Pipeline: What’s in it for B.C.?

How do we get our political leaders to develop an approach to energy that is in the best interests of British Columbia residents?

Re: Clark’s tough stand on pipeline earns praise, The Progress, July 31.

How do we get our political leaders to develop an approach to energy that is in the best interests of British Columbia residents? Opposition to transporting raw tar sands bitumen through pipelines in British Columbia continues to grow. At issue are proposals for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipelines. If you live in southwestern British Columbia you have good reason to be concerned.

Several major pipeline accidents, in the last month alone, cast a shadow over these companies’ plans. Recently the Northern Gateway pipeline debate has taken a new turn—into an argument about money. Thus it has marginalized issues of water pollution, climate change and increasing cancer rates related to fossil fuels. Alberta Premier Redford and BC Premier Clark voiced seemingly opposing positions on the national stage. One might assume they were standing up for their respective electorates, but were they?

One important fact has been ignored in the debate about pipelines through BC: Tar sands bitumen is already being shipped silently through Kinder Morgan’s 59-year-old Trans Mountain Pipeline from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, BC. On learning this in April of this year, concerned residents of southwestern BC formed the PIPE UP Network to educate themselves and their communities about tar sands pipelines. Here’s a summary of some of what we’ve learned:

Tar sands bitumen (which must be diluted by volatile organic compounds to be shipped through pipelines) is not like conventional crude oil: It is more corrosive and more toxic. Pipelines operate under higher pressure and temperature when piping tar sands bitumen. We know that all pipelines have spills. Research shows that tar sands pipelines spill more frequently and put people and the environment at much greater risk than conventional oil pipelines (see NRDC report Tar Sands Safety Risks”).

Spills of tar sands bitumen have a devastating impact on the economy and the environment—as evidenced by Enbridge’s 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan which negatively affected local business and tourism and drove down property values (see Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute report). Two years, and approximately $800 million later, it is still not completely cleaned up.

Equally importantly, as economist Robyn Allan’s Economic Assessment of Northern Gateway” clearly shows, tar sands pipelines are “not an income generating growth opportunity” as the industry tries to claim. Her analysis concludes: “the value added potential of our raw resources is sold-short on the international market. From a public policy standpoint, Canada is being outplayed.”

Whenever there’s a spill, the corporations promise safer pipelines. Can they guarantee that there will be no spills? Their track record is poor. Should local people bear such a risk? Politicians are giving tax breaks to big, outdated, and dangerous, raw resource extraction corporations. Meanwhile, it seems that Canada is losing ground in developing clean energy. Should we not rethink fossil fuel subsidies and instead support job creation in clean energy and transportation industries?

While export of tar sands bitumen may be profitable for some corporations, we cannot see any net economic benefit for residents of British Columbia (or, for that matter, for Canadians generally). Nor can we see how rapid expansion of the tar sands is in Canada’s best interests economically or environmentally.

What is in the best interest of residents in British Columbia? Come out and join in the conversation. Attend one of our town hall meetings—the first ones are scheduled for Abbotsford on August 15, and Chilliwack on August 22. Visit www.pipe-up.net for more info.


Michael Hale

Chilliwack, B.C.

Representative of the PIPE UP Network