Northern Gateway pipeline economics

Author
Robyn Allan
I grew up at Jericho Beach. My brother and I played war games with our friends based on a TV show called The Rat Patrol. We’d sneak along the beach, under the army base wharf, past imaginary enemy lines and make our way to Spanish Banks and up into a field we called the Plains of Abraham.

I never imagined then that I would be fighting now to stop Supernatural British Columbia from becoming a supertanker terminal for Alberta. It’s not just the danger of a spill and what it will do to the beaches that I want to talk about today. It’s the broader issue of Canada’s energy strategy putting all our futures at risk.

Canada has an energy strategy? Yes we do. It’s just not designed to serve Canadians.

The strategy is decided in the boardrooms of large corporations and national oil companies owned by foreign governments. It’s delivered to the federal government behind closed-door meetings with lobbyists and over dessert at state dinners in other countries. Companies like Suncor, Nexen, MEG Energy, Cenovus and Total are all investors in the Northern Gateway approval process. We also have national oil companies owned by the Communist Party of China like Sinopec, PetroChina, and the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company. These companies are all directly or indirectly involved in this project.

These players have decided they need pipelines to the westcoast. They want to ship crude oil, primarily unprocessed oil sands called bitumen, to Asian markets. Both Sinopec and PetroChina have a fleet of oil tankers. They own almost all the refineries in China. That’s where they plan to upgrade and refine the crude oil they produce here into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products necessary to power Asia’s economic growth. It’s upgrading and refining that creates jobs. It’s upgrading and refining that generates value added – not shipping bitumen down a pipeline.

We’ve been led to believe Northern Gateway means construction jobs. Enbridge – in a new ad campaign developed for British Columbians – pitches the construction jobs as a big plus. Enbridge claims “over 3,000 construction jobs at the peak of construction.” Sounds, you know, okay. That is until you run it by the truth metre.

That number comes from Volume 6C of their application, pages 4-8. The number is 3,029 person years of employment for three months in the third quarter of the third year of a five-year construction project. Person-years of employment are not jobs. If you work for a company for three years as a manager, that’s one job and three person-years of employment. Enbridge would call it three jobs. The construction jobs, when we run them through the truth meter, are just a tad over a 1,000, not 3,000.

That doesn’t mean these jobs are for British Columbians – they may go to anyone, even offshore temporary workers.
Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel has told us PetroChina would “love” to build the pipeline. Stephen Harper has made major changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Budget Bill C-38. These changes allow companies to import workers within 10 days, and pay them 15 percent less than the going domestic rate. These changes will certainly help PetroChina tender a low bid since they have a huge, low-paid labour pool ready to draw on.

There are virtually no long-term jobs from Northern Gateway. Enbridge says 78 jobs in BC and 26 in Alberta. A total of 104 permanent jobs.
But we do give up a lot of permanent jobs by not upgrading bitumen in Alberta. We ship those jobs down the pipeline along with the crude oil. For the bitumen that can be shipped along Northern Gateway, it’s estimated 4,800 permanent upgrading and refining jobs are lost. Compare 4,800 permanent jobs lost to Enbridge’s 104 permanent jobs gained.

We need to know that when bitumen is exported, so are jobs and value-added wealth. None of the lost jobs have been acknowledged by Enbridge in its ads or included in any of its analysis. If the Canadian government was as concerned about jobs in Canada as it pretends to be, bitumen would be upgraded in Alberta.

So what’s stopping us? The multinational companies and the Chinese government don’t want it that way. Upgrading and refining in Alberta was the strategy as recently as 2008. The oil industry had 10 new upgraders planned and even some new refineries, but then the financial crisis hit. Since then, oil production plans have recovered, while plans for new upgraders and refineries in Canada have not.

Back in 2008, when Prime Minister Harper was running for re-election, he promised bitumen would not be shipped to Asia. His government continued to publicly extol the virtues of processing oil in Canada right up until Enbridge filed its application for Northern Gateway in May 2010. So when industry proponents say it’s not economic to upgrade and refine in Canada, you can say, “Hey wait a second, as recently as 2008 that was the plan; it was economic and it was endorsed by Harper’s government.”

Once Northern Gateway is built, when Enbridge decides it wants to expand capacity, increase tanker traffic and expose the land and sea to exponential spill risk, no one will be held accountable to address the environmental threat. If the actual environmental threat of Northern Gateway is going to be assessed, it has to be done as part of the initial application.

This issue becomes important when Kinder Morgan submits its application to the National Energy Board. You need to ensure the full design capacity of the new pipeline and marine expansion is assessed, not the minimum, as has happened with Northern Gateway.
Kinder Morgan has presented its new project as a 450,000 barrel per day pipeline. With design features similar to Northern Gateway’s, it could move 850,000 barrels a day and that means somewhere around 475 oil tankers a year dropping anchor off English Bay.

There’s one final area of misinformation I want to discuss today. That’s Enbridge’s operating risk and safety record. Enbridge tells us in its ad campaign that the company has “World-class safety standards… carefully planned and built to respect the terrain and wildlife. The pipeline will be monitored 24/7.” But when you run this information through the truth metre, well…

From 1998 to 2010, Enbridge had 770 reportable oil spills, a number of them considered large by National Energy Board standards. When Enbridge submitted its risk analysis to the National Energy Board, it only included spill statistics from 2005 to 2009. In the insurance industry, we call this kind of selective choice of data “cherry picking.”

On July 25, 2010, a little over a month after filing its application for Northern Gateway, Enbridge suffered the most significant spill in the company’s history. Enbridge’s Line 6B ruptured in Marshall, Michigan, releasing more than 20,000 barrels of dilbit. Toxic condensate evaporated into the air impacting the local population. Bitumen made its way into the Kalamazoo River.

Enbridge’s corporate standard for identifying a spill is 10 minutes with an additional three minutes for pipeline shutdown. It took more than 17 hours for the Kalamazoo spill to be detected and the pipeline shut down. This pipeline was monitored by Enbridge “24/7.” Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel testified before the US House of Representatives in September 2010. He said, “By the end of September, we will have completed the bulk of the clean up.”

Twenty-three months later, with clean-up costs reaching $765 million, only three of the 39 miles of the Kalamazoo River have been opened to the public. Restoration of the affected waterway and surrounding lands has not started. The restoration stage of the Kalamazoo River will certainly take years and possibly decades. A few weeks ago [early June], the US National Transportation Safety Board released 170 documents, 5,000 pages and 58 pictures of the spill. These documents provide an arms-length, independent look at Enbridge’s world-class safety standards. They explain operating safety took a back seat to corporate growth.

All it will take to ruin the Kitimat watershed system is a spill of – not 20,000 barrels of dilbit into the Kitimat River, but if the spill takes place upstream – somewhere in the neighbourhood of 600 to 650 barrels should do it.

There are more than 700 fresh waterways that Northern Gateway will traverse. The topographical and other geophysical challenges of Northern BC are significantly greater than the relatively flat land traversed by Line 6B in Michigan.

The Kalamazoo spill wasn’t discovered by Enbridge in its state of the art control room, even after 17 hours of pressure problems, repeated alarms in the control room and three shift changes. No one saw the problem as a spill. Someone in Marshall who saw the oil called the control room. But here is something truly shocking. Enbridge doesn’t just downplay Kalamazoo; the company behaves as if the spill never happened.

During the past two years, Enbridge has not updated any of the risk analyses filed with the National Energy Board to include the Kalamazoo spill. We need to ask – who is looking after the Canadian public interest? Mr. Harper is not. Mr. Harper is not behaving as the Prime Minister of Canada. Mr. Harper is behaving as a marketing manager for big oil.

We need to ask who is looking after BC’s public interest? Premier Clark is not. As Premier she has the constitutional power to ensure Northern Gateway undergoes a provincial environmental assessment that includes the environmental threat of the designed capacity of the project—including the tanker traffic it triggers.

She has the power to ensure BC’s public interest is protected, but stands back and allows it to be trampled by the Harper government. We need to be clear. Premier Clark has been asked to lie down and play dead on Northern Gateway. By agreeing to do so she has given Northern Gateway the go ahead.

Not exercising the right to a provincial environmental assessment means BC agrees to accept the National Energy Board decision. Prime Minister Harper has told us Northern Gateway will go ahead. The only way to stop this pipeline and the tanker traffic that comes with it is for BC to exercise our right to review the project and decide whether or not we want it to go ahead.

Who is looking after the pubic interest of this riding? Your MLA Christy Clark is not. As Premier, she has the power to ensure a provincial environmental assessment of the Kinder Morgan project. Yet she has not said the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal will undergo a provincial review. As a result, Premier Clark has agreed to – what has become – a National Energy Board rubber stamp with a big yes on it.

By doing nothing, Christy Clark has made a decision for you.

She has decided the oil export strategy designed in the boardrooms of big oil take precedence over your vision of what British Columbia, as a province, and Vancouver, as a coastal city, should be.

Environmental assessment is our right. While you still have the power to keep BC’s economy and environment out of harms way, take action. Tell Prime Minister Harper you’ve had enough of his support of large oil companies who put at risk our economy and our environment.

Tell Premier Clark to stop playing dead and stand up and protect the rights of all British Columbians. Thank-you.
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Robyn Allan is an economist and the former president and CEO of ICBC (Insurance Corporation of British Columbia) www.robynallan.com. On June 16, she delivered a talk on the Northern Gateway Pipeline at a townhall meeting in Vancouver hosted by Joyce Murray, Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, www.joycemurray.liberal.ca The text here has been adapted from her talk. Read her entire address at www.commonground.ca

This article appeared in the JULY 2012 print edition © Common Ground magazine.
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