By Roy L Hales
As everyone expected, the National Energy Board (NEB) has recommended that the Canadian Government approve Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion through the most populated area of British Columbia. The NEB believes the likelihood of a major oil spill “very low,” but “the potential significance” of such a spill “very high.” Kinder Morgan would be required to post calculations of the emissions from all industrial activities and those created during construction of the 1150 km (715 miles) pipeline. If the Trudeau Government agrees and the project goes forward, the number of tankers carrying diluted bitumen out of the Greater Vancouver area could increase from 1 or 2 a week to 10. These are some of the ways BC reacts to the NEB’s pipeline recommendation.
BC Reacts To The NEB’s Pipeline Recommendation
None of the province’s political parties support the recommendation.
“I’m not surprised by the announcement. Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, and the approval process it went through, appeared rigged from the start,” wrote Andrew Weaver, leader of the province’s Green Party.
“For B.C. New Democrats, there are four big concerns with this pipeline proposal that remain unanswered. This a process that ignored climate change. This is a pipeline company that has refused to answer key questions from municipalities, from provincial governments and other concerned Canadians. We’ve got zero clarity and comfort around Kinder Morgan’s oil-spill response plans, and we’ve got a failure to ensure that First Nations directly affected by this project have been consulted and heard,” said John Horgan, Leader of the province’s Opposition party (NDP), in a press release.
Most of the municipalities, First Nations, and the environmental community appear to be opposed.
“Our concerns for the potential negative impact of an oil spill on the local economy and the irreparable damage to our traditional lands and water is simply a risk too great to accept,” said Rueben George, spokesperson for the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, in a press release.
As a perceived friend and political ally of Prime Minister Trudeau’s, some might expect Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson to be more circumspect in his response. Instead, he once again stressed there is little benefit and great risk:
“I am outraged today that the National Energy Board did not reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal with a definitive “no.” Kinder Morgan’s proposal is a bad deal for Vancouver’s environment, and our economy. It puts our cost at enormous risk with seven times the number of oil tankers transmitting our harbour every year. Vancouver is leading the country in economic growth and our brand as a green clean and sustainable city, valued at $31 billion, benefits all of Canada. This project is not in Vancouver, BC, or Canada’s interest.”
According to Kai Nagata of the Dogwood Initiative, who was at the city’s press conference this afternoon, “The mayor went to far as to talk about heavy oil as a sunset industry, which is an analysis I share. He said we shouldn’t be investing this much time and energy in a debate over keeping this one industry alive for a few more years at the expense of so much that we have going on in Vancouver.”1
Greg McDade, the lawyer for Burnaby, said the NEB hearings were a “flawed process. The attorney from Surrey described it as “outdated” and Squamish First nation told the Board its’ “process is deficient.”
“While Canada ties itself in knots arguing over pipelines, the rest of the world is leaving us behind as it transitions to clean, green, economically stable energy. Pipelines and tar sands are not compatible with the climate leadership Canadians celebrated in Paris,” said Larissa Standie of Sierra Club BC.
“We need to make it absolutely clear that this pipeline is never going to be built. There will be protests, civil disobedience and massive opposition,” said said Peter McCartney of the Wilderness Committee. 2
Already Very Close To 1.5 Degrees
There are strong concerns about the emissions entailed by a further buildout of the oil sands infrastructure at a time when the extreme weather events associated with Climate Change (increased wildfires, droughts, hurricanes) are increasing.
A growing number of Climate Scientists are saying that the world’s average Global temperature is already very close to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, if not already there.
“We have definitely reached 1.5 at this time. It will likely be awhile before that is the average temperature, but it is a fact that should be on the front page of every newspaper in the World. We’re broken temperature records month after month. We are already barreling down on the target of 1.5 C,” said McCartney.
According to a recent study of historic tree ring data, from the University of Victoria, points to rising temperatures as one of the ingredients for a mega-sized drought in the province’s future.
When the ECOreport pointed this out to BC’s Environment Minister Mary Polak, at today’s press conference (starts 3:09 in recording below), she responded:
“Having been a part of the International dialogue and and a part of the National dialogue, it is absolutely apparent to me, and it is to our government, there has to be significant action taken if we are going to protect our plant for future generations.”
BC’s Five Conditions
She did not go so far as to suggest the Kinder Morgan project should be rejected outright and once again reiterated, “We will only support new heavy-oil pipelines in British Columbia if our five conditions can be met.”
When I asked what would happen if the Federal Government approved this project anyway (starts 12:42 & clarified 14:04), Polak replied, “One has to ask if they would be willing to overrule our five conditions. I do not believe that they would, nor have I been given any indication they would.”
These conditions include:
- Successful completion of the environmental review process,
- Ensuring world-leading marine and land-based spill response, prevention and recovery systems are in place,
- Satisfying the legal requirements regarding Aboriginal and treaty rights
- First Nations are provided with the opportunities to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project
- British Columbia must receive a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits from any proposed heavy-oil projects.3
British Columbia’s “Modified Process”
As a result of the BC Supreme Court’s ruling that the province “breached the honour of the Crown by failing to consult” with the Gitga’at and other Coastal First Nations on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, British Columbia is proceeding with what Minister Polak called its’ own “modified process” assessment of the Kinder Morgan proposal.
They have already been in discussion with the pipeline company for several weeks. The next step in this process is for the province to issue a section 11 order to set out the scope and process for an environmental assessment. Kinder Morgan will not be able to proceed until they receive an environmental certificate. 4
Two Supplementary Federal Processes
“Today’s decision brings the process created by Harper to an end, (Prime Minister) Trudeau has created two supplementary process: a climate test, which is underway, and 3 person consultation panel. The panel will be consulting further with First Nations and affected communities, so there will certainly be room to be heard further there. The ultimate decision will be made by the Trudeau cabinet, and if they decide to go ahead, a challenge in court by the Tsleil-Waututh is inevitable,” emailed George Hoberg, Professor of Environmental and Natural Resource Policy at the University of British Columbia. 5
“The Liberals promised to fix the environmental review process, but have so far only put in a temporary fix, a three-member panel to review the NEB’s Trans Mountain report. We must return to an independent, robust environmental assessment process for all industry projects. Anything less sets a dangerous precedent,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May.
“The Climate test they are proposing only considers the upstream emissions of the project, created by the tar sands, instead of the emissions from the oil which are much more significant. … It seems like the Government has already made up its’ mind and this process they are introducing is an attempt to gain social license and restore credibility to a broken process,” said McCartney .
He added, “What I do think is people have to show up this summer and be absolutely steadfast in our opposition to this pipeline. It’s not the 1950’s anymore and you cannot railroad a pipeline through over vast community opposition.”
57 First Nations
At last count, there were 57 First Nations that will be affected if this project goes forward and a number of them expressed concerned during the NEB hearings.
“There was the Squamish First Nation, Katzie First Nation, Kwanten First Nation and a number of First Nations from the Island. Some of them are less public, on the advice of their lawyers, because they don’t want to taint their chances in an appeal by speaking out about the process. Others, most notably the Tsleil-Waututh, are campaigning publicly. The depth of opposition is actually a lot deeper than you would get from reading the newspapers,” said Nagata.
McCartney is under the impression that most, if not all, Coastal First Nations are opposed to the pipeline proposal.
“There are at least 16 in the Lower Mainland that are. Every one of these communities has the option to say no and we need to respect that,” he said.
Let B.C. Vote
“This is one of these decisions that is too important to leave up to politicians. At maximum, these people are on a four year time frame and they are thinking about the next election. Whereas people in BC have to live with the consequences of this project for decades to come. This is a decision should be in the hands of First Nations and the people of BC, who have to live with the consequences,” said Nagata.
The Dogwood Initiative is preparing for the possibility that both the Federal and Provincial Governments will approve this pipeline project. They have already set up a website called Let B.C. Vote, from which they intend to launch a formal initiative to force a province-wide referendum.
Top Photo Credit: Sunset over English Bay in Vancouver (2010) by MLNelson1 via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)
- Roy L Hales interview with Kai Nagata of the Dogwood Initiative ↩
- Roy L Hales interview with Peter McCartney of the Wilderness Committee ↩
- telephone press conference with Environment Minister Mary Polak ↩
- Associate Deputy Minister Kevin Jardine speaking at the press conference with Environment Minister Mary Polak ↩
- email from George Hoberg, Professor of Environmental and Natural Resource Policy at the University of British Columbia ↩