Ian Anderson and Kinder Morgan: Hard-won pipeline wisdom

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Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously coined the phrase “all politics is local.”

In the passionate national conversation about oilsands development and oil export plans, Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada, can apply that same wisdom in observing that all pipelines are local, too. And few things are more political in Canada these days than pipelines.

The Calgary-based company has proposed a $5-billion twinning of its 53-year-old Trans Mountain oil pipeline from Edmonton to Washington state and suburban Vancouver that would more than double its capacity to 850,000 barrels per day. The line would carry more oil than the Northern Gateway pipeline through northern B.C. that has garnered such vocal opposition.

Unlike Northern Gateway, the Trans Mountain’s proposal isn’t even before regulators yet. But Anderson has already heard plenty of opposition. He can assure anyone in industry who wants to listen; economic lessons on the importance of diversified markets or well-documented talking points detailing the billions of dollars that will be added to the Canadian economy or government coffers simply don’t resonate.

“The ‘national interest’ doesn’t matter a damn to that person who is sitting in Chilliwack whose yard is potentially going to be dug up for a new pipeline,” Anderson said Friday. “It doesn’t matter a damn to that First Nation in the North Thompson Valley who is questioning the integrity of the pipeline that will cross the many streams and creeks on their traditional lands.”

The beneficiaries of Anderson’s hard-won wisdom were a few hundred delegates attending a Canadian Heavy Oil Association conference. His remarks sounded a lot like a report from the battlefield – and in some ways they were.

Kinder Morgan has said it will spend up to two years consulting with communities along the route, including First Nations and environmental groups. Anderson points out he has made dozens of trips to Vancouver, Victoria and other B.C. cities since the expansion project was announced in April, but none to Ottawa.

He told the story of being in a pub in Sidney, B.C., on Monday evening as thousands of people were holding sit-ins across the province to protest pipelines and oil tankers.

When it emerged he was in the pipeline business, the bartender jokingly responded: “That’s good … as long as you don’t plan on building a pipeline through B.C.”

Laughs ensued among his Calgary audience. Regrettably, the conversations haven’t always been so cordial.

In Chilliwack in August, Anderson was grilled at a chamber of commerce luncheon by members of PIPE UP Network over the safety of pumping diluted bitumen through the pipeline and about what Kinder Morgan would do if the expansion wasn’t supported by the communities it will cross along the 1,150-km route.

When he wrote an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun in September espousing the benefits of engaging communities in honest dialogue, Maryam Adrangi of the Council of Canadians wrote a scathing “open letter” in response, concluding: “I agree with you that the only way forward requires trust and confidence. But how can this ‘expansion’ move forward when we have been given so little in which we have any confidence or trust?”

Anderson made the point in Calgary that any proponent of a major industrial project these days must be prepared to engage in tough conversations. In fact, he urged his audience to seek out people whose views they’re not likely to see eye to eye with, at least initially.

While Anderson supports “the very necessary conversation around local interests versus national interest” in Canada over energy infrastructure he has little positive to offer about much of the political dialogue over the issue.

It often amounts to opportunistic rhetoric driven by a political calendar or agenda.

He suggested B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford have hardly been “a shining example of political alignment” in discussions over West Coast pipelines for growing oilsands production but saved his strongest rebuke for federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver and comments last fall that vilified foreign opponents of the pipelines.

Apparently, branding pipeline opponents as part of an international conspiracy to undermine Canadian sovereignty didn’t help.

“It wasn’t very well timed for us,” Anderson said, pointing out he supported Oliver’s intent but not his comments. “What it did was further entrench that local opposition.

“That local opposition got more reinforced, more committed to standing in the way of this project whether it was because they don’t trust Ottawa and politicians and it made my job on the ground that much harder.”

After laying the groundwork until 2014, a two-year review by the National Energy Board will follow. If it is approved, construction could start in 2016 with the newly twinned line joining the company’s 60,000-km pipeline network in North America in 2017. Undoubtedly, Canadians haven’t heard the last on this subject.

Stephen Ewart is a Calgary Herald columnist sewart@calgaryherald.com
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