In the wake of Washington’s decision to delay TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, Canada’s federal politicians are clamouring now more than ever to ship oil to Asia — but they’re ignoring an insurmountable obstacle: British Columbia.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters on Sunday at the APEC summit that selling energy to Asia is an “important priority” for his government, while Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver added he wants a regulatory decision by early 2013, a year ahead of the current schedule, on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C.’s coast.
What you wouldn’t know from listening to the Canadian government is that most financial analysts don’t bank on Northern Gateway ever being built, due to overwhelming First Nations and public opposition in B.C.
If the delay of Keystone XL makes one thing clear, it’s that projects don’t go ahead without social licence.
A State Department spokesperson said the decision to delay arose from the growing anti-Keystone revolt in Nebraska that made it difficult to say the pipeline was in the “national interest.”
Meanwhile, the opposition to Northern Gateway in British Columbia is already stronger than the opposition that crippled Keystone in Nebraska.
More than 70 B.C. First Nations have banned oil tankers and pipelines in their own laws and 75 to 80 per cent of British Columbians oppose opening inside coastal waters to oil tanker traffic, according to opinion polls. B.C. Premier Christy Clark may be sticking to the sidelines for now, but she won’t be able to forever.
Reuters market analyst Robert Campbell says Canada’s ululation about finding other pipeline routes is at best a huge exaggeration dredged up to fan American fears about energy security.
“If anything, a pipeline from Alberta across the mountainous province of British Columbia is likely to face more scrutiny from environmental groups than Keystone XL,” Campbell wrote on the day of the Keystone decision.
Robert Mark, an oil and gas analyst at MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier, also says Northern Gateway is iffier than Keystone (and, given the state of Keystone, that’s saying something).
“There’s lack of treaties . . . there’s all sorts of land claims issues. I think the groups that control those lands, as well as the provincial government to some degree, are not as friendly about this type of pipeline,” Mark told Business News Network on Nov. 3.
“On top of that you have the fact that you’re going to be exporting from an offshore terminal, which raises the ire more of environmentalists, so there’s a lot more hoops to go through on Gateway.”
The feds are flapping their gums about shipping oil to China — because there’s no plausible plan to do so.
Even if the Conservatives managed to ram Northern Gateway through the review process, it would be hung up in the Supreme Court for years. The only other proposed pipeline to get oil to the West Coast is Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain expansion, but that’s already up against formidable opposition, including growing municipal concern and 61 First Nations who banned oilsands pipelines and oil tankers last year.
Both proposals face the same fundamental problem: they have to get through B.C. And since B.C. bears the burden of risk, one way or another this will ultimately be British Columbians’ decision — after all, it is our coast, our salmon rivers and our livelihoods at stake.
All signs indicate that British Columbians’ minds are made up and their answer is no.
Corporations and politicians can ignore the need for social licence, but no amount of denial will change the undeniable: Northern Gateway is extremely unlikely to be built given the opposition in B.C.
Harper knows this, Clark knows this and it doesn’t matter how often they attempt to deflect criticism toward regulators, sooner or later it will be in one of their best interests to cry uncle and look for an out.
To suggest Northern Gateway is a realistic option is not only delusional — it is insulting to the thousands of people who stand to be affected and it makes British Columbians look like nothing more than pawns in a global power game.
Emma Gilchrist is the communications director for Dogwood Initiative, a Victoria-based non-profit that brings together British Columbians to reclaim decision-making power over their air, land and water.