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Oliver and the Northern Gateway hearings: arrogance trumps democratic process

During this first week of hearings regarding the Northern Gateway project in British Columbia, I won’t reiterate all of the passionate discourse and minutiae that have been shared regarding the oil pipeline that Enbridge wants to build.


The disdainful comments made by Joe Oliver, Canada’s federal minister of natural resources, in his open letter reflect a remarkable arrogance and disregard for the democratic process. They show who he is truly beholden to: the oil companies (those foreign influences!) rather than the public and the voters.


Oliver’s desire to speed up the hearings only shows the elitist presumption of Enbridge, Stephen Harper, and the Tories: in their minds, Northern Gateway is a go, it’s just a question of when. Why let the opinions of the people influence any decision? There’s been no effort made whatsoever to imply that majority views expressed against the project might cause Enbridge and our provincial and federal politicians to rethink it.  That’s because such consideration is not part of their agenda.


Meanwhile, no one has mentioned the potential impact of an earthquake on this pipeline, if it was built. It’s easy to imagine how many toxic chemicals would be released to the air, land, and waterways, if large sections of the pipeline cracked or broke apart.


Now look at sea travel on the Mediterranean and the jarring images of that cruise ship recently sunk off the Tuscany coast. Imagine a supertanker in its place and oil seeping around it for hundreds of kilometres of land and water.


Since we can never eliminate human error (let alone control Mother Nature), we can never guarantee that a pipeline won’t burst or a supertanker won’t run aground. As long as those risks exist, we can’t afford the possibility of allowing the resulting oil spills to wipe out the livelihood of generations of First Nations communities, or of destroying our valuable ecosystems and marine life.


Besides, in this era of peak oil, to invest heavily in oil and no alternative energy sources is ridiculously short-sighted and foolhardy. We can’t afford to maintain an economy dependent on oil production and export that helps China but not Canadians as a whole. Let’s think about our future, one that works for the majority of Canadians, for the earth, the seas, and their creatures.

Watch Pacific Wild’s excellent 16-minute documentary Oil in Eden to find out more about the potential impact of the Northern Gateway project on British Columbia.

January 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm
1 comment »
  • January 16, 2012 at 2:20 pmFrank McElroy

    Well put. As a commercial vessel operator in the Gulf of Mexico, I have some experience with the promises of big oil. They usually run from there being no risk of a problem and if there is one it won’t be. BP, a foreign and international organization, easily proved both promises false. Same with Halliburton (in Dubai now).

    My little business, which supports about ten people (not me), never saw a globule of oil, but had no business for a year, and it’s still way down years later. Friends tell me that you still can’t get a native/fresh shrimp plate on the coast. BP funds TV commercials with nice people from Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana (why not Texas?) inviting us all to come down to what are truly heavenly places. But they aren’t the same, and if Prince William Sound of Exxon Valdez fame is an example, they never will be.

    The gulf coast and big oil have a relationship which is best described as symbiotic – big oil is a parasite which offers a meagre economy (compared to its economy pulled from the gulf) that has silenced fisherman, business owners and politicians all along the coast. BP would have you believe that life is “back to normal” as a result of its efforts. Life isn’t back to normal, and civil litigation will go on for years to extract pennies from the internationals who will suck out every drop of valued resources without paying anything significant for the privilege of doing so, taking minimal monetary risk while putting everyone around their operations at actual risk with no real responsibility (i.e. no bonds, no insurance policies, nothing the damaged world can reach to for the cost of cleanup the industry cannot effect).

    I hope Canada doesn’t make the mistake of inviting the insidious invader into the tent. But the recent government comments described in this wonderful piece by Ms. Conn prove that the camel is already inside and dictating official policy contrary to the wishes of 80% of people in BC. Remember that this government consolidated its power with 60% of Canadians voting for something else.

    It’s my understanding that neither Canada nor BC have any oil release response capability in the contexts of releases over the proposed pipeline route or in the coastal waterways. The proponents (Enbridge Vice President) say there is only 1 chance in 1,500 years that there would be a spill. Look at the facts – Exxon Valdez, Queen of the North, Costa Condordia, oh yeah, and the Queen Elizabeth II which ran onto a rock off Nantucket and limped into Black Falcon Terminal in Boston for repairs. This list is a small fraction of the commercial sinkings and founderings and oil releases over the last 50 years.

    And who is to say that, playing Enbridge’s own numbers game, that the spill/release they acknowledge will happen won’t occur in the first year, or the second or tenth? That it will happen ever is the real issue.

    Amazingly, big oil isn’t saying it has the ability to clean up a major release of its bitumen or condensate (remember, the project is two pipelines, one going one coming). So whenever the anticipated release happens there isn’t anyone with capability to clean it up. Look at the gulf release by BP. It had no ability to deal with either the release or the consequences except to throw money. What it relied upon was the ocean, the marshes and the beaches to catch the crude and turn things around. That’s where the oil is now – in the ocean, the marshes and the beaches.

    For a while there were new jobs at base pay for the previously unemployed to wander beaches and rake up the hardened stuff. We tried desperately to get a gig using our vessel (uniquely designed for this application) in BP’s “program” to clean up, but weren’t able to because there were no spots available. Those jobs are gone now, and that world is forever changed. Still beautiful, amazingly beautiful, but different.

    So compare the BC coastline, at risk as admitted/as proven, to the gulf’s coastline. It has the ocean, but no marshes and no beaches. Big oil won’t be able to hire poor kids to walk the beaches with plastic bags, because there aren’t any beaches, though there will surely be poor kids as water-dependent jobs disappear. You can’t burn a polluted marsh because there aren’t any. The ocean will have to absorb all of it, poisoning everything within it.

    Christy Clark recently stated that BC’s coastline doesn’t belong to BC. One might conclude from that remark that it belongs to Alberta or Ottawa. I can tell you how I would feel if the governors of the states of Florida or Massachusetts, where I have waterfront and water-dependent interests, said that Washington DC or some asshole from Montana had a claim on those waterfronts. I’d be angry and on the move to dissuade them from their delusions.

    So if the tar sands are a “Canadian” asset as the federal government suggests, they should be conserved, managed to benefit all Canadians, rather than sold at the fastest possible rate mostly for the benefit of international big oil, and forwarded on to China (which has oil assets, and frankly, can poison itself). Developing the tar sands to the fullest degree possible will make a few very rich, will create a great contamination of the world’s atmosphere, benefit Canadians outside the loop of investors not at all.

    Long-term development with proper environmental regulation of the tar sands for Canada’s needs will make fewer people rich, over a longer period of time, will benefit Canadians both through continued supply and security. Under the current program, the tar sands will be gone, and then what will Canada do for oil (it will always need oil)? Buy it from China. Or worse, from the U.S.

    It’s time for Canada to develop a national policy that focuses on Canadians, not the interests of the foreign players who appear to some to own the federal government, the provincial government, and the regulatory process, which Mr. Oliver claims, while he threatens to shut it down, must be protected from foreign influence. Mr. Oliver might take some time to meditate over the fact that development of the tar sands affects the entire world, so modest interest by same seems appropriate. No whiners, Mr. Oliver, though you are surely one of the loudest.

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