a fabrication. The decision delivered by the NEB last week did not include any of the changes promised by the new Liberal government, which is precisely why people were upset.

Where’s the critical thinking?

I don’t think Duane Bratt is deliberately misleading the public. But I am worried that university professors and professional journalists are failing to exercise their critical thinking skills, which has the effect of skewing the whole debate.

If you live in a fantasy world where pipelines never spill, then the concerns of First Nations and British Columbians along the route must sound silly indeed. If you believe Justin Trudeau waved a magic wand and fixed the National Energy Board, then its decisions must seem eminently credible.

By the same token, if pipelines don’t load their cargo of toxic, sinking bitumen onto oil tankers, which must then sail the B.C. coast on their way to China — well, then the whole enterprise of crude oil export becomes far more palatable.

Over the weekend, Times Colonist columnist Les Leyne wrote of the NEB decision, “It’s when the oil gets to a refinery in Burnaby that all the worries and the arguments start.” But there’s no refinery involved. The whole point of these oil tanker proposals is to send raw, unrefined heavy crude to refineries overseas. Meanwhile, we import light crude and gasoline.

I’m all for debating the benefits and tradeoffs of the Kinder Morgan proposal. In fact, I’ll fight for the right of people who support these oil tanker projects to vote in favour of them, so long as British Columbians get to make the decision. But we can’t have an informed public conversation when university profs and news outlets aren’t giving people the facts.

Have your cake and eat it too!

Pundits and politicians are now peddling another fact-defying fantasy: that we can somehow expand heavy oil production in the oil sands while curbing climate pollution and meeting our international climate commitments.

Here’s how the pollsters at Abacus chose to phrase the question last week:

abacus pipeline


They may as well have asked, “Would you eat cake every day if it never made you fat?” Or, “Would you consider smoking if cigarettes didn’t cause cancer?”

The reality is these pipelines would make reductions in Canada’s climate pollution nearly impossible unless everyone else made big sacrifices to accommodate the oil and gas sector’s ballooning portion of the country’s overall carbon budget.

That’s because the whole purpose of these projects is to facilitate expansion of the oil sands. Heavy oil producers plan to nearly double their production in Alberta by 2030, and these pipelines and oil tankers are essential to drain that vast pool of carbon as quickly as possible.

Why the rush? Because even if we plan to cheat on our pollution diet, it’s unlikely there will be a long-term global market for oil sands bitumen.

To stay below two degrees of global warming — the upper limit for a safe future — the International Energy Agency says oil use will have to drop 6 per cent by 2030. That means high-cost, low-quality crude will be squeezed out first, a fact acknowledged this week by French oil giant Total SA as it winds down its Canadian operations.

The only way heavy-oil pipelines remain profitable in the decades to come is if international efforts to curb climate change fail. That’s what other companies like Exxon are betting on. And maybe they’re right.

Maybe Canadians just want to ride this sunset industry into the ground and pick up the pieces later. But we deserve a fair choice, informed by a fact-based discussion. And the facts, when it comes to Enbridge and Kinder Morgan’s West Coast heavy-oil proposals, are these:

  • Pipelines come with oil spills
  • Pipelines come with oil tankers
  • Pipelines come with increased carbon pollution

Export pipelines, it must be noted, also ensure continued dependency on foreign light crude and gasoline. If citizens are okay with making these tradeoffs so oil companies in Beijing, Calgary and Houston can make money in the short term, then I can hardly stand in the way.

But I will speak up when I see academics and news outlets using their trusted brands to feed people fake facts, false choices and fantasy.


If you’d like a fair, province-wide vote on West Coast oil tanker projects,
please add your name at www.LetBCvote.ca

36 Responses to “CBC pretends Trans Mountain’s 69 oil spills never happened”

  1. Steve Barclay says:

    How can we have meaningful dialog on this issue when the facts are misrepresented? I expect better from our public broadcaster.

  2. Angus Bell says:

    IT is time for the Canadian People to demand change or scrap the NEB And get rid of harpers plants in the CBC, or stop financing them. Lies coming for our news media will not be acceptable, go Lord what an unholy mess these Cons have left our Country in.

  3. Greg says:

    Let’s not forget the fantasy map of the west coast withiut islands… 😉

  4. greg says:

    nah, they are deliberately trying to mislead the public.

  5. Jane Camfield says:

    I am inclined to believe the reports from Dogwood Initiative before all others. The photo reminds me of the toxic spill in Burnaby a few years ago. It happened on a residential street much like the one pictured. Just exactly why I am an “activist” in favour of renewables. The list of what’s in these spills is horrifying.

  6. Tag says:

    It’s also time for people to recognize the distinction between a bylined opinion column and the news section of the “public broadcaster.” Duane Bratt is not the CBC. Tradition says that CBC editors will have little (if any) involvement with what a columnist writes.

    That would explain the disclaimer that CBC did add to his column – his opinion, vs their fact-checking.

  7. Ed Chessor says:

    Shame on Duane Bratt, and on Mount Royal University for appointing and paying a professor who uses his job title to put forth such an inaccurate piece.

    Shame on CBC for putting this up without a complete critique.

  8. mike says:

    CBC, report properly or do not report.

  9. Nina W says:

    Every time I speak to people about the oil sands I use the term “sunset industry,” and I often see a light go on. It’s important framing; it helps people understand why there is such vehement protection and such a push to wrest the last few decades of (potential) profit out of what’s not going to be a long-term industry. On top of all the other reasons this is a great piece, thanks Kai for using this necessary change-making description of what has always in our lifetimes been considered a long-term going concern.

  10. Lillian Tetreau says:

    Canadians are Indebted to Dogwood Society volunteers and leaders. Who else is drawing out the facts and speaking with the voice of reason?

  11. Roger says:

    Excellent article. thank you

  12. Richard Sharpe says:

    If we are going to insist on further development of the oil sands products we should at least extract the best return on the risk by refining the raw material and selling the end products. Why do we have to import the refined products and allow other nations to make profits on our backs?

  13. Andy House says:

    Kai, it probably doesn’t matter to you in the larger scheme of things but YOUR consistent over statements and mis representations are eroding my willingness to continue supporting Dogwood. When reputable news outlets such as the CBC publish opinion pieces by outside authors they do NOT fact check those pieces and they SHOULD not be attacked with implications that the pieces represent the views or positions of the news outlet.

    • Kai says:

      Opinion writers also have to adhere to basic journalistic standards or they risk undermining the credibility of the outlet that publishes them. See: Margaret Wente. In this case the CBC failed to exercise its basic editorial responsibilities. Should they get a free pass because they’re the public broadcaster?

  14. Leslie Roxanne says:

    The NEB is a farce. There should be representatives of First Nations, climate scientists, ecologists, heart and lung specialists, fisheries, tourism, organic farmers, residents, and other communities impacted by oil on a board. Not 3 people who do not understand the issues.

  15. Jim Pine says:

    This was a good piece of media deconstruction. As media critic Morris Wolfe once observed, and this certainly applies to the pipeline debate, “It is easier and less costly to change the way people think about reality than it is to change reality.”

  16. Roderick MacDonald says:

    I recall when CBC’s Peter Mansbridge intoned that Canada would implode if the Meech Lake Accord failed to pass. Sad to say but the CBC can be a font of misinformation.

  17. Brent says:

    Climate change has nothing to do with it I’m against shipping that tarry crap out of our harbour and coastline,it is ours and not the rest of Canada’s and we should have the final say about what is done with it. If the federal government push this to far BC should cede from the nation and tell them to go procreate with a hat.
    PS if they refine the said product into finished goods I have no problem shipping and selling it as a refined product is much easier to cleanup after in the event of a spill and the good paying refining jobs stay in Canada.

  18. Vivien says:

    Thank you, Dogwood, for your vigilance !

    Vivien M,

  19. WayneF says:

    But at the end of the day… as catastrophic as a spill will be, if 80% of fossil fuel reserves are not left in the ground this is a moot point. Climate Change is the overarching challenge, dwarfing EVERYTHING ELSE.

  20. Nancy Wigen says:

    I agree with Steve Barclay.We need to be able to trust our news media so we can make wise decisions to shape our future.
    Climate Change is already with us and proceeding faster than predicted. I have children and grandchildren who are going to suffer for the greed and deception that is preventing clear leadership in phasing out Fossil Fuels and achieving sustainable energy. Already changed weather damage is costing us Billions of dollars, and millions of people in warmer parts of the world are suffering, starving, dying, and migrating as they try to survive these global changes.
    Money can never restore a ruined climate or life as we know it. This planet is all we’ve got. All our science has never found any other place in the universe that supports life. Save this one.

  21. Terry says:

    CBC stands for Conservative Broadcasting Craporation. It’s a Harperite lie machine unwillingly funded by the people it lies to – the Canadian public. The Board of Directors is almost complete composed of Conservative Party donors and hacks appointed by Harper, who in turn oversee and appoint the management and direct the policy.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I am in total agreement , after i found out our trusted reporter peter mansbridge and his sidekick rex murphy where stooges for the oil companys

  23. leonard hemming says:

    Clearly some members of the neb are corrupt, possibly having spent too long rubbing elbows

    with the CEOs of International Corporations and sycophantic politicians, it would seem that

    they no longer consider the wishes and safety of the Canadian Public ,nor the scientific and

    historical information readily available today.As to the CBC they do their best considering their

    dependency on their political masters for funding .

  24. Anonymous says:

    the maim stream news has been lying and selling propaganda to hide ,cover up, distract from reality so that the powers that be, can continue to fool the population that all is good.

  25. Ken Piercy says:

    As disappointing as it is for the millions of Canadians who stood to make so much money from tars sands oil, the wheel has turned globally and these energy projects are no longer sustainable for both environmental and economic reasons. Time to just suck it up and shift our focus to developing other aspects of the Canadian economy. Harper’s dream of Canada as an “energy superpower” is the victim of bad timing. There’s so much more in the balance now than just jobs, jobs, jobs.

  26. Lynda McLEan-Woodward says:

    The other important part is the fracking!!!! that they are using to bring oil/gas to surface….it is extremely harmful!!!

  27. Anonymous says:

    No Kinder Morgan in BC

  28. Marian Henry says:

    The Harper followers planted in CBC must be taken out . CBC needs to be free to
    broadcast the truth about the oil business .Pipelines and oil freighters must be stopped. We must fight climate warming.

  29. marcelle roy says:

    I get the “Real News” from independent media & Dogwood Initiative
    never from main stream media.
    More Canadians need to wake up and smell the lies, fabrications and fantasies
    of oil & Gas monopolized media.

  30. Sean Kheraj says:

    This university professor cares about facts:


    If the news media wants to know something about the past, ask a historian, not a political scientist. 😉

  31. Paul Ledaire says:

    I have always thought of the CBC as one of a very few unbiased sources of information available to the Canadian public. It is distressing that they have been caught broadcasting in such a biased way.

  32. Sean Kheraj says:

    I tried leaving a comment earlier with a link to a historical background report on the Trans Mountain pipeline that I wrote for the City of Vancouver last year. I assume it was deleted because I included a link.

    If one would like to read that report, just search: “historical background report trans mountain.”

    This university professor is trying to exercise his critical thinking skills. If you want to know about the past, ask a historian.

  33. Stating the apparent has by no means been so eloquent.

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