By Roger Annis, first published in the Vancouver Observer, Dec 9, 2013
Two important events hit the headlines last week concerning the future of fossil fuel projects in British Columbia. One was the release on Dec. 5 of the report by Special Federal Representative Douglas Eyford. He’s the lawyer appointed earlier this year by Stephen Harper to find a way for fossil fuel projects in BC to overcome the opposition of First Nations and others.
The other was a new declaration of opposition to the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline by a number of environmental organizations, trade unions, other organizations and several elected politicians. The declaration is in solidarity with First Nations, specifically in support of the Save the Fraser Declaration first issued by First Nations in 2010. More than 130 First Nations in British Columbia and the northern Canadian territory of Yukon have signed onto the Save the Fraser Declaration.
A new website and online petition that reaffirms opposition to Northern Gateway is named ‘Hold the Wall’. Among the signatories to it at the Dec. 5 ceremony were the BC Teachers Federation, Unifor union, Council of Canadians, BC Wilderness Tourism Association, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the David Suzuki Foundation.
A new cooptation approach by the federal government
Douglas Eyford’s appointment and report are an implicit recognition by the federal government of its failure, together with Enbridge Inc, in bullying through the Northern Gateway pipeline. Their pro-pipeline efforts have been laced with epithets labeling Northern Gateway opponents as ‘foreign-financed’ and ‘radicals’ and have only served to boost opposition to the line.
CBC News reports, “Eyford’s report is the second step in helping advance Harper’s stated goal of turning Canada into an ‘energy superpower’.’’ The first step has been cultivating markets in Asia for Canada’s fossil fuel resources. The BC and federal governments have been working that end of the street intensively. Premier Christy Clark has just returned from a lengthy promotion tour in China.
Eyford recommends an intensely consultative process with First Nations in place of the failed bullying. That approach has already scored success with support for the vast gas fracking and liquefied natural gas plans in the north of the province.
Meanwhile, attention is rising over the plans of Kinder Morgan to expand its existing Trans Mountain Pipeline. The company would build a new line to carry tar sands bitumen in, approximately, double the quantity of the refined and light crude oil that presently flows. The new line would follow the existing route in places, but divergences from that as well as the scale of expansion where the route would be unchanged make it, for all intents and purposes, a new pipeline.
According to AJ Klein of the PIPE UP Network, awareness and opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline is growing by leaps and bounds in the Fraser Valley and further east along the proposed route.
“The outpouring of concern in the Fraser Valley over Kinder Morgan’s new pipeline is significant. These aren’t so-called radicals–they are people from all walks of life who understand that in this day and age, building another pipeline just doesn’t make sense,” she told the Observer.
“They want to see smart decisions being made for the future. They want to see Indigenous rights and concerns prioritized. They want to see something aside from the same old “drill baby drill” mentality that continues to put all of us, the Fraser Valley included, in harm’s way.”
Kinder Morgan has made official its intention to build the new line. National Energy Board hearings on the project are due to begin in early 2014.
Until now, the company has been promoting the line out of the spotlight. Presumably, it has watched the experience of Enbridge and the federal government over Northern Gateway and chosen a different path than threats and bluster to gain approval.
Oil tanker safety
One reason the Trans Mountain expansion is drawing more attention is news of the large increases in oil tanker traffic in and out of Vancouver harbor that would accompany it. That burst into news again last week when a federal government-appointed Tanker Safety Expert Panel reported that the mechanisms for responding to oil tanker spills on Canada’s west coast are woefully inadequate.
The Globe and Mail reported, “Ottawa established the panel to recommend safety enhancements as part of its effort to win support from the B.C. government and First Nations for crude oil pipelines and tanker ports that would give the oil industry access to Asian markets.”
Presently, an average of five tankers per month loads up at Kinder Morgan’s Westridge storage and shipping facility in Burnaby. That would increase six or seven fold, to one tanker per day, approximately.
Transport Minister Lisa Raitt responded to the report in saying, “We will act on the advice from the panel and will work to create a world-class tanker safety system here in Canada.”
One can only pray that this might work better than the rail safety system that is under increasing public scrutiny and criticism in Canada following the oil train disaster in Lac Mégantic, Quebec last July. The latest expose of rail safety failure appears today on CBC News. It reports that CN Rail is deciding what accidents and derailments it will and will not report to federal authorities.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and other Lower Mainland mayors have voiced very deep concern over threats to marine safety by increased tanker traffic. And, The Province reports that Mayor Robertson is, “not satisfied with the limitations the NEB has put on the hearings to consider only issues relating to the pipeline or downstream marine transportation. He believes it also should consider the effects of climate change related to the use of the fossil fuels carried by the pipeline.”
One of the prices being paid for fossil fuel policy in BC and Canada is formal democracy. Since May of 2012, the BC Legislature has sat for 36 days only, in early 2013. The first session of the new Legislature is not scheduled until February 2014. The year 2013 saw the fewest number of days of Legislature sessions since 2001.
Last summer, newly elected Premier Clark cancelled a scheduled fall sitting of the Legislature. She explained her decision with this: “We told British Columbians we were going to get to work building an LNG industry.” Indeed, democracy in a warming planet can be a real annoyance when there is so much money to be made from tearing fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them.