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Kinder Morgan: Oil Spills' Economic Effects Are Both Good And Bad

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The staircase to an oil storage container at the Kinder Morgan facility in Burrard Inlet in Burnaby, B.C. Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013. There is at least something of a bright side to oil spills, pipeline company Kinder Morgan says. | CP

There is at least something of a bright side to oil spills, pipeline company Kinder Morgan says.

In a recent submission to the National Energy Board, the company says marine oil spills “can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies” thanks to the economic activity generated by cleanup operations.

“Spill response and clean-up creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and clean-up service providers,” the company says.

The comments appear in a 15,000-page application to the NEB to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain Pipeline, which carries oil from Alberta to Port Metro Vancouver.

Environmentalists fear an increase in oil shipments through West Coast waters would increase the risk of oil tanker accidents.

Kinder Morgan’s submission doesn’t ignore the negatives; it points out that oil spills are devastating to fishing and tourism industries, and notes the negative impacts on human health, damage to property and harm done to “cultural resources.”

But it cites a 1990 research paper looking at the economic impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill to argue there are positive elements as well.

That research paper found, among other things, a “severe labour shortage” as service industry workers took high-paying jobs in oil spill clean-up. But overall, the study found 59 per cent of businesses were negatively affected by the spill.

The environmental group Sierra Club objected to Kinder Morgan’s analysis in a press statement Thursday.

"It is an outrageous insult to British Columbians that Kinder Morgan would claim there are possible economic benefits from an oil spill,” Sierra Club B.C. campaigns director Caitlyn Vernon said.

"British Columbians deserve good, safe, stable jobs in a vibrant green economy, not hazardous, toxic work struggling to remove heavy oil from beaches and seabirds.”

Kinder Morgan went into damage control mode, telling 24 Hours Vancouver that “no spill is acceptable to us.”

“While we are required by the National Energy Board to explore both the positive and negative socio-economic effects of a spill, it in no way means we accept the inevitability of a spill, nor justify one,” senior director of marine development Michael Davies said.

Kinder Morgan applied to the National Energy Board late last year to triple capacity on its Trans Mountain line. The project has been dubbed “the other Pacific pipeline” because Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project has been receiving far more attention.

The Trans Mountain expansion would be a $5.4-billion project that would see the 1,150-kilometre pipeline largely rebuilt. The federal government has set a 15-month window to review the project and make a decision.

Critics say that, by dropping oral hearings from the review process, the NEB has turned approval of the project into a “mere paperwork exercise.”

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