A matter of national interest

The battle lines are drawn, and Northern B.C.’s pristine wilderness is the latest front. With hearings underway into the proposed $5.5-billion, dual 1,172-km Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project to transport bitumen from the Alberta tarsands to Kitimat and imported condensate to dilute it from the coast back to Alberta, the fossil fuel industry and its supporters have stepped up the rhetoric.

The battle lines are drawn, and Northern B.C.’s pristine wilderness is the latest front. With hearings underway into the proposed $5.5-billion, dual 1,172-km Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project to transport bitumen from the Alberta tarsands to Kitimat and imported condensate to dilute it from the coast back to Alberta, the fossil fuel industry and its supporters have stepped up the rhetoric.

Environmentalists and people in towns, rural areas, and First Nations communities in B.C. have lined up in opposition.

It’s not just about potential damage from an oil spill along the pipeline route or from a supertanker plying the precarious fiords and waterways along our northern coast — as critical as those concerns are. The larger issues are about our continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels and the economic impact of rapidly exploiting and selling our resources and resource industries.

It’s about Canada’s national interest. With lax royalty structures and massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, not to mention foreign ownership of tar sands operations and lobbying by foreign companies, Canadians are not enjoying the real benefits of our oil industry. In fact, increasing reliance on the tar sands is hurting other sectors of the economy, manufacturing in particular.

Thanks to the government’s support for the fossil fuel industry, ours is a petro dollar that rises and falls with the price of oil. The high price of oil has increased our dollar’s value, and that has hurt the more labour-intensive manufacturing sector, which relies on exports. Not only have hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs been lost over the past few years, Canada has also been missing out on opportunities to join the boom in production of renewable-energy technology.

And when we build infrastructure such as pipelines to support the fossil fuel industry, we increase the incentive to use fossil fuels for a longer time and decrease the incentives to invest in cleaner energy.

Industry adherents have come up with many arguments supporting the Northern Gateway project. Some have more holes than an oilfield.

Take the jobs argument. Even Enbridge admits that most would be in short-term construction work. Only about 35 to 40 long-term jobs would be created at the Kitimat marine terminal, with some additional jobs in pipeline maintenance.

It hardly seems worth risking tens of thousands of jobs in tourism and the fishing industry, among others, for a few short-term and even fewer long-term positions.

Most economic benefits from increased tar sands production would go to the companies and their shareholders, including firms from the U.S., Korea, and China. In fact, state-owned PetroChina, which already operates in the tar sands, has just bought 100 per cent of the MacKay River project.

The “ethical oil” argument is so absurd as to be hardly worth mentioning, but it’s one the government has latched onto. Oil can’t be ethical or unethical. People, and by extension the companies they own and operate or the governments they represent, can behave in ethical or unethical ways, but a product can’t.

The Northern Gateway project, and much of the recent and pending tar sands expansion, will help companies owned by the government of China dig up the bitumen and send it there for refining and use. The ethical oil folks admit that China is a police state, so why do they support selling them our industry and resources? Canadian tar sands companies also do business in the countries tagged by the ethical oil folks as being unethical — often in partnership with state-owned companies.

The anti-American conspiracy theories are even more absurd. Saying that opposition to the Northern Gateway is a plot by U.S. funding agencies to protect America’s access to Canadian oil is just idiotic in light of the fact that many of the same groups and funders also oppose the Keystone XL pipeline project that would carry oil from the tar sands to Texas. It’s odd to see such anti-Americanism coming from conservatives who apparently support Communist China!

The only real argument for Northern Gateway is that it will increase profits for the oil industry, and hand over more of our resources and the associated profits and jobs to China. The arguments against it are so numerous we’ve barely touched them here.

Scientist, author and broadcaster David Suzuki wrote this column with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

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