VANCOUVER - While the British Columbia government remains locked in a dispute with neighbouring Alberta over revenues from the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the province has declined offers from Enbridge (TSX:ENB) to discuss benefits.
Al Monaco, chief executive officer of the Calgary-based company, said Wednesday that the $6-billion pipeline is a strategic development for all of Canada.
B.C. is "quite legitimately" insisting on criteria such as First Nations involvement and environment safety before it will approve the project, he said, but so far has not requested a meeting with Enbridge about concerns over the revenues and potential benefits of the pipeline.
In fact, Monaco said the province has turned down the company's offers for discussions.
"My understanding it that it's not their desire to meet with us at this point in time, but we remain open to sitting down with the premier, as we would other members of the government or, frankly, whomever we need to," Monaco told reporters in a conference call following an investor conference.
There are many benefits to B.C. from the project, Monaco said: it would be the largest energy project in B.C. history and would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in spinoffs, taxes and jobs.
"As to whether or not there are any additional benefits beyond that, that's something that the governments I know are, hopefully, discussing now or in the future. We would certainly be glad to be sitting at the table in that discussion but at this point we haven't seen that opportunity," Monaco said.
Premier Christy Clark has outlined five criteria that must be met before B.C. will allow construction of the pipeline to deliver diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to a tanker port proposed for Kitimat, B.C., to transport crude to Asian markets.
The project faces opposition due mostly to the risk of a spill on land or from the tankers off the B.C. coast, and Clark has said the project must include world-leading response plans for a marine or land oil spill. It must also address aboriginal and treaty rights and include First Nations participation.
Monaco said he believes Enbridge can deliver on those demands.
But Clark said B.C. also must get a greater share of the fiscal and economic benefits from the pipeline than is currently on the table, to reflect the greater risk to the environment for the westernmost province.
Alberta says sharing royalties from the project is a non-starter, and Clark has responded by suggesting B.C. could withhold hydro and regulatory approvals to press the issue.
Clark was not immediately available to comment, but her spokesman, Mike Morton, said it would be inappropriate for the premier to meet with Enbridge officials until the review on the proposed pipeline is complete.
Morton said this discussion has to take place between B.C., Alberta and the federal government.
Clark reiterated in a speech to the University of Calgary's School of Public Policy on Tuesday that B.C. could make things difficult for the project.
"British Columbia has the power to grant or withhold 60 permits," she said.
"British Columbia's power would be required to power up the pipeline from B.C. Hydro, a Crown corporation. There's a whole number of things the British Columbia government could do and certainly if this project was forced through without meeting the five conditions, it wouldn't be just the British Columbia government that would be in court. It would be every First Nation across the line."
The project is currently undergoing a joint environment assessment review. That panel has until the end of 2013 to complete its report and recommendations.
Monaco told an investor conference earlier that the controversial project benefits the entire country.
"The bottom line on Gateway I think is this: It is a highly strategic project to Canada and there is general agreement that accessing the Asian market is in our interest," he said.
"As a resource driven economy, there's no question that Canada needs access to tidewater and the project is going to generate billions in terms of spinoffs, thousands of jobs and benefits to communities."
It could help boost the price Canadian oil producers see because without access to Asian markets, Canadian producers will face a further discounting in oil prices compared with international benchmarks caused by a supply glut at a key storage hub in Cushing, Okla.
The glut has caused oil priced at Cushing — the WTI benchmark — to trade at a discount to other international benchmarks.
"I don't think that is a tenable situation in the longer term," he said.
In addition to the Enbridge project, Kinder Morgan has proposed its own $4.1-billion Trans Mountain project that would expand an existing pipeline from Alberta to the Vancouver area.