Conflict between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford over the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to the West Coast is not in the long-range interests of either province and needs to be resolved.
In July, Ms. Clark laid down five conditions for considering support of the project, including a provision that B.C. must receive a "fair share" of the fiscal and economic benefits. Ms. Redford's response was immediate and negative and seemed to assume that B.C. was seeking a share of Alberta's oil royalties, even though this was not the case.
Since the Alberta Premier has been seeking to take the lead in developing a "national energy strategy," it's in her interests to take the initiative in negotiating a resolution to this dispute with British Columbia. Otherwise, the question rightly arises: "How can you lead the development of a national energy strategy -- which involves finding common ground on the energy front among 10 provincial governments, three territorial governments, the federal government and the private sector -- if you can't find common energy ground with your sister province of B.C.?"
In seeking to reconcile the interests of Alberta and B.C. on the energy front, there needs to be a renewed commitment on the part of both provinces to the spirit and the letter of the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) negotiated by Alberta's Ralph Klein and B.C.'s Gordon Campbell. Under this agreement, both provinces pledged to reduce and eliminate trade barriers between them rather than to increase them. Under Section 15(2), the two provinces agree to "promote enhanced inter-jurisdictional trade in energy," and Part IV details a formal dispute resolution procedure.
Since the original negotiation of TILMA in 2006, Saskatchewan has also become a party to this interprovincial free-trade agreement now called the New West Partnership. Since Premier Brad Wall is more experienced in government and energy matters than both Ms. Clark and Ms. Redford, would it not be worthwhile to invite him to play a mediating role?
Finally, in seeking to find common energy ground between Alberta and B.C., there might be merit in broadening the discussion to consider electricity generation. Electric utility experts have long argued that a greater integration of B.C.'s hydro generation with Alberta's thermal generation could significantly lower the electricity rates in both provinces and further strengthen export possibilities.
In addition, such a broadening of the energy discussion would require B.C. to take into account Alberta's concerns about the future development of another huge hydro dam proposed by B.C. Hydro for Site C on the Peace River. With respect to the Site C development, the positions of the provinces are somewhat the reverse of what they are with respect to the Gateway project. In the case of Site C, B.C. will benefit economically from the project and Alberta will suffer the negative downstream impact on the environment and aboriginal peoples.
Would B.C. be willing to grant Alberta a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits from Site C if Alberta would be willing to do likewise with respect to Gateway? Or if in B.C.'s estimation that the negative effects of Gateway on the environment and aboriginals are so serious as to justify not proceeding with the project, would B.C. accept a similar judgment from Alberta with respect to Site C?
Important considerations deserving of frank and open discussion, negotiation and mediation between two great provinces that stand to benefit much more from the reconciliation of their conflicting interests than they do from their perpetuation.
(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."
(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.
(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?"
(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."
(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."
(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.
(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."
(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."
(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."
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."
(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.
(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."
(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.
(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.
(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>)
(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.
(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.
(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.
The refining or upgrading of the tarry bitumen which lies under the oil sands consumes far more oil and energy than conventional oil and produces almost twice as much carbon. Each barrel of oil requires 3-5 barrels of fresh water from the neighboring Athabasca River. About 90% of this is returned as toxic tailings into the vast unlined tailings ponds that dot the landscape. Syncrude alone dumps 500,000 tons of toxic tailings into just one of their tailings ponds everyday.
This area, located in the extreme northwest of British Columbia, marks the western boundary of the Boreal region. On the border of the Yukon and Southeast Alaska, the western flank of these mountains descends into Alaska's Tongass Rainforest and British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest. Far from the oil sands, the greatest remaining coastal temperate and marine ecosystem is imminently threatened by the proposal to build a 750-mile pipeline to pump 550,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude to the coast. Once there, it would be shipped through some of the most treacherous waters, virtually assuring an ecological disaster at some point in the future.
Even in the extreme cold of the winter, the toxic tailings ponds do not freeze. On one particularly cold morning, the partially frozen tailings, sand, liquid tailings and oil residue, combined to produce abstractions that reminded me of a Jackson Pollock canvas.
Photographed in late autumn in softly falling snow, a solitary spruce is set against a sea of aspen. The Boreal Forest of northern Canada is perhaps the best and largest example of a largely intact forest ecosystem. Canada's Boreal Forest alone stores an amount of carbon equal to ten times the total annual global emissions from all fossil fuel consumption.
Twenty four hours a day the oil sands eats into the most carbon rich forest ecosystem on the planet. Storing almost twice as much carbon per hectare as tropical rainforests, the boreal forest is the planet's greatest terrestrial carbon storehouse. To the industry, these diverse and ecologically significant forests and wetlands are referred to as overburden, the forest to be stripped and the wetlands dredged and replaced by mines and tailings ponds so vast they can be seen from outer space.
In an effort to deal with the problem of tailings ponds, Suncor is experimenting with dry tailings technology. This has the potential to limit, or eliminate, the need for vast tailings ponds in the future and lessen this aspect of the oil sands' impact.
So large are the Alberta Tar Sands tailings ponds that they can be seen from space. It has been estimated by Natural Resources Canada that the industry to date has produced enough toxic waste to fill a canal 32 feet deep by 65 feet wide from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, and on to Ottawa, a distance of over 2,000 miles. In this image, the sky is reflected in the toxic and oily waste of a tailings pond.
The Caracajou River winds back and forth creating this oxbow of wetlands as it joins the Mackenzie flowing north to the Beaufort Sea. This region, almost entirely pristine, and the third largest watershed basin in the world, will be directly impacted by the proposed Mackenzie Valley National Gas Pipeline to fuel the energy needs of the Alberta Oil Sands mega-project.
Oil sands pit mining is done in benches or steps. These benches are each approximately 12-15 meters high. Giant shovels dig the oil sand and place it into heavy hauler trucks that range in size from 240 tons to the largest trucks, which have a 400-ton capacity.
The Alberta oil sands are Canada's single largest source of carbon. They produce about as much annually as the nation of Denmark. The refining of the tar-like bitumen requires more water and uses almost twice as much energy as the production of conventional oil. Particularly visible in winter, vast plumes of toxic pollution fill the skies. The oil sands are so large they create their own weather systems.
Located just 70 miles downstream from the Alberta oil sands, the Athabasca Delta is the world's largest freshwater delta. It lies at the convergence of North America's four major flyways and is a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl and considered one of the most globally significant wetlands. It is threatened both by the massive water consumption of the tar sands and its toxic tailings ponds.
This network of roads reminded me of a claw or tentacles. It represents for me the way in which the tentacles of the tar sands reach out and wreak havoc and destruction. Proposed pipelines to American Midwest, Mackenzie Valley, and through the Great Bear Rainforest will bring new threats to these regions while the pipelines fuel new markets and ensure the proposed five fold expansion of the oil sands.