The recently released Joint Review Panel report on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project is a a one-sided whitewash of the pipeline company's proposal.
Despite overwhelming opposition to the pipeline, three panelists picked by a Tory government, who less than a third of us voted for, have decided that they know better then we do what is best for us and in their opinion Northern Gateway knows best of all. They recommend that the project go ahead with 209 conditions on the builders.
In January 2010, the National Energy Board and the Tory Minister of the Environment set up the Joint Review Panel to asses the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline and make a recommendation to the federal cabinet who will make the final decision. The panel received 9,000 letters on the project, and as they themselves admit, “most of the letters argued against approving the project.”
They heard evidence from 393 participants and accepted oral statements from 1,179 individuals. The panel does not provide a breakdown of how much evidence and how many statements opposed construction of the pipeline. But grom the panel's report, it looks like the overwhelming majority of participants in the hearings were opposed to the project. Page after page is filled with detailed objections by First Nations, governments, scientists, and individuals. Each time it's followed up by assertions that according to Northern Gateway either the problems don't exist or that Northern Gateway has a plan to deal with them. This report makes clear whose opinions are valued in Canadian democracy: those of business.
The condescension of the panelists for any opinion of anyone but the pipeline companies is made most clear when they discuss objections raised by the First Nations whose lands the pipeline will cross. “Aboriginal groups and individuals said the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project would have negative effects on their rights and interests. They said that construction, routine operations, and spills could potentially affect Aboriginal activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering, and their use of traditional sites. Northern Gateway said the project would have minimal effects on Aboriginal activities and sites during construction and routine operations, and it proposed measures to reduce or eliminate those effects or to compensate for them.” The panel decided that Northern Gateway understood the First Nation's concerns better than they do.
“The Panel finds that, with Northern Gateway’s commitments and the Panel’s conditions, the project’s potential effects on the socio-cultural wellbeing of communities can be effectively addressed.” Later on they reassure us that “considering Northern Gateway’s project design, its commitments, and our conditions, we concluded that the project’s potential effects on people’s land, water, and resource use could be mitigated.
This is completely the opposite of what the region's First Nations have decided. Over 130 indigenous nations of the Fraser River watershed have signed the Save The Fraser Declaration, in which they declare that “this project which would link the Tar Sands to Asia through our territories and the headwaters of this great river, and the federal process to approve it, violate our laws, traditions, values and our inherent rights as Indigenous Peoples under international law.” In addition they state that, “We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”
The project itself is a plan to build a pipeline to ship diluted bitumen (the tar in tar sands) west from Alberta to a port in Kitimat, in northern British Columbia along with a second pipeline to ship condensate from the port back to Alberta. Condensate is a collection of nasty chemicals necessary to dilute bitumen so that it can be pumped through pipelines. According to the panel. “The Alberta portion of the proposed pipeline route is about 520 kilometres in length and crosses more than 360 watercourses . . . The British Columbia portion of the proposed pipeline route is about 660 kilometres in length and crosses about 850 watercourses.” The project will cost $7.9 billion to build and Enbridge and ten other corporations spent $450 million on their proposal. Construction is planned to start in mid 2014 and pipeline is planned to begin operation in 2018.
The report sidesteps the question of climate change and the damage that will be done when the contents of the pipeline are burned. “Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities.” It would be interesting to hear from the panelists what could be a more “ direct connection” than an 1180 km long pipeline that starts in the tar sands. “The Panel also concluded that downstream effects would be hypothetical and of no meaningful utility to the Panel’s process.” The diluted bitumen really will be converted to synthetic crude not hypothetically converted.
The pro-business slant of the whole report is clear on page after page. After a page full of objections to the project based on the harm a spill would do to the Great Bear Rainforest, salmon streams, grizzly bears, cultural activities, and the obvious difficulty of reaching pipeline spills in winter weather or dealing with tanker spills in heavy storms, the panel had one pro-pipeline view: “Those arguing for the project included organizations such as the Edmonton World Trade Centre. They emphasized the project’s potential social and economic benefits and the need to diversify Canada’s markets. They said the environmental effects and risks were acceptable.” This is also the conclusion of the panelists.
The report also takes at face value that the proposed spill response would be sufficient and that the corporation behind the project, Enbridge, can be trusted to live up to their commitments. The submission to the panel by the Government of British Columbia explained why Enbridge shouldn't be trusted. In a section entitled “Enbridge does not follow procedures or learn from mistakes,” the BC Government's submission reviews the response of Enbridge to its own previous spills and notes that not only does Enbridge not follow its own policies with regards to pipeline spills, but that each time it gets caught it profusely promises to enforce its own policies next time. “Enbridge has not demonstrated an ability to learn from its mistakes in order to avoid spills . . . given its pattern of making similar commitments in the past, there are serious reasons for concern that the commitments it has made in this proceeding will be hollow.” In a spill in 2010 into the Kalamazoo river, Enbridge failed to report the spill for 17 hours. The 20,000 barrels of crude oil leaked due to a defect in the pipeline that had been discovered five years before the spill. In January of 2012, Enbridge officials decided, without inspecting the damage to the pipe, to keep a pipe in operation that was leaking natural gas into the Gulf of Mexico.
Build the resistance
Fortunately the opinion of the majority against the pipeline can be enforced. Over the next few months we have the opportunity to make the movement against the pipeline and in solidarity with First Nation's rights to control their land even bigger. We can build a movement of rallies and strikes and direct action that can halt construction on this pipeline and build an even bigger movement for climate jobs to replace the fossil fuel industry completely.