Your questions answered

Wow, we were blown away by your response to our call for questions in last month’s edition of e-news. You asked so many great questions that we’ve had to split our response into two blogs – one this month and one next month. So if you don’t see your question answered today, please stay tuned!

One I keep getting asked is: “Yes, but what’s the alternative realistically? They have to get that oil exported somehow.” I know a lot of people say keep it and refine it, but that is a whole other issue that wouldn’t be resolved in the time of the Northern Gateway decision by the panel.

To answer that, you have to understand that Enbridge’s application is predicated on a tripling of oilsands production in the next 20 years. That projection surpasses even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ projections for growth. It took 45 years to get to the current level of production in the oilsands (1.7 million barrels per day) and only just this month was the groundwork for a credible scientific monitoring program announced. Until monitoring is in place and the data is used to improve how oilsands are managed, it’s irresponsible to argue in favour of unprecedented expansion.

In the meantime, the oilsands are producing 1.7 million barrels per day and there’s enough existing pipeline capacity to handle projected oilsands growth until 2022 (3.5 million barrels per day).

So, the real question is: should we liquidate our oil reserves as quickly as possible to send crude oil on supertankers to Asia through one of the last pristine places on Earth? Or should we hold our horses, get environmental impacts under control and look at more measured growth in the oilsands?  For more on this topic, read our blog: Five reasons shipping oil to Asia is not in the national interest.

I’m registered to speak at the public hearings, but I have received no information on where the hearings are. Where do I go and when?

No specific dates have been set yet for oral statements at the public hearings. What you’ve been seeing in the news is the first round of hearings, during which the panel is only hearing from intervenors. If you registered through Dogwood to make a presentation to the panel, you are a “participant,” not an “intervenor.” The estimated schedule for oral statements from people who don’t live on or near the proposed route is between November 2012 and March 2013. For those who do live on or near the proposed route, the panel will be hearing oral statements between March and July 2012. We’ll keep registrants updated as the dates are set and will also be holding more webinars to help people get prepared.

Does anyone know why the port at Kitimat was chosen? Isn’t the entrance to this port quite a difficult stretch of water? Did Enbridge choose it because they would save money with this being the shortest pipeline route? While I don’t support this project in any way, I just started thinking, why not Vancouver?

In their application to the National Energy Board, Enbridge stated that the final two ports it considered were Prince Rupert and Kitimat. They wrote that the route to Prince Rupert is “characterized by steep topography and narrow river valleys, which constrain large diameter pipeline construction and heighten operational issues. Pipelines constructed along these rivers would be exposed to challenging hydrotechnical issues, and to avalanches and rock slides in the narrow valleys.”

In choosing Kitimat, they wrote: “The pipeline route southward to Kitimat through the Kitimat River valley would possibly encounter slide-prone marine clays and would likely require watercourse crossings in potentially boulder-prone material. However, this pipeline route alternative was determined to be viable and preferable.”

Building the pipeline to Prince Rupert would also mean more liability risk for Enbridge. Once the oil leaves their pipeline, Enbridge is absolved from all legal requirements in terms of a spill. So while the tanker route is shorter out of Rupert, Enbridge would have to tack on an additional 120 kilometres of extended liability and construction costs related to the pipeline. To get in and out of Kitimat the tankers will have to traverse the Hecate Strait, rated as the fourth most dangerous ocean environment on earth by Environment Canada, and then enter a 140 kilometre long fjord, riddled with navigational hazards. Check out this great infographic on the hazards of the proposed route.

As for Vancouver as an option, Enbridge’s competitor Kinder Morgan already has a pipeline to Vancouver, which it is proposing to expand and which we also oppose (see next question).

The bottom line is any of these proposals would bring more oil tankers to B.C.’s coast in the name of increasing oil company profits.

What is Dogwood’s stand on Kinder Morgan’s proposal to twin the Trans Mountain?

We oppose the expansion of all bulk crude oil tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast and have been working to organize local opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion. In the coming weeks, we will be encouraging citizens on southern Vancouver Island to write to their local elected officials to ask them to continue to oppose the Kinder Morgan expansion. To find out more about what Kinder Morgan is proposing and why we oppose it, check out this backgrounder.

There was a demand, some years ago I think, by David Anderson, that all tankers be double bottomed.  My questions are: Did this initiative become law? And if so, is it enforced? Are all tankers operating off the West Coast double bottomed? And finally, did the Exxon Valdez have a double bottom?

It is international marine law that all oil tankers must be double-hulled. However, double-hulled tankers only help in low-energy groundings or collisions. If they’re going fast enough or get struck by something, they can still spill. In fact, a double-hulled barge just spilled oil in the Mississippi River last week. The Exxon Valdez was single-hulled. However, in August 1989, the U.S. Coast Guard testified to Congress that even if the Exxon Valdez had been double hulled, millions of gallons of oil still would have leaked into Prince William Sound.

Is there another natural resource that is as cheap as oil but won’t affect the environment as much as oil?

Great question. First, it’s always good to acknowledge that when we’re talking about oil tankers and pipelines in B.C., we’re talking about ramping up oilsands production to feed Asian markets – it’s not about North American demand for oil, which is actually decreasing.

Oil is primarily used as a transportation fuel, and there are a number of things that can be done to further reduce demand, from designing more walkable communities and improving public transit to building more fuel-efficient vehicles and making the choice to leave the car at home.

Electric cars are also now being sold in B.C., and we could see one million of these cars on the road in B.C. by 2020. While there are still some drawbacks to this technology, it’s definitely a step in the right direction because there are several ways to create clean electricity.

How many kilometers of shoreline, including all the Islands and Haida Gwaii, are threatened between Nor
th Vancouver Island, including the Alaska Panhandle?

There are many different calculations based on the size and location of a spill, but here’s a map illustrating one example. If an Exxon Valdez-sized spill happened at the entrance to the Kitimat fjord and travelled the same linear distance as the Exxon Valdez spill, 25,407 kilometres of B.C. coastline would be affected. In actuality, the tankers will be much larger than the Exxon Valdez, so the damage could be even worse.

I have read recently that China does not yet have the capability of actually refining the crude bitumen that would be piped from Alberta to Kitimat. This means the tankers would have to first go to Texas, through the Panama Canal and then back to China.  Is this true?

We haven’t read anything referring to that scenario and it seems unlikely. However, the Pembina Institute has raised concerns about whether there is proven commercial demand and refinery capacity for heavy oil in China in their report: Pipeline to Nowhere?

Why can’t Canada build its own refineries to deal with the tarsands and send the oil back east? (There is a lot of rhetoric about this, but I would like to know the “real” reasons.)

It’s a matter of choice. Canada could choose to encourage this, but there is more profit to be made by oil companies if they ship oil to Asia. Right now, it seems the federal government is more concerned with corporate interests than with what’s in the best interests of Canadians. There are lots of options to keep more Canadian oil on home soil, given that we are currently importing half of our oil from volatile and declining reserves in places like the Middle East and Venezuela. However, until adequate environmental limits are set in the oilsands, it is not responsible to advocate for expanding production and new infrastructure.

I am just wondering how wide the right-of-way is proposed to be for the two pipelines?
The proposed right-of-way for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines is 25 metres wide.

Is the film On The Line, which shows the whole route from Alberta to Kitimat (travelled by two fellows hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking, Frank Wolf and Todd McGowen), available for purchase?

On the Line is available at Mountain Equipment Co-op stores across Canada and you can also order it online.

Are there any respectable academic studies about the relationship between the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar and the volume of oil exported, and the price of oil exported?

This University of Ottawa study looks at the relationship between the exchange rate and petroleum exports and estimates 42 per cent of the jobs lost due to the rising Canadian currency are linked to rising oil exports – that’s an estimated 196,000 to 220,000 manufacturing jobs lost to Dutch Disease between 2002 and 2007.

 

 

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