Oil sands pipelines not good for BC economy

Jenny Uechi
It was a business advocate’s perspective on oil pipelines in BC that sparked a spontaneous round of applause at a public discussion themed “Will new oil pipelines benefit BC businesses?”

Dressed in a suit and tie, Hastings Crossing BIA executive director Wes Regan spoke at the Wednesday event, hosted by Citizens for Responsible Economic Development (CRED).

“I don’t think Vancouver in particular, or British Columbia in general, benefits from being a simple conduit for Alberta’s corrosive bitumen oil products to traverse our beautiful geography – just so that it go over can choke Chinese cities with pollution,” Regan said.

“I think that’s completely backwards thinking.”

Wes Regan

People packed into the Creekside Community Centre to talk about whether or not proposed oil pipelines such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway or the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would bring in new jobs and economic benefits for BC.

Panelists agreed that while the pipelines could increase jobs — 50 permanent positions and 4,000 temporary construction jobs, according to Kinder Morgan — there was a huge amount of economic activity that would be debilitated in the event of a major oil spill.

Regan spoke about the diverse BC economy and the “incredible wealth of pristine wildlife” in the province, which he said would increase in value as other regions become more polluted.

Far from being a choice between economy versus environment, the prevailing sentiment in the room was that a clean environment was intrinsically linked to BC’s economic future.

BC: not a resource economy

While Premier Christy Clark touted BC as a resource economy during the election campaign, the vast majority of British Columbians — around 80 per cent — have jobs in the service sector, CRED spokesperson Liz McDowell said. In fact, she added, the oil, gas, and mining industry employs just one per cent of the population in BC.

Many of the biggest job sectors in BC — including the film industry, tourism, fisheries and real estate — would suffer huge losses in the event of a major oil spill along the coast, she said.

Ecojustice lawyer Karen Campbell told the audience that while she often hears the oil industry’s arguments for pipelines, they leave her unconvinced.

“When we’re looking at a lot of the aggressive federal government promotion of the oil and gas sector, it’s important that we put that perspective in the real context,” she said.

Pointing to a report by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, she said that in terms of job numbers (direct and indirect) created per million dollars invested, oil and gas sectors don’t measure up.

“Transit creates 20 jobs per million dollars invested, and professions in science and tech create 13 jobs per million dollars invested. Oil and gas extraction — three jobs, ” she said.

Oil pipeline to take all-new route from Surrey to Burnaby

Jeff Nagel
Kinder Morgan Canada plans to stake out an almost all-new corridor for its second oil pipeline from Port Kells in Surrey to Burnaby to avoid digging through private property in densely populated neighbourhoods.

Greg Toth, senior project director of the Trans Mountain pipeline twinning, said following the existing right-of-way – as the company intends on most of the rest of the route through the Fraser Valley and the Interior – would be too disruptive to existing land owners.

“We’re looking to municipal infrastructure, highways, railway lands and others that we can co-locate with,” Toth said in an interview Monday. “We’re trying to align the pipeline in those pre-existing corridors.”

Besides following local streets or utility corridors, the pipeline could be dug through municipal parks and regional greenways, the company confirmed.

A lengthy project description filed last week by Kinder Morgan sheds little new light on precisely what land would be dug up.

A 150-metre wide corridor is to be unveiled for study purposes as part of Kinder Morgan’s formal application by the end of this year to federal regulators to build the new pipeline.

Detailed engineering would later narrow the construction zone to a smaller area within an 18-metre right-of-way. Further 30-metre “safety zones” created on either side of the right-of-way would give the company a perpetual sign off on any land alterations.

According to the new filing, the existing tank farm in Burnaby would be doubled to 26 tanks and one more tank would be added at Sumas.

Toth said the expansion in Burnaby – more than tripling storage capacity to 5.6 million barrels of oil – is necessary to provide scheduling flexibility, as the company doesn’t control when tankers arrive.

Burnaby-Douglas NDP MP Kennedy Stewart said the Burnaby tank farm expansion is a concern.

“They’re all up on a hill,” Stewart said. “What if you had an earthquake? That’s the big one for me. In the Japanese earthquake a lot of the things blowing up were refineries and storage tanks.”

Even if the pipeline right-of-way runs down alleys or municipal roads, he said, the 30-metre safety zones on either side could still lower property values because homeowners may be constrained from installing a pool or making other improvements in their yard.

The project would include replacing the existing tanker dock at Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby with two new docks that have three berths for tankers.

Dredging may be needed as part of dock construction, the project description says.

But officials say they have no plans to dredge the Second Narrows or to use bigger tankers than the ones already in use in the harbour today.

Capacity of the line is currently 300,000 barrels a day, and Kinder Morgan’s second pipe would increase capacity to 890,000 barrels a day.

The project description says the terminal currently handles an average of five tankers and three barges a month, with two barges outgoing with crude oil and one incoming with jet fuel. Shipments have varied widely in recent years depending on market demand.

The expansion would boost the number of oil tanker shipments to as many as 400 per year.

In operation since 1953, the Trans Mountain system extends 1,150 kilometres from Edmonton along Highway 16 through Jasper National Park, then southwest along Highway 5 to terminals at Kamloops, Sumas, and Burnaby.

The original 24-inch line has been modified several times over the years, allowing it to transport refined fuels as refineries closed in Kamloops and the Lower Mainland in the 1980s and 1990s.

The pipeline supplies crude oil to Chevron’s Burnaby refinery and the Westridge Marine Terminal, where since 1956 ships have carried crude to California, the U.S. Gulf Coast and Asia. A branch line from Sumas supplies refineries at Anacortes, Ferndale and Cherry Point in Washington state.

– with files from Tom Fletcher

The Beaver Lake Cree Judgment: The Most Important Tar Sands Case You’ve Never Heard Of

Sure they’re bad for the environment, for human health, and for wildlife, but we rarely stop to wonder if the Alberta tar sands are in fact unconstitutional.

But the constitutional standing of the tar sands – one of the world’s largest and most carbon-intensive energy projects – is just what’s at stake in a treaty rights claim the Beaver Lake Cree Nation (BLCN) is bringing against the Governments of Alberta and Canada in a case that promises to be one of the most significant legal and constitutional challenges to the megaproject seen in Canada to date.

Signaling the high-stakes of the whole dispute, it has taken five years of beleaguered fighting just to have the case go to trial. Canada and Alberta – the defendants – fought tooth and nail during those five years to have the claim dismissed outright, saying the case put forward by the BLCN was “frivolous, improper and an abuse of process.”

The BLCN is challenging these governments on the grounds of the cumulative impacts of the tar sands and has indicated some 19,000 ‘individual authorizations’ and 300 individual industrial projects in their claim. The governments of Alberta and Canada tried to have the case dismissed under Rule 3.68, a measure meant to protect defendants from cases that are…well…“frivolous, improper, and an abuse of process.”

But this case isn’t one of those.

Canada claimed the claim was “unmanageable” and “overwhelming,” suggesting the 19,000 authorizations were likely to have fallen within the relevant regulatory framework at the time of their approval and needn’t be bothered with. But, as one judge stated, a claim cannot be dismissed based merely on its scope. The courts agreed, telling Canada that no further “delaying tactics” should be permitted in this litigation lest the entire claim be “stonewalled at an early stage through excessive particularization.”

What is more, the court said Canada’s complaint “flies in the face of the Supreme Court of Canada” and its previous decisions, indicating Canada’s counsel was unsuccessful in its attempts to squeeze out of a tight legal position. Canada even sought to have its portion of the claim whittled down to “limit its exposure” in the case, a position the court said Canada’s “counsel candidly admitted to advancing…for strategic reasons.”

On April 30th, 2013, the courts told Canada and Alberta they’d had enough of the bickering. “The parties will be well-served by returning to their case management judge for the implication plan to advance this litigation through trial,” they wrote.

In other words: get your act together, you’re going to court.

The Rights

The Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision to uphold the claim against the crown, grants the BLCN the opportunity to argue the cumulative negative impacts of tar sands expansion may constitute a legal breach of the band’s historic Treaty 6 with the Canadian government, signed back in 1876.

And the significance of this judgment cannot be overstated. The BLCN’s claim now stands as the first opportunity for legal consideration of the cumulative impacts of the tar sands on First Nation’s traditional territory and the implications of those impacts on the ability to uphold Treaty Rights.

And First Nation’s Rights – enshrined as Aboriginal Rights in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 – are arguably some of the most important emerging rights on the Canadian legal landscape and certainly the most powerful environmental rights in the country.

This, in part, has to do with the fact that what section 35 rights actually legally entail, is still being developed through case law. Dozens of important cases – like the precedent-setting R v. Gladstone and Mikisew v. Canada– have been decided by courts over the last 30 years, since the patriation of the Constitution, finding Canada in serious violation of the Constitution when it comes to treaty rights.

Despite the emerging nature of these rights, one thing is clear – First Nations have the inalienable right to hunt, trap and fish in their preferred manner, throughout their traditional territories and the province.

And there’s the rub. If you’ve got a megaproject that is destroying what you might otherwise be hunting, trapping or fishing, you’ve got a serious constitutional gaffe on your hands. The Constitution is the highest law in the land, and cannot simply be ignored.

The Cumulative Impacts

This puts Canada and Alberta in a tough spot. Over the last decade, as they’ve been welcoming a veritable cascade of new projects in the tar sands area, scientists and conservation groups have been raising the alarm as the consequent research began to show devastating effects on caribou populations and fish species especially hard done by the escalating development.

The BLCN’s traditional territories blanket an area about the size of Switzerland. Thirty per cent of tar sands production, or about 560,000 barrels of oil, are produced on BLCN every day. The oil industry has plans to grow this number to 1.6 million barrels a day.

The once-pristine forest and hunting grounds are now covered with 35,000 oil and gas sites, 21,700 kilometres of seismic lines, 4,028 kilometres of pipeline and 948 kilometres of road.

Perhaps it has taken Canada and Alberta by surprise that the cumulative impacts might be considered at a constitutional level. After all, neither the province nor the federal government have been particularly proactive in studying the cumulative effects of development in the area.

True, scientists have been fretting about loss of caribou herds and habitat for decades, even citing the Species At Risk Act as a potential legal cause to slow the pace and scale of tar sands development. But Canada ignored those pleas for caution as long at it could – until another legal action forced them to release the recent Federal Caribou Recovery Act last fall.

And it was only a few months ago that Environment Canada scientists announced tar sands pollution was present in bodies of water up to 100 kilometres from the centre of development. The accumulating toxins, they discovered, disrupt fish embryos at the developmental stage. The federal government worked overtime to downplay the significance of the research last fall, even preventing lead researchers from discussing their findings with the media.

Overall, the federal government has been just as culpable as provincial leaders in keeping these growing environmental effects under-reported, or under wraps. The BLCN’s upcoming litigation may be the change in tide that brings the cumulative impact discussion to centre-stage.

The Cause for Hope

5 years ago Crystal Lameman’s uncle Chief Al Lameman filed the original claim on behalf of the Nation.

“In 2008 I don’t think my uncle knew the attention this litigation would gain,” Crystal said. “His intent and purpose was to protect what little we have left but it has created this movement, this mobilization of a people and it’s a great feeling seeing people mobilize beyond the confines of race, color, and creed. This recent win means our judicial system is clearly standing strong in the law of Canada and it gives me hope.”

And Crystal has much cause for hope, according to Jack Woodward, renowned Native Law expert and lawyer on the case.

“The Beaver Lake case will define the point where industrial development must be curtailed to preserve treaty rights,” he said.

“At issue is the cumulative impact of industry, not each individual project. The court will be asked to say if the level of industrial activity in the hunting grounds has now crossed the line to make it impossible to reasonably exercise the harvesting rights. If the Beaver Lake are successful there will be constitutional controls on development to allow the land to recover and to prevent any further encroachments that might disturb wildlife populations.”

A precedent-setting ruling of that sort would have significance for any other First Nation making similar claims regarding the overall impacts of industrial development. This could have serious ramifications for other First Nation groups living near the tar sands or newly-industrialized zones like British Columbia’s northeast.

“This would be the most powerful ecological precedent ever set in a Canadian court,” says Woodward, “because it protects the entire biological system with a view to preserving its sustainable productivity.”

Other legal protections like the Fisheries Act or the Species at Risk Act, he says, amount to a “piece by piece approach.” The Beaver Lake Cree litigation “is based on protection of the entire ecosystem,” he adds, and determining that crucial point when that system “can’t take it anymore.”

“So the precedent that will be set by the Beaver Lake case is that it will be the first time a court is asked to draw the line defining too much industrial development in the face of constitutionally protected treaty rights.”

The Battle Ensues

Susan Smitten of Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN), a non-profit group supporting the BLCN action since 2009, says just getting the case to trial has been tremendously difficult and expensive.

But the very importance of the case has brought help from all directions.

“We have raised something like $850,000 for the BLCN to cover costs,” she said, “plus we found pro bono lawyers from the UK to assist with the first round on the motion to strike.” People donated, lawyers worked at half-rate, and volunteers gave their time, all to keep the possibility of reaching trial alive.

“Canada and Alberta have done absolutely everything they can to delay and outspend” the BLCN, says Smitten. “This is particularly disappointing with respect to our federal government, which one would hope might support First Nations rights, and honour the promises made.”

However, she says, the tactics of perpetual delay are common practice when it comes to First Nations’ disputes. The government hopes the problem will fade away “because the band can’t keep up with the costs,” she adds.

Smitten estimates the costs could skyrocket up to $15 million once all is said and done.

“With this win, I hope everyone sees the value in assisting this band – morally, financially, emotionally, physically. This is doable. It’s going to trial.”

“I’m always so impressed and astounded that [the BLCN] stay with it,” Smitten said. “The energy it takes to keep this moving forward is incredible.”

The trail represent more than the preservation of First Nation rights and territory, to Smitten. The threat of climate change, she says, is something we all face collectively. Yet, average Canadians don’t have the special constitutional status of First Nations.

“Our Aboriginal peoples will be the ones that rescue Canada from the worst effects of the tar sands,” says Smitten.

“But it’s not fair to rely on the poorest people in our nation to stand alone and be the voice of reason in this effort. They have the power of their treaties to protect the planet, and we have the power of a nation to support them. I just encourage people to get behind the line they’ve figuratively and literally drawn in the tar sand.”


ATHABASCAN CHIPEWAYANS SPEAK OUT ON BITUMEN PIPELINE, by Eriel Deranger and Melina Laboucan-Massimo. Indigenous people living downstream from the tar sands explain why they are saying enough is enough.


A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit

Petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining oil sands oil, is piling up along the Detroit River.

WINDSOR, Ontario — Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River.

Brian Masse, a member of the Canadian Parliament, wants a bilateral agency to investigate the pile accumulating in Detroit.

Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.

“What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground,” said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit. “Nobody knew this was going to happen.” Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.

An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.

Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here.

Marathon Petroleum’s plant in Detroit processes 28,000 barrels a day of the oil sands bitumen.

Residents on both sides of the Detroit River are concerned that the coke mountain is both an environmental threat and an eyesore.

“Here’s a little bit of Alberta,” said Brian Masse, one of Windsor’s Parliament members. “For those that thought they were immune from the oil sands and the consequences of them, we’re now seeing up front and center that we’re not.”

Mr. Masse wants the International Joint Commission, the bilateral agency that governs the Great Lakes, to investigate the pile. Michigan’s state environmental regulatory agency has submitted a formal request to Detroit Bulk Storage, the company holding the material for Koch Carbon, to change its storage methods. Michigan politicians and environmental groups have also joined cause with Windsor residents. Paul Baltzer, a spokesman for Koch’s parent company, Koch Companies Public Sector, did not respond to questions about its storage or the ultimate destination of the petroleum coke.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.“It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

The Keystone XL pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries with a steady supply of diluted bitumen from the oil sands. The plants on the coast, like the coking refineries concentrated in California to deal with that state’s heavy crude oil, are positioned to ship the waste to China or Mexico, where it is burned as a fuel. California exports about 128,000 barrels of petroleum coke a day, mainly to China.

Tony McCallum, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, played down the impact of Keystone XL. “Most of the Canadian oil earmarked for the U.S. Gulf Coast is to replace declining heavy oil imports from Mexico and Venezuela that produces the same amount of petcoke, so it doesn’t create a new issue,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Much of the new coking investment has gone into refineries in the Midwest to allow them to take advantage of the oil sands. BP, the British energy company, is building what it describes as the second-largest coke refinery in Whiting, Ind. When completed, the unit will be able to process about 102,000 barrels of bitumen or other heavy oils a day.

And what about the leftover coke? The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. But D. Mark Routt, a staff energy consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies in Houston, said that overseas companies saw it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.

“I’m not making a value statement, but it comes down to emission controls,” Mr. Routt said. “Other people don’t seem to have a problem, which is why it is going to Mexico, which is why it is going to China.”

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said. One of the world’s largest dealers of petroleum coke is the Oxbow Corporation, which sells about 11 million tons of fuel-grade coke a year. It is owned by William I. Koch, a brother of David and Charles.

Lorne Stockman, who recently published a study on petroleum coke for the environmental group Oil Change International, says, “It’s really the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth,” he said.

Rhonda Anderson, an organizing representative of the Sierra Club in Detroit, said that the mountain’s rise took her group by surprise, but it had one benefit.

“Those piles kind of hit us upside to the head,” she said. “But it also triggered a kind of relationship between Canada and the United States that’s allowed us to work together.”

Northern Gateway crew turned away from B.C. First Nations territory shows pipeline project faces tough road

Steve Mertl
A recent incident involving an Enbridge Inc. crew working on the Northern Gateway project and a B.C. First Nation provides a hint of what the Calgary-based energy company can expect if the oil sands pipeline is ever approved.

The Canadian Press reports the Gitga’a First Nation turned away an Enbridge spill-response survey crew earlier this month. It won’t be the last time work on the as-yet unapproved mega-project is tripped up.

The re-election of the resource-friendly Liberals in this week’s B.C. election may have let Northern Gateway’s backers breathe a little easier.
“I think British Columbians have spoken quite clearly that economic development and economic prosperity is a priority, but not at the expense of the environment,” Enbridge spokesman Ivan Giesbrecht told the Globe and Mail after Tuesday’s vote.

“You know, that has been our message all along as well, and we are certainly committed to working with the Liberal government to move that forward.”
Premier Christy Clark set five conditions for backing the $6-billion project, including economic benefits for B.C. and environmental safeguards, which to the oilmen in Calgary means it’s just a matter of negotiation.

But one of those conditions involves satisfying legal obligations under aboriginal and treaty rights, and that may be a tough slog.
[ Related: Northern Gateway panel issues draft pipeline conditions ]

Many First Nations along the nearly 1,800-kilometre-long pipeline route from Alberta across northern B.C. to a planned export terminal near Kitimat oppose the project. They’re worried a pipeline rupture would dump chemically diluted heavy crude into pristine waterways. Likewise, an accident involving one of the supertankers coming in and out of the terminal could have Exxon Valdez-like consequences on the coast.

Enbridge CEO Al Monoco says he has support of 68 per cent of the 45 B.C. First Nations affected by Northern Ga …
Enbridge might feel more confident about the project, Art Sterritt of the influential Coastal First Nations coalition told the Globe, but “as far as we’re concerned, it’s still dead.”

Sterritt said he doubts Enbridge will be able to mean the “very onerous” conditions set by Clark.

“For example, oil spill prevention hasn’t changed in 25 years,” he said. “We don’t think Northern Gateway is ever going to pass the test on that.”
The Gitga’at live in the village of Hartley Bay, which is near where the B.C. Ferries ship Queen of the North ran aground and sank in 2006, taking two lives. Hartley Bay residents rushed to their boats in the middle of the night in response to a distress call and helped rescue 100 passengers and crew.

Gitga’at Councillor Marven Robinson told CP the band received a fax from Enbridge with no contact information on it, telling the village its survey crew would be coming.
“A few days later the boat showed up with crews,” Robinson said. “This is bad timing. All of our people are down at our seaweed harvesting camp. This is really a lack of consultation.”

Giesbrecht said members of the survey crew went to the band office to let people know they were in the area and “if anybody had any questions, feel free to come and speak to us.

“At the invitation of the Gitga’at, we met with them for approximately 30 minutes, had a very cordial meeting, and at the end of it, we followed their wishes and we respectfully left the area,” he told CP.

Anyone who’s dealt with First Nations knows it takes time to build relationships and the process is hands-on. An unsigned fax is probably not your best calling card.
Giesbrecht conceded there may have been a miscommunication and said the company hoped for future meetings.

But that probably won’t help. First Nations have felt alienated from the environmental-review process, which wraps up next month. The panel’s report is expected by the end of the year. If it favours the project going ahead, expect more confrontation with aboriginal opponents.

[ More Brew: Rob Ford denies drug allegations as world watches ]

B.C. First Nations in the past have used blockades to express their opposition to resource development on their traditional territories. But the real battles likely will be in the courts.

Aboriginal representatives at Enbridge’s annual shareholders meeting earlier this month warned they’ll tie up the project.
“Are you willing to risk extensive legal battles and opposition until my generation is in their 40s?” Trevor Jang, a 20-year-old youth from the Small Frog Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation near Terrace, asked Enbridge CEO Al Monaco, according to the Financial Post.

Monoco responded that Northern Gateway has support across Canada, including 68 per cent of the 45 B.C. First Nations directly affected.
Aboriginal leaders have brushed off Ottawa’s appointment of Vancouver lawyer Doug Eyford as a special envoy to explore ways of reducing the tensions between First

Nations in Western Canada and energy companies.

“It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation said in March, according to CBC News. “We have a lot of issues at stake.”

Kinder Morgan pipeline clears early hurdle

Jeff Nagel
Kinder Morgan Canada has cleared one hurdle on the way to building a proposed second pipeline to carry Alberta oil sands crude through B.C. to Burrard Inlet.

The National Energy Board has approved the company’s commercial tolling application, the rate structure it intends to charge oil companies to use the expanded Trans Mountain pipeline.

It’s not an approval to begin construction.

A formal proposal to build the pipeline is expected to be filed by Kinder Morgan later this year, triggering public hearings similar to those still underway on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.

“The decision reinforces the market support for our expansion plans and it provides us the necessary economic certainty to proceed,” Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson said in a statement.

“As we continue the process, we look forward to working with the new B.C. government and will remain committed to listening to questions and concerns as we develop our application to file with the NEB later this year.”

The NEB decision ruled Kinder Morgan’s rates are just and reasonable, rejecting complaints of oil firms that argued the pipeline company would reap excessive profits.

A second decision is also expected soon from the NEB on an application by Chevron for priority access to oil from the pipeline to supply its Burnaby refinery.

The $5.4-billion Trans Mountain twinning project would boost the flow of petroleum products from 300,000 barrels per day now to 890,000, bringing about 400 tankers a year to the Burnaby terminal.

Burnaby NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who opposes the pipeline project, said the NEB missed an opportunity with the tolling application to order a surcharge on each barrel of oil to help fund environmental protection and spill response initiatives in B.C.

He said the federal Conservative government has drastically clamped down on the public hearing process, and predicted Kinder Morgan hearings will be far less inclusive than the Enbridge hearings.

“There’s now a 10-page application form before anybody will be allowed to speak so the community is just about shut out of these processes,” Stewart said.

“It’s almost an industry love-in now – corporate lawyers talking to corporate lawyers. I guess that’s what you do when you want to ram oil pipelines through to the west coast.”

Calgary fundraiser for BC Liberals to support oil sands agenda

Originally published Published January 17, 2013

More than 100 business elites are expected to attend a private fundraiser Thursday night for Christy Clark’s B.C. Liberals — in Calgary.

The event is reportedly being organized by Murray Edwards, chairman of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, a major oil sands player; and three Conservative insiders, Morten Paulsen, Rod Love and Allan Hallman.

“If your company or organization does business in British Columbia (or perhaps if you or your family own property in B.C.),” a fundraising letter from the event reads, “you should be concerned about the risks posed by the election of a New Democratic Party government in the upcoming election in May of 2013.”

Top of mind is Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal, which NDP leader Adrian Dix has said in the past he opposes. (Dix last August announced he would withdraw the province from the pipeline’s ongoing review process if elected premier, and set up a ‘made in B.C.’ review instead.)

Thursday’s $125 per entrant fundraising dinner may seem a bit strange. Clark, after all, caused considerable tension in Alberta this past summer with her demand that B.C. get a “fair share” of Northern Gateway pipeline revenues.

But organizers of the event, which B.C. cabinet ministers Rich Coleman and Bill Bennett are expected to attend, have apparently chosen the lesser of two evils.

“We’ve got to educate Christy more on the benefits for Western Canada and Canada as a whole on the Gateway project,” Hallman told the Edmonton Journal. “I think it’s more of an educational project with her.”

Clark on Wednesday brushed off any suggestion that raising money for her party in another province is unusual.

“You might be surprised at the political stripes of politicians in B.C. who go to Alberta and do fundraisers,” Clark told reporters.

More than a thousand people protested outside the latest round of Northern Gateway hearings being held this week in Vancouver.

Geoff Dembicki reports on energy and climate change for The Tyee.

Kinder Morgan abandoning coal plan: looking for new sites in Pacific Northwest

A decision by Kinder Morgan to abandon plans to build a coal export facility in Oregon could have repercussions for British Columbia.

The company says it is “still looking at options in the Pacific Northwest” after blaming poor logistics as the reason for dropping plans to build a $200 million coal export terminal on the Columbia River in northern Oregon.

The facility would have handled just over 30 million tonnes of coal annually, most of it destined for overseas markets. Kinder Morgan spokesman Allen Fore told the Los Angeles Times “we concluded our analysis and determined that we could not find a location on that particular footprint that would be compatible with the facility that we needed to construct.”

Environmental and community groups who had been fighting the proposal applauded the decision, calling it a “huge victory for the people of Oregon and another blow to the coal companies.”

“The evidence is in that dirty coal export plans are not viable in the Pacific Northwest,” said Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director for Columbia Riverkeeper. “Now families across the Northwest can breathe easier knowing that the largest coal export terminal proposed in the State of Oregon is off the table.”

Three of six proposed coal export facilities are now ‘off the table’ in the Pacific Northwest. One that continues to move forward is a proposal from SSA Marine for a $655 million Gateway Pacific Terminal for the Cherry Point area just north of Ferndale in Watcom County, close to the Canadian border. The deep-water terminal would include a number of cargoes, including coal. The proposal is currently in the environmental impact study phase, but it faces stiff opposition from citizens and environmental groups.

The coal and shipping industry in the Pacific Northwest has expressed concern that if coal export facilities are not approved and constructed, the economic benefits will shift north to Canada. SSA Marine senior vice president Bob Watters told The Vancouver Observer that Cherry Point is an ideal location for a cargo port, but it must first be approved.

“I think with the physical attributes of very deep water, the capability of handling (very large) cape size ships and the shorter rail haul, that we are in a very competitive situation to capture the majority of the PRB (Powder River Basin coal from Montana and Wyoming) before it goes to Canada,” said Watters. “That being said, if our project does not get approved then I think there is a very high likelihood that that PRB coal will go to Canada.”

“Washington has all the same impacts but does not get the benefits of the jobs or tax revenues, and Canada does,” said Watters.

Canada Expanding Coal Exports

Currently BC’s Westshore Terminal is the only coal export facility in the Pacific Northwest. It hopes to expand its exports to meet rising overseas coal demand. Port Metro Vancouver is also considering a proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks to build and operate a new coal export facility from the Fraser River and has approved additional coal exports from the Neptune Terminal in North Vancouver.

VandenHeuvel of Columbia Riverkeeper says Canadians should be wary of companies eyeing coal exporting opportunities in Canada.

“I’m hopeful that B.C. leaders will consider the tremendous threats from coal export and take a stand,” says VandenHeuvel. “It’s true that coal companies are pushing for export terminals in Canada. However, with growing opposition to these terminals in the BC lower mainland, it’s certainly not a likely proposition that these projects will go ahead. We stand in solidarity with BC citizens who don’t want dirty coal exports.”

Canadian Opposition to Coal Growing

In BC, NDP leader Adrian Dix has already called for a public hearing into the coal export proposal from Fraser Surrey Docks. The decision on that proposal rests with Port Metro Vancouver, which is appointed by Ottawa.

The BC based Voters Taking Action Against Climate Change (VTAACC) has been leading the charge against increased coal exports from BC since the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal was discovered last November. And the organization is promising a battle against the Port and coal companies.

“We’ll fight them just as hard as the opponents did down there in the US,” said VTAACC executive director Kevin Washbrook. “We’ve been fighting them hard since last November on the proposal to ship PRB coal from a brand new coal port in Surrey. Now we have vertically integrated opposition from residents, community organizations, municipal governments, regional governments, the NDP, MP’s and health authorities. We are geared up for a major fight.”

In Oregon, SSA Marine VP Bob Watters admits there is growing opposition to coal, but he doesn’t believe it’s shared universally.

“There is opposition is out there and they are quite vocal. But when surveys have been done in Oregon and Washington, the majority of people on an almost two to one basis support expanding export facilities and handling more bulk cargoes, including coal.”

The Pipeline Plan that Rattled BC, Explained

Geoff Dembicki

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal struck a deep nerve, and its story continues this election.

[Editor’s note: With voting day fast approaching, we look back on big issues that have driven debate in our province during the last 12 years of BC Liberal governance. What did B.C.’s leaders and opposition parties say and do on these major files? What are they saying now? What are the facts? Humbly offered here, a cure for political amnesia among candidates and media alike. Today, a primer on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.]

You’d be excused for assuming that NDP leader Adrian Dix was campaigning against the federal Conservatives during B.C.’s recent televised leaders’ debate, and not his election rival, Liberal Premier Christy Clark, standing just to his right.

On oil pipelines and tankers, Dix framed the issue as a power struggle between Victoria and Ottawa — one that he pledged to resolve in British Columbia’s favour if elected on May 14.

How? Dix would “end the equivalency agreement with the federal government” on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, thereby creating a situation, he claimed, where Ottawa would not “make our decisions about these pipelines.”

Clark reminded viewers of the “five conditions” Enbridge would have to meet to win Liberal approval, and how she had stood her ground last fall, as she put it, against “all the other premiers” in Halifax who opposed them.

In effect: one front-running candidate for premier would stand up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper on oil tankers and pipelines — the other, to Canada’s premiers.

No other 2013 B.C. election issue offers such a stark referendum on the authority of the provincial government. Then again, Enbridge’s pipeline proposal is unlike most other political issues.

‘Radical groups’

Enbridge’s vision of a pipeline that would feed diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to an export terminal on B.C.’s west coast is about a decade old.

Yet in terms of public engagement, the story of Northern Gateway truly began on Jan. 9, 2012, when federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver delivered his “open letter” to Canadians.

His now-infamous address, issued just as Joint Review Panel hearings on the pipeline were set to begin, decried the “environmental and other radical groups” that “threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.”

Oliver’s letter elevated the stakes around Northern Gateway in three significant ways.

First, it turned the public hearings into a polarizing debate about Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vision for Canada: A decision between Enbridge’s “nation-building” pipeline, and the oil sands crude that would fill it — or an alternative, so-called “radical,” environmental agenda.

Second, according to University of British Columbia professor George Hoberg, Oliver’s letter pushed “many moderates who were offended by the style of the attacks into strong opponents of the pipeline.”

And third, by suggesting all critics of Northern Gateway belonged to a monolithic “radical” movement, it strengthened the alliance between B.C. First Nations and the province’s green groups.

That’s not an alliance that should be taken for granted. The 2009 provincial election, after all, saw the environmental movement split between those in favour of run-of-river power projects, many of which are also supported by First Nations, and those opposed to them.

Nor are First Nations and green groups pursuing identical goals in their fight against Northern Gateway. Both agree that a pipeline rupture in B.C.’s heartland, or a tanker crash off the province’s north coast, would be disastrous.

But Northern Gateway also provides First Nations a forum to discuss outstanding land claims, historical cultural grievances and their broader relationship with the Harper government.

‘Very troubled’

In the weeks after Oliver’s “open letter” appeared, The Tyee ran two in-depth stories explaining the deep roots of First Nations concerns.

One revealed how a years-old tree-cutting incident, as well as other cultural missteps by Enbridge, galvanized aboriginal opposition to the pipeline.

The other explained Northern Gateway’s precarious legal position: exactly how First Nations intend to fight the project in court and why many believe their concerns are being ignored by federal decision-makers.

Then, on March 29, 2012, Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled Bill C-38 in Parliament. Its 425 pages of legislation promised to cancel hundreds of environmental reviews, limit the powers of Canada’s leading energy authority and withdraw the country from the Kyoto protocol.

“It is comprehensive, it is forward-looking, it is our government’s major policy document,” Flaherty reportedly said.

Bill C-38 also gave the federal government new powers to order the approval of such projects as Northern Gateway, West Coast Environmental Law noted, “even if the [Joint Review Panel] recommends against it.”

Now, in addition to everything else, Enbridge’s pipeline represented a test of Canadian democracy.

“We are very troubled,” NDP leader Dix wrote in April to the Joint Review Panel, by federal government statements suggesting the outcome of the hearings “is predetermined.”

Building the pipeline, he argued, would harm B.C.’s “economy, environment, and social and cultural fabric.” Dix added: “Therefore [Northern Gateway] should not be permitted to proceed.”

His letter was in effect a major strategic decision from B.C.’s Opposition party. The NDP not only staked out a clear position in the Enbridge debate. It also laid claim to all the perceived values — environmental protection, aboriginal rights, democratic freedoms — associated with that position.

Premier Clark, meanwhile, chose to remain officially neutral on Northern Gateway.

Polling numbers suggested British Columbians preferred Dix’s approach. From April to July, the opposition leader’s approval rating on the environment rose four percentage points, showed Angus Reid data (click here, and then here). Clark’s rating fell two percentage points during the same time frame.

‘Politically toxic’

It wasn’t long before Clark’s neutrality became difficult to justify. On July 10, 2012, American regulators released a scathing report about Enbridge’s oil spill, two years earlier, into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

“Their employees performed like Keystone Kops and failed to recognize their pipeline had ruptured,” said one high-ranking U.S. official.

The condemnation “produced a fundamental shift” in domestic opinion, Hoberg wrote, as leading political columnists in B.C. and elsewhere “declared the pipeline dead.” He added: “Suddenly support for Enbridge was politically toxic.”

Two weeks later, Clark officially abandoned her neutral position on Northern Gateway, declaring her Liberal government would only support the project if five conditions were first met.

Conditions one through four were uncontroversial: Enbridge must win the approval of federal regulators, take appropriate safety measures and meet any legal requirements vis-à-vis First Nations.

It was the fifth and final condition that led news coverage over the summer and into the fall: “We expect a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits [from Gateway] for our province,” Clark said.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford immediately rejected the proposal. In no way would her province financially compensate B.C. to support Enbridge’s pipeline. “It’s certainly not a path I’m prepared to go down,” Redford said at the time.

There were two problems with Clark’s “fair share” strategy. One, because B.C. appears to lack legal authority to actually demand greater pipeline revenues, it made the Liberals seem weak.

And two, though Clark’s strategy operated on a simple and compelling logic — that the province should be compensated for taking environmental risks — it also implied that core Liberal values could be bought for the right price.

‘Frosty’ meeting

An Angus-Reid poll from early August suggested that 43 per cent of British Columbians were “dissatisfied” with Clark’s approach, compared to 27 per cent for Dix’s outright rejection of Gateway.

(Interestingly, only about one-third of respondents were actually “satisfied” with either leader’s position.)

By the end of the month, NDP views on Gateway had been framed more blatantly as a power struggle with Prime Minister Harper.

Dix’s opposition party promised to withdraw the province from Northern Gateway’s federally-appointed joint review panel hearings, and submit the project to a “made-in-B.C.” review.

Clark continued to push her “fair share” bargaining position: First at the Halifax premier’s meeting (where she claims to have “stood my ground” against other provincial leaders) and then culminating in a “frosty” meeting with Premier Redford last October.

Nevertheless, Alberta’s energy sector would likely prefer Clark’s Liberals retain political power on May 14, as opposed to their NDP rivals.

“You should be concerned about the risks posed by the election of a New Democratic Party government,” read a January letter inviting business elites to a Calgary fundraiser for Clark.

No doubt a Jane Sterk victory would also pose “risks” to them — her Green Party is promising an unconditional rejection of Northern Gateway. Less so B.C. Conservative leader John Cummins, who unequivocally supports it.

Yet Alberta’s oil patch, and its boosters in Ottawa, won’t know for sure what kind of pushback to expect from B.C. until May 24, only 10 days after the election, when the next premier will have to present an official position on Northern Gateway to the public hearings process.

That’s when we’ll start to see how much power B.C. truly has.

Read more: Energy, Labour + Industry, BC Politics, BC Election 2013

Geoff Dembicki is covering the 2013 B.C. election for The Tyee with a focus on energy issues.