Imagine a train carrying potash from a northern Saskatchewan mine derailing while traversing Alberta, spilling part of its load and causing considerable environmental damage.
Now imagine a truck loaded with lumber from British Columbia overturning on an Alberta highway, blocking traffic and triggering serious traffic accidents.
Could the governments of Saskatchewan and British Columbia be held morally culpable or legally responsible for damages caused because the natural resources being transported originated in those provinces?
To ask the question is to answer it. It’s perfect nonsense.
But that’s the kind of ridiculous scheme B.C. Premier Christy Clark wants to impose on Alberta for petroleum extracted here and transported through her province on its way to Asia and other parts of the world.
Alberta-based Enbridge Inc. plans to build a pipeline called Northern Gateway to carry crude oil from Northern Alberta to Kitimat B.C.
From there, the oil will travel by tanker to Asia and other energy-hungry parts of the world.
It’s a huge, expensive project that will cost billions of dollars and create enormous wealth.
Like any other big project, it creates risks of many sorts, including financial, environmental and political.
The political risks are driving Clark these days. Her deeply unpopular Liberal government faces re-election next May.
They seem doomed to lose to the New Democrats, who have never met an energy megaproject they didn’t love to hate.
Running scared, Clark has focused on the Northern Gateway pipeline. She says British Columbia is bearing an unfair burden of financial and environmental risk for the line and wants Alberta to pony up.
She wants royalties paid by Albertans for every barrel shipped through northern Gateway.
It’s nonsense and Clark knows it.
She also knows that regulatory hurdles needed to approve the Northern Gateway Pipeline — which include gaining consent of aboriginal tribes whose land must be crossed — will not be close to completion by the time the next provincial election rolls round.
She’s playing crass and cowardly politics today to preserve her hold on power next spring.
The pipeline proponent has made her task immeasurably easier.
Clark’s royalty confiscation scheme was announced only days after a U.S. government agency reported on a massive 2010 pipeline leak in Michigan. The leak was by far the worst in that state’s history.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board report on this debacle described some of the pipeline owner’s actions as a Keystone Kops operation.
That included having a broken valve leak oil into a watershed for 17 hours before it was detected.
That operator was Enbridge Inc., the same firm planning the Northern Gateway.
Understandably, news reports on the NTSB’s findings received enormous media play in British Columbia.
In fact, Enbridge’s poor performance in Michigan two years ago bodes well for B.C. today.
Enbridge president Pat Daniel spent three months in Michigan dealing non-stop with the disaster and learning ways to avoid a repeat.
His company spent almost $800 million cleaning up the spill, which included a paltry $3.8 million U.S. government fine.
There’s no doubt that Enbridge’s procedures and performance are better today than they were two years ago and will have to be stepped up again in British Columbia.
Enbridge has pledged improvements, including thicker pipeline walls for sections crossing streams, and more valves.
It has agreed to pay extra tolls on every barrel of oil shipped through Northern Gateway, creating a fund to deal with any emergencies or contingencies.
It will also need to carry more insurance coverage.
Citizens of British Columbia should expect nothing less. They should also expect honesty, decency and professionalism from their government.
Clark’s crass attempt to extract royalties from the owners of oil while it’s in the ground — the people of Alberta — fails on all three counts.
British Columbia will get enormous benefits from the Northern Gateway over time.
Studies by the respected McDonald Laurier Institute project $28.8 billion in job-creating revenue for British Columbia in the next 25 years from developments in Alberta’s oilsands.
B.C.’s total will rise to $42 billion, the institute says, if the Northern Gateway pipeline through B.C. and Keystone pipeline through the American plains are built.
Alberta can contribute directly to that wealth generation in B.C.
It could, for example, fund tanker port construction at Kitimat, as Premier Peter Lougheed did in 1975 by investing Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund money in a new Prince Rupert grain terminal.
That initiative helped expand export markets for Alberta grains, while creating enduring new jobs for British Columbians.
What Alberta cannot and will never do is accept Clark’s presumptuous claim for an ownership stake in our oil.
Joe McLaughlin is the retired former managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.