Industry, First Nations and environmentalists seek consensus in pipeline debate

Northern Gateway Pipeline | BCBusiness

The risks of a spill and rewards of revenue are far from certain in the contested debate over bitumen pipelines and shipping

A diverse set of oil and gas company representatives, port officials, First Nations leaders and environmentalists came together to discuss the risks and rewards of transiting extracted resources by water, pipeline and rail at a conference hosted by the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in North America on Wednesday.

The goal: establish common ground where the energy industry, First Nations, environmental groups and government can, at least, talk. “Most of us can agree on a solid environmental assessment process that is science- and fact-based,said Christopher Harvey, an environmental and constitutional lawyer at Mackenzie Fujisawa LLP, who opened the event. 

“Our current means of decision-making isn’t working,” said another speaker, Tom Gunton, an SFU professor and former deputy minister of environment and finance in the B.C. government. “If we continue on this course, there will be enormous consequences for government, First Nations and companies. Projects cannot be built in such a conflicted environment.” A lot of that conflict concerns environmental risk. Echoing the argument of the provincial government, Gunton questioned the distribution of the benefits if B.C. is assuming majority of that risk. He said that B.C. will get just three per cent of the revenue benefits from Northern Gateway.

When it comes to environmental risks, several pipeline companies take issue with how they are being calculated. “The risks get too caught up in consequence, not probability,” said Ian Andersen, CEO of Kinder Morgan Canada, who emphasized the low probability of either a pipeline spill or a tanker accident. “It loses context often.”

According to Enbridge’s modelling, the risk is for 0.2 to 2.2 spills over a 40-year period. But when a different model is applied—such as the U.S. government’s environmental analysis—that increases to four and as high as 10 spills in a 40-year period, according to Gunton.

A major oil spill could cost upwards of $10 billion to $15 billion, but the liability that Enbridge is responsible for is capped at $1.2 billion. “So who picks up the tab?” said Gunton. “It will most likely be the taxpayer. If companies are confident, they should step forward and bear 100 per cent of the liability, uncapped.”