Enbridge, one of North America’slargest energy companies, proposes to build a 1,123 kilometre pipeline to carrybetween 400,000 and 1,000,000 barrels of crude oil per day from Alberta’star sands to a new sea port in Kitimat. A “condensate import” pipeline parallelto the crude pipe would transport 150,000 barrels per day of condensate-anatural gas byproduct used in pipelines-back to Alberta.Tankers leaving Kitimat would then ship the crude oil through 90 kilometres ofBC’s fragile inside passage to California,China, and India.
Enbridge’s attempt to fast-track thetwin Gateway pipelines and open the inside passage to tankers is generatingopposition from environmental groups, local communities and First Nations. Agrowing number of First Nations are opposed to the project and have launched anautonomous First Nations-led review process. This review will operateindependently, or parallel to, the federal government’s National Energy Boardhearings.
Enbridge’s proposal is one of fourexport pipeline proposals vying to ship tar sands crude to foreign markets. Notall these pipelines will be built. Despite the projected growth in tar sandsproduction over the next several decades, the four competing export pipelineswould create a large surplus in capacity flowing out of Alberta.If all pipelines being proposed were to become operational by 2010 pipelinecapacity could exceed oilproduction by 250%.
Enbridge’s pipeline has received moremedia coverage than its competition, but faces the most obstacles. The Haida,Carrier Sekani and Treaty 8 First Nations’ support for an independent,aboriginal review panel will likely delay Enbridge’s ambitious timelines.Growing public opposition to tankers in BC’s inside passage could cause furtherdelays. And any delay hampers Enbridge’s prospects in the competitive race withthe other proposed pipelines for financing and regulatory approval.
The pipeline will increase Canada’sgreenhouse gas emissions by between 12 and 30 megatonnes, which is equivalentto the emissions of almost six million passenger cars.
The pipeline also poses severe localrisks to BC. Data from other countries shows that oil spills along the pipelineand at the marine terminal are unavoidable.
But it is tankers in BC’s insidepassage from Kitimat through Douglas Channel that pose the biggestenvironmental risk. A 1977 federal inquiry to investigate environmental,social, and navigational consequences of oil ports and tanker operations onBC’s west coast concluded that if a marine terminal were developed at Kitimat,”oil spills off the coast of B.C. would inevitablyoccur.”
Approval of the Gateway project wouldalso require a loophole in (or the lifting of) the 34-year-old federalmoratorium on crude oil tanker traffic along BC’s inside passage. Data fromtankers elsewhere suggests a major spill of over 10,000 barrels could occurevery 6.37 years.
Polls commissioned by DogwoodInitiative show that a majority of British Columbians oppose lifting themoratorium on tanker traffic. The recent sinking of the Queen of the Northferry, coincidentally along Enbridge’s proposed tanker route, has broadenedpublic awareness of the risks of tankers in these treacherous waters. Theferry’s oil slick threatens to become the worst marine spill disaster on the BCcoast in almost 20 years. Imagine the damage if it had been an oil tanker.
The politics in Canada
Neither level of government has takena public position on the Gateway pipelines, but both are perceived to besupporters. However, it remains to be seen how much political capital eachgovernment is prepared to expend on backing the project.
Doing so is politically risky. Pollscommissioned by Dogwood Initiative show the tanker issue is so politicallyvolatile that it is unlikely a minority government will risk moving forwardaggressively. Support for a tanker ban is strong across all political parties.More than 72% of voters for all federal parties oppose oil tankers in northernwaters.
If Mr. Harper’s Conservatives held amajority, there is little doubt that they would try to move quickly to withdrawthe existing ban on offshore oil and gas development and tanker traffic. But itlooks like their minority position has softened their approach. One day afterbeing sworn in as the new federal Minister of Natural Resources, Gary Lunn, MPfor Saanich and the Islands, told reporters that theoffshore oil and gas moratorium is “not a top priority” for his fledglinggovernment. Nonetheless, vigilance is necessary.
The international struggle for oil
The proposed pipeline injects BC intothe growing geopolitical struggle over oil between the U.S.and the emerging Asian economic powers of Chinaand India. Ifbuilt, the pipeline threatens the U.S.monopoly over tar sands oil.
Over the past decade, Canadahas become the largest foreign supplier of fossil fuels to the U.S.The United Statesis increasingly counting on Canada,especially the tar sands, to fill its gas tanks. A recent Knight Riddernewspaper story noted, the tar sands are a “vital part of America’senergy future” that will “help keep American SUVs running in the years tocome.”
Chinarecently passed Japanas the second-largest consumer of energy. By 2010, Indiais expected to displace South Koreaas the world’s fourth-largest consumer. Both Chinaand India arebecoming increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of fossil fuel supplies, evenif this brings them in conflict with the U.S.
The pipeline to Kitimat will bringthis international competition for tar sands crude to a head here in BC
The good news is that the Gatewayproject is vulnerable. The growing opposition from environmental groups andFirst Nations will complicate regulatory hearings. Delays will put Enbridgebehind in the race to secure financing, oil supply commitments, and permitsahead of competing pipeline proponents like TransCanada.
The Gateway project also facesstiffer regulatory hurdles than its competitors because of the need for oiltankers. First Nations have a number of legal options to scuttle or delay theproject. Dogwood Initiative and other environmental groups are co-ordinatinglegal, political, and financial approaches to engage Enbridge, the governments,and the public about the project.
Stay tuned-Dogwood Initiative will keep you informed as the story unfolds.
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