Premier Christy Clark stepped up to the plate last week and made it clear that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline was off the table without five conditions being met, none the least of which was a “fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of proposed heavy oil projects that reflect the risk borne by the province.”
Good on her.
Until now, Clark has been skirting around this issue and her flagging popularity has taken hit upon hit since coming to office March 14th last year.
The problem over pipelines and pristine wilderness is complicatedly simple. There are huge environmental risks to piping heavy oil from the Alberta oil sands to Kitimat. And there is huge money to be made by green-lighting it, money that could fund vital social programs.
The twin pipeline system will be 1,177 kilometres long crossing mountains, interior plains, and over 1,000 fish-bearing rivers and streams.
Given Enbridge’s dubious track record of pipeline safety, they have done nothing to instill confidence that at some point a disastrous oil leak won’t happen. Their handling of the Michigan oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in 2010 was appalling, allowing oil to gush into the river for 17 hours before it was stopped. The environmental damage spread through 50 kilometres of waterways and wetlands and hundreds of people complained of symptoms from crude oil exposure. In Alberta this spring Enbridge operations leaked 230,000 litres from a pumping station in northern Alberta, 800,000 litres soaked muskeg near the NWT border, and a pipeline breach dumped 480,000 litres into the Red Deer River. Now they are dealing with their current Wisconsin pipeline leak.
Last week Environment Minister Terry Lake pointed out that, in the potential for an oil spill, B.C. will be taking 100 per cent of the risk in marine waters and 58 per cent of the risk on land. Yet in terms of revenues to hedge against monstrous clean up bills the royalty share of the $80 billion pot is pitiful for this province, a mere $6 billion compared to the federal government and Alberta’s share of over $35 billion each.
Sure, it’s the pipeline company’s responsibility to pay clean-up costs but there are always extended consequences for local residents and long term impacts that dig into provincial coffers. And we’d be left with environmental damage for decades.
In addition to a fair share of revenues, Clark includes in her terms completion of the formal environmental review; world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention, and recovery systems; world-leading practices for land spill prevention, response, and recovery; and legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights to be addressed with First Nations’ people given opportunities to benefit from the project.
Clark is making a firm stand for B.C. but for some residents no amount of money justifies the pipeline project.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford was not impressed, staring down Clark with an Albertan hands-off attitude. Albertans have a lightning recoil response to anyone touching their oil. They still smart from Pierre Trudeau’s much hated National Energy Program of 1980 following the 1970s energy crisis. ‘Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark’ was the bumper sticker of the day in contempt of revenue sharing. Hopefully Redford’s advisors have matured a bit since then.
Some think Clark is hedging for election brownie points. But she’s being strategically sensible. Yes, we need a fair share of revenue and employment opportunities from this project. And, yes, the highest ever environmental protection standards must be enforced.
Legally, Enbridge does not need Clark’s blessing to go ahead since pipelines are a federal affair. But it won’t pay Harper to get heavy handed if he wants votes in 2015.
Don’t blink, Christy.