Enbridge fails to meet critical test

The B.C. Liberal government may have rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, bur the debate is far from over.

The B.C. Liberal government may have rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, bur the debate is far from over. Its position was pretty much expected by the Alberta and federal governments as well as Enbridge.

“British Columbia thoroughly reviewed all of the evidence and submissions made to the panel and asked substantive questions about the project including its route, spill response capacity and financial structure to handle any incidents,” said Environment Minister Terry Lake. “Our questions were not satisfactorily answered during these hearings.”

The province set the bar high before any endorsement could be contemplated for this highly controversial project. There has been overwhelming opposition to Enbridge’s plan, prompting the Christy Clark government to set down five conditions. The Alberta oil patch seems to overlook the fact that, while they crave access to Asian markets, the pathway to getting there is across B.C.  We’ll be carrying the cost of damage as first responders to a spill. For all the mop-up crews  Enbridge will provide, environmental damage could be long term or permanent.

Consequently, the Clark government set down five non-negotiable conditions to be met. They include an environmental review process, world-leading marine and land-based oil spill responses, prevention and recovery systems, aboriginal treaty rights and beneficial opportunities for First Nations’ people, and a fair share in the economic benefits of this venture.

The twinned pipeline project is a $5.5 billion proposal by Canadian oil and gas company, Enbridge, to build a pipeline system 1,177 kilometres long from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat on the west coast. Every day, some 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen will flow west to the coast while along a parallel pipeline 193,000 barrels of condensate will flow back to Alberta to dilute the next batch of oil. The Northern Gateway project will see pipelines cross inaccessible wilderness and 764 watercourses.

Talk pipeline and in the same breath comes the fear of spills. Moving Alberta’s heavy bitumen crude comes with its own set of problems. Enbridge has a less than stellar track record when it comes to both a spill event and their management of spills. A spill in B.C.’s rugged and remote north will be all the more problematic given the fact that diluted bitumen can sink in watercourses making cleanup so difficult. Enbridge faced that dilemma during a spill in Michigan. In its report, the province noted, somewhat caustically, that Enbridge still hasn’t learned from its oil spill mistakes.

According to the Clark government’s report to the Joint Review Panel, “If a spill were to occur during a period of high flow conditions, a common occurrence in British Columbia rivers, then some aspects of the response may have to be curtailed or at least delayed until the high flow event recedes. At certain water velocities, booms become ineffective and are potentially unsafe to operate. The presence of heavy snow could also impede access during response operations, requiring use of snowmobiles, snow cats, and helicopters. Snow accumulation can reach 8-9 metres, Weather may limit the ability of helicopters to aid in spill response.”

The fact is, Enbridge still doesn’t have its spill details in place yet.

“Northern Gateway has said that they would provide effective spill response in all cases,” said Lake. “However, they have presented little evidence as to how they will respond. For that reason, our government cannot support the issuance of a certificate for the pipeline as it was presented to the Joint Review Panel.”

Shortly, the Review Panel will start hearing final arguments then present its report to the federal government. In the meantime, the feds should spend less time promoting the pipeline and more time putting in place effective regulations to meet B.C.’s concerns.