Will pipelines be activist B.C.’s latest trophy? – by Claudia Cattaneo (National Post – April 26, 2012)

The National Post is Canada’s second largest national paper.

VICTORIA – During the past few months, the main front in the fight against development of the Alberta-based oil sands has moved to British Columbia. It’s a situation the westernmost province is uncomfortable with and an expansion it’s unmotivated to defend.

The aggressive push by the oil sands industry and the Alberta and federal governments to open a new market for Canadian oil through shipments from the West Coast has been met by equally forceful resistance starting at the AlbertaB.C. border.

Anger has escalated since the start of public hearings in January into the Northern Gateway pipeline, proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge Inc., interrupting years of friendly relations between the neighbouring provinces, particularly on energy development.

Indeed, condemnation of the pipeline through B.C.’s rugged north and its associated oil tanker traffic has erupted into the type of popular revolt that is becoming a B.C. mainstay – from the campaign against the harmonized sales tax to the fight to preserve the Great Bear Rainforest and the moratorium on oil tanker traffic and offshore drilling.

First Nations and environmental organizations have been leading the Northern Gateway shakedown, but other stakeholders – from provincial politicians to the business community – have stayed on the sidelines, depriving the debate of muchneeded even-handed voices.

Critics are milking a big weakness of Northern Gateway – the benefits of diversifying the market for Canadian oil accrue almost exclusively to Alberta and the rest of Canada through corporate profits, taxes, royalties and employment, while British Columbia’s environment bears the risk of a spill.

As one Vancouver-based business community leader put it: “This is the way it’s played out in B.C.: We are putting a pipeline through the province, triggering massive opposition from environmentalists and First Nations, in order to give Alberta an opportunity to sell energy into Asian markets, and we get essentially nothing out of it. That is why even those who will be sympathetic to the project aren’t as focused or as enthusiastic about it as people outside B.C. seem to believe should be the case.”

There is also worry in the B.C. business community that the protests, the expected litigation and the influx of money from international sources to support the campaign will complicate the operating environment for B.C. business.

“We have been able to get things done in B.C. over the last number of years,” said the business leader, who asked not to be named while the Northern Gateway regulatory review is underway.

“It’s a very challenging place to do business for a lot of companies because of the unresolved aboriginal claims, which means we don’t have treaties, so the legal context is more complex, and we have a much more powerful environmental movement in our politics than you tend to have in other parts of the country. But this project has the potential to see a rallying of not just local but global environmental forces who have their shorts in a knot over oil sands to focus on B.C. as ground zero to save the planet.”

So far, the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway has taken the brunt of the anti-pipeline, anti-oil sands campaign. It’s unclear whether opposition will broaden to a rival plan proposed by Kinder Morgan Energy Partners on April 13 for a $5-billion expansion of its Trans Mountain line.

NIMBYs in B.C.’s Lower Mainland have started mobilizing against increased tanker traffic, even though the pipeline has been safely moving oil and loading it on tankers for 62 years. Vancouver Mayor Greegor Robertson said this week he has a moral obligation to oppose the pipeline.

Recognition that there is inequitable distribution of risks and benefits has started discussion about what could be done to make oil export pipelines more acceptable to British Columbians – particularly First Nations, who are seen as the groups most affected.

The Alberta government, for example, has been musing about offering benefits to British Columbia from oil sands development. With Alison Redford’s Conservatives getting reelected by a wide margin on Monday, those efforts are likely to continue. Ms. Redford has talked during her campaign about building bridges and promoting understanding of how all of Canada benefits from Alberta’s resources.

The federal government has also broached the subject. In an interview, Joe Oliver, the federal Natural Resources Minister, said he has had a number of conversations about it with B.C. Premier Christy Clark.

So far, Ottawa has used primarily the stick to keep the proposed pipelines on track. It is shortening the time required for regulatory reviews and is making it harder for environmental organizations to oppose projects, making them even madder.

For his part, Rich Coleman, B.C.’s Energy Minister, said he welcomes the debate and doesn’t have a problem with the protests. He also said he welcomes Ottawa’s move to shorten regulatory reviews, harmonizing timelines with B.C.’s own.

In an interview, he said it’s too soon to discuss additional benefits from oil pipelines because the regulatory review now underway into Northern Gateway needs to be completed. After that, Mr. Coleman said, B.C. would have a discussion with Ottawa and with First Nations about next steps.

Resource exports are important for Canada, he said, but “solutions have to be worked out by parties to find a way to do it that is environmentally safe, and in such a way that people’s concerns are dealt with. I think that’s what this process is trying to do, and if it’s successful, it is; and if it isn’t, we will have to see what else we can do.”

For the rest of this article, please go to the National Post website: http://www.nationalpost.com/related/topics/Will+pipelines+activist+latest+trophy/6520348/story.html