Although the National Energy Board application for the TMEP has not even been filed, many parties are already opposing the project. Such opposition is premature and probably unwarranted, as explained below:
THE ANTI-OIL SANDS CAMPAIGN
There is a well-organized and wellfinanced (by U.S. foundations to a large extent) campaign against Canadian oilsands development. In my opinion, some groups opposing energy projects seem to care little about the veracity of their claims. Industry information isn’t perfect either, but at least within the NEB process, witnesses are under oath and are cross examined by experts.
Opposing parties will often differ on values, vision, and perceptions of benefits and risks of a project – this is normal and legitimate. Inadvertent errors of fact also occur on both sides of any issue.
However, in the 2004 federal hearing on B.C. Offshore Oil & Gas, I exposed two examples wherein a 1994 Canadian federal government document had been altered to make it appear – falsely – to be about offshore oil. This same document was falsely represented in 2007 as industry spill predictions for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Many recent examples of serious misinformation from anti-TMEP groups exist.
Why do opponents claim large tanker spills are “inevitable,” but don’t tell you that B.C. has nearly a century of imports/exports of crude oil and shipments of petroleum products throughout and beyond B.C. without serious incident. Much of this history occurred before radar, GPS, tethered tugs, double hulls, coastal pilots, and other improvements. Tankers still supply all liquid fuels to Vancouver Island and many coastal towns.
An unfortunate outfall of this misinformation campaign will be damage to the credibility of the legitimate environmental movement.
The lesson for the public and the media is – don’t take information from any source at face value until you have established confidence in that party. Ask for sources backing up the claims made, especially scary claims. Seek the views from the opposite side of the fence.
TRANSITIONING OUT OF CARBON
The anti-pipeline/anti-tanker campaigns in B.C. are not really about pipelines and tankers. It’s about stopping Canadian oilsands development. Ben West of Forest Ethics was quoted in a 2012 article: “But even if pipeline and tanker shipments were completely safe, West says he and many in B.C.’s environmental movement would still oppose them to try to keep the vast oil reserves of the oilsands in the ground.”
Why do they want to keep the reserves in the ground and forgo Canadian jobs, taxes, and royalties? These groups claim that the oilsands are a “carbon bomb” that will fatally contribute to greenhouse gas emissions with potentially “disastrous consequences.”
This thesis assumes that if Canadians refuse to sell crude oil to – for example – China, the Chinese will not buy similar crude from a competing supplier. This is a ridiculous assumption. China will replace our crude, and world GHGs will stay basically the same.
The only major change by stopping our oilsands development is the transfer of thousands of Canadian jobs and huge government revenues (which pay for public services) to other producing countries.
We can only achieve major world GHG reductions by fuel switching in the consumer marketplaces of the world – by moving from coal to natural gas or renewables for example, and efficiency improvements.
Shutting in Canadian resources and hence giving our markets for crude oil, natural gas, or coal to foreign competitors achieves nothing except harm to the Canadian economy.
Perhaps even worse, given the law of unintended consequences, our oil may be railed to B.C. ports or other locations – a more costly and less safe transportation mode than pipeline, with fewer economic benefits to B.C. and Canada.
We export nearly 100 per cent of our oil and natural gas to the United States, and they like that! Have we not learned from the softwood lumber fiasco that having only one customer for any product is very risky – that we need outlets to Asia for our oil and gas products? This campaign against oilsands is based on a false premise. We are not reducing global warming by shutting in Canada’s oilsands reserves – we are just changing suppliers of the commodity, to Canada’s detriment.
TRANSPARENCY IN ENERGY
The key National Energy Board documents for TMEP will be the application and other evidence, the decision itself, and crucially, if TMEP is approved, the conditions imposed on the project.
Without seeing these documents, and particularly the imposed conditions, it is impossible to judge the benefits and risks of a project. I am disappointed in those who categorically and unconditionally oppose TMEP when none of these key documents yet exist. Let’s wait for them before making a personal decision.
The issue is not the safeguards on pipelines, tanker operations, spill prevention and cleanup that we had yesterday or have today. The issue is: If and when the regulatory authorities approve TMEP, what project safeguards will me mandated by the NEB and other authorities? John Hunter is a semi-retired chemical engineer who has worked for more than 40 years in the energy industry, including heavy oil, oilsands, natural gas utilities, power production, district energy, and petroleum refining in Canada and overseas. He does consulting work for energy companies including TransMountain Pipelines.
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