Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, July 24 201
After months of leaving the heavy lifting on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to others, the B.C. Liberals finally weighed in Monday with their take on the controversial project.
The announcement, led by Environment Minister Terry Lake and Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak, was framed as an outline of the "minimum requirements" that need to be met before the province would "consider" the Enbridge or any other proposal to pipe heavy oil through B.C. for seaborne export.
But the accompanying technical report, running some 52 pages, didn't come close to making the case that the risk would be worth it. For the most part, it confirmed what critics have been saying all along.
The Enbridge project would mean more tankers and bigger tankers carrying heavy and dirty oil over an environ-mentally sensitive landscape and exceptionally risky waters. Granted, tanker safety has improved and the incidence of serious spills has declined.
Still the report concedes the bloody obvious: "It only takes one major incident to cripple an ecosystem and incur enormous costs on the responsible party, individuals, local communities and other sectors of the economy and government."
Sooner or later - and usually sooner - every Enbridge opponent gets to talking about the Exxon Valdez spill. The Liberals do so as well, right there on page 11 of their report.
Exxon is reported as having to pay out $3.4 billion in damages so far in connection with its 1989 Alaskan spill, while several claims are still being fought through the courts - more than two decades afterward.
All of this is in the context of the report's telling observation that, legal liability limits being what they are in this country, an offending company "may not have to spend more than approximately $1.3 billion cleaning up a spill" on land or at sea in British Columbia. Governments would be on the hook for the rest and the cleanup might take 10 years.
The B.C. officials who put the report together did a comparative survey of the resources, here and elsewhere, for responding quickly to pipeline ruptures on land and tanker spills at sea. The findings were far from reassuring.
Such is the state of affairs here on the West Coast that governments ought to be engaged in a major effort to increase response times and resources to meet the risk of existing tanker traffic, never mind considering proposals (as they are doing with Enbridge and the nascent plan from Kinder Morgan) to double same.
The report also went beyond environmental concerns to raise a matter that, all by itself, could be fatal to the project's chances of going ahead.
"We are concerned that to date B.C. first nations do not appear to have been appropriately and meaningfully engaged in the project," read the survey of the to-date extent of outreach to aboriginal people on the Northern Gateway proposal.
"Both Canada and Enbridge must significantly improve the opportunities for input and benefits that would accrue to first nations whose traditional territories will be crossed by the pipeline or tanker traffic. This principle should have, in our opinion, been guiding project discussions from the outset."
The implication being that neither Enbridge nor the federal government has treated first nations with sufficient respect.
Not surprisingly, as Polak noted during her comments to reporters, virtually every native representative who has spoken to date at the National Energy Board review of the project has been opposed. "I can't think of one first nation that supports it."
She stopped short of saying that individual bands have a veto over the project. In practical terms it amounts to the same thing: With this degree of opposition from first nations, the line could be tied up in blockades and court battles for a generation.
Major risk of spills. Inadequate resources to manage them. Natives so far offside as to be beyond retrieval. So from a B.C. point of view, what's to like about this project?
Not much, when it comes right down to it. The report says that in terms of economic and fiscal benefits, B.C. stands to reap about eight per cent of the projected increase in government revenues, and double that share in gross domestic product.
Those benefits would be spread over 30 years. On an annualized basis, figure maybe $200 million in additional revenues, $1.5 billion on the GDP.
All in exchange for assuming a significant share of the risk of a spill on land (58 per cent, based on the portion of the line that would run through B.C. territory) and fully 100 per cent of the risk of a spill in coastal waters.
For all that, the Liberals maintained that the province could be persuaded to "consider support" were there more resources to fight spills, a better deal for natives and more benefits to the provincial treasury.
But I doubt the Albertans, or the company, or the federal government will be inclined to put out to the degree necessary to satisfy the concerns raised in the report.
Realistically, the technical analysis amounts to a persuasive argument for opposing the Northern Gateway project.
Reading it, I expect many British Columbians will say to their government, "What took you so long?"
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