PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. - A half dozen Pacific humpback whales broke the grey surface of the ocean Tuesday just a few nautical miles away from where proponents and critics are sparing before a federal panel that is weighing the future of the Northern Gateway oil pipeline.
It was a fairly calm day for storm season in the North Pacific, where Brian Falconer, Long-time mariner and marine operations co-ordinator for the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, said waves can swell to 26 metres high.
But the project assessment by Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) said waves along the tanker route reach 10.2 metres.
"I've sailed on this coast for 35 years," said Falconer, and that is "very, very misleading."
"It doesn't match anybody's experience on the coast. Their portrayal of the weather conditions, their portrayal of duration of the fog, they don't match," he said as the Tsimshian Storm ferry swayed to and fro with the waves.
The company uses variously averages, mean values and other "manipulations" of weather, storm conditions and shipping traffic to paint a more favourable picture of the oil pipeline and tanker port, he said.
"They're not lying. They've just chosen a way of expressing it that is meaningless in assessing risk," Falconer told reporters who took part in the trip organized by the World Wildlife Fund Canada to show the tanker route.
A couple of times a month during the winter, the area will see waves that pummel even huge container ships. Winds can gust on rare occasions to 70-some knots an hour and there is far more shipping traffic than presented when smaller and fishing vessels are included in the figures, he said.
"It's a manipulation of statistics... the miracle of averaging," Falconer said.
Todd Nogier, a spokesman for Northern Gateway, said company experts will be questioned under oath about the data used in the assessment later in the hearings, and expect to fully explain their choices.
He said the statistics used by Enbridge represent the average, and not the most extreme events.
Ship pilots normally monitor closely all forecasts and weather information, and act accordingly, he said.
"They would adjust their scheduling and their route to avoid these extreme weather events," Nogier said.
The supertankers that will carry oil from the proposed port in Kitimat only need to have one major spill in 30 years in order to cause irreparable harm to the coast from Alaska to Vancouver Island, say conservation groups.
In the hearing room, a panel of company experts testified under oath for a second day about the environmental and socio-economic assessment of the marine component of the project.
Maria Morellato, a lawyer for Coastal First Nations, asked about the possible risks to local fisheries, suggesting the company is basing its assessment on incomplete information.
Jeff Green, who is responsible for the environmental assessment for the pipeline, said that in some cases traditional and cultural resource use information was not provided to the company.
"As more information comes forward from any of the coastal First Nations, that information will be welcomed and it will be used," Green said, opening the door for consultation that so far many aboriginal groups have declined.
"If you've reached a conclusion, is there any point in providing that information?" Morellato responded.
"Absolutely," Green said, adding that the end of the panel process will not be the end of the environmental assessment process for the project.
The province of British Columbia will not be questioning the current panel, but is scheduled to return to the hearings in February to question a panel on marine emergency preparedness and response.
The panel will hear testimony on the tanker port and shipping assessments of the project until Monday, and return to Prince Rupert for 10 more weeks of hearings in the new year.
Earlier, lawyers for Ecojustice, which represents a coalition of conservation groups including Raincoast, asked company experts about the risks to marine mammals, including endangered humpback and killer whales.
It's not just a major spill that poses a risk, said Darcy Dobell, vice-president of Pacific region World Wildlife Fund Canada. Tanker strikes, noise pollution and displacement from feeding grounds pose a routine risk, she said.
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(Sept. 4) - Northern Gateway president John Carruthers argues the pipeline is just as important to Canada as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Canadian Pacific Railway..."when constructed, [they] laid the foundation for significant benefits for generations of Canadians. Our project is no different."
Robert Mansell, U of C School of Public Policy
(Sept. 4) - Robert Mansell, academic director of the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, argued the benefits the pipeline could have for Canada. "Just imagine a situation where, if not for Northern Gateway, you had shut in 525,000 barrels per day for one year. That loss works out to $40-million a day, or $14.4-billion per year," he said.
Leanne Chahley, lawyer for the Alta. Federation of Labour
(Sept. 4) - Leanne Chahley, a lawyer for the Alberta Federation of Labour, questioned the estimated economic gains. "It's still a social science that you're involved in, economics. How much degree of certainty should we give it?"
Gil McGowan, Alta. Federation of Labour President
(Sept. 4 ) - Albert a Federation of Labour argues the $6-billion line would mean 5% less refinery in Alberta and the loss of 8,000 jobs. "China is in the midst of a building boom in terms of refineries and refining capacity, so our fear is that if our policymakers allow this pipeline to be built we'll end up in a situation where our own homegrown refineries are no longer economic and they'll close down," federation president Gil McGowan said. "We'll end up in a situation where we're sending our raw bitumen oil to China and then buying back the refined product."
John Carruthers, Northern Gateway President
(Sept. 4) - Northern Gateway president John Carruthers on the Enbridge's committment to environmental responsibility: "It involves assessing, in the same objective fashion, and according to the same standards, the information or evidence that has been presented by those who are opposed to the development of our project. And it culminates in approving the project under a framework of conditions that will promote reconciliation over division, and fact over rhetoric."
John Risdale, B.C. First Nations Chief
(May 2012) - B.C. First Nations leaders travel to the step of the Alberta Legislature to voice their concerns on the environmental damage. "The pipeline route that they have proposed is following the most major river system that we have and when the river is ruined, the people are ruined, the land is ruined," said Hereditary Chief John Ridsdale of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
Terry Lake, B.C. Environment Minister
(Sept. 4) - B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake on how Enbridge plans to exceed world standards in spill prevention. "We certainly want to clarify with Enbridge some of the comments made over $500-million more of safety improvements and what exactly will that mean," Lake says. "In terms of monitoring, in terms of response capability, how can we ensure that any proponent would have to live up to what we consider world class response and mitigation measures."
Economist Robert Mansell, U Of C School Of Public Policy
(Sept. 5) - <strong>On the chance that the proposed Nothern Gateway pipeline would have a negative effect on central Canada's manufacturing sector</strong>: "It is not credible that one could argue this would cause Dutch disease." "Would it do, as has been alleged -- cause the rate of inflation to go up and then force the monetary authorities to tighten the money supply and thereby shrink the economy? The answer is no. "Monetary policy is based on what's called the Core Inflation Rate, which excludes the price of food and energy."
Texas-Based Energy Consultant Muse Stancil
(Sept. 5) - <strong>In a report submitted to the hearing, Texas-based energy consultant Muse Stancil said the Northern Gateway will have an effect on oil pricing in North America:</strong> "It can be expected to have a material effect on the distribution patterns and pricing dynamics for Western Canadian crude, as crude producers for the first time will have a high-volume alternative to their historical markets within North America," said the Muse Stancil report. "Northern Gateway allows the Canadian crude producers to both stop selling to their least attractive refiner clients (from a pricing prospective) and reduces their need to ship heavy crude via comparatively expensive rail transport."
Richard Johnston, UBC Political Scientist
Sept. 5 - <strong>On the chance the federtal Tories could lose ground in B.C. due to unfriendly policies such as support of pipelines to the west coast:</strong> "Among the risks to their base, I would put Northern Gateway highest," Johnston said. "The risk/benefit ratio (for B.C.) is massively unfavourable in itself and if the government were to force the issue pre-emptively, they would add an additional dimension to the debate, singling out one province for ill-treatment, rather like the NEP and Alberta. I expect Conservative MPs are worrying about this aloud."
Elisabeth Graff, B.C. government lawyer
(Sept. 7) - "Are you willing to acknowledge this is a complex organizational structure that limits the liability of a corporate giant that definitely would have sufficient funds?" she asked. "What we're left with is an entity which you tell us has the financial resources necessary to cover any type of spill, but we're still doubting whether that is possible." "No, I just fundamentally can't accept that," replied Mr. Carruthers. "Because of the investment, everyone would want to make sure there's proper funding available in case of a spill," he said.
Janet Holder, Enbridge senior executive
(Sept. 7) - "We're doing everything in our power to mitigate against a spill." "Believe me, Enbridge doesn't want a spill. It's not what we're in the business for. We're in the business of moving very safely, environmentally sound and in a sustainable way, product from one spot to another."
Geoff Plant, B.C.'s head lawyer for the hearings
(Sept. 7) - "The question [is] whether Enbridge is actually capable of getting the kind of insurance to ensure against the risk of liability," on whether the insurance is there should an oil spill happen.
Barry Robinson, lawyer for three environmental organizations
(Sept. 8) - "If free market economies aren't at play, where's the economic benefit?" asked Robinson about the economic effects of the hypothetical possibility of Chinese interests buying control of the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Kelowna resident James MacGregor
(Spet. 6) - The Avaaz petition <a href="http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/Stop_Enbridges_Northern_Gateway_pipeline/?whtizcb" target="_hplink">"No Enbridge Tankers/Pipeline in BC Great Bear Rainforest"</a> was started by James MacGregor and has since passed 10,000 signatures. "BC's entire Great Bear Rainforest, its wildlife and the livelihoods of coastal First Nations are all at great risk if Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline is approved," he said. "I know I'm not the only one out there speaking up about the pipeline, but I felt like I couldn't sit back and do nothing." (Source: <a href="http://www.vancouverobserver.com/blogs/earthmatters/petition-opposing-northern-gateway-pipeline-clears-10000-signatures" target="_hplink">Vancouver Observer</a>)
Hana Boye, lawyer for Haisla First Nation
(Sept. 17) - On who could end up with ownership stakes: "If we don't know who these investors are, we're not able to determine if they're financially viable, if they're market-force driven or if it's in the interest of Canadians," she said.
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Chris Peters, Engineer
(Sept. 17)- Peters argues that an approval of the pipeline might mean a setback to Canada's national climate change policy aims to reduce such emissions to by 2020. That cost "should be recorded as a negative and a cost to the planet," said Peters.
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Terry Lake, B.C. Environment Minister
(Sept. 17) - In the worry that in the event of a spill, Enbridge won't have tge insurance to cover the clean-up costs: "Enbridge and Northern Gateway are very aware of that concern now, so we'll look to their response. But we've made it clear that taxpayers will not be left on the hook," Lake said. "I think that the company would argue they have the resources necessary. What British Columbians want to see is an ironclad guarantee that they do have the resources necessary, that the structure and the insurance in place will protect British Columbians from the cost of any adverse event," he added.