Northern Gateway: A long way yet to cross the Pacific – by Globe and Mail Editorial (December 20, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Let’s start at the beginning. Canada is producing more oil and gas than ever before, far more than can be used here at home. The long-running development of the Western Canadian oil patch is predicated on much of that resource being exported.

In the case of oil, growing quantities of it are moving by railway, but those virtual pipelines of tanker cars are generally not as safe or as efficient as actual pipelines. That’s why a series of pipe proposals are on the table, heading south, east and west. For Canada’s oil to get to markets at home and overseas, many of these pipelines must be built. The question is not “if.” It is where and how and under what environmental rules.

Which brings us to Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal. On Thursday afternoon, the federal joint review panel recommended that it be given the green light, subject to 209 conditions. The 1,178-kilometre project aims to move 525,000 barrels of crude from Alberta, across northern British Columbia to the port of Kitimat. It will then be put on tankers – about 220 a year – which will travel down the Douglas Channel and across the Pacific to Asia.

The panel concluded that the project, if “constructed and operated in full compliance” with those 209 conditions, “is in the Canadian public interest. We find that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it.” The final decision – to proceed or not, and under what conditions – rests with the federal government, which has six months to consider the results of this review.

Northern Gateway, along with TransCanada Corp.’s stalled Keystone XL project, is the most controversial of the pipelines under consideration. Keystone doesn’t pose any novel environmental dangers, but the fact that it would cross the American border has allowed it to be sucked into the Washington, D.C., political vortex, from which it may never escape.

The other major pipeline plans, however, are made-in-Canada solutions. And they generate far less scrutiny and controversy, because they travel along long-standing routes. Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain project is an expansion of an existing pipeline, ending at an existing oil terminal near Vancouver.

Enbridge’s Line 9 plan involves reversing the flow on a pipeline in Ontario, to move Western oil to the East, instead of the other way around. TransCanada’s Energy East plan would convert an existing Alberta-to-Quebec gas pipe to oil, and then extend it to Saint John, New Brunswick. A refinery there that now ships in foreign crude could end up processing Canadian oil, and the oil import terminal could be converted to export.

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