BC approves the Alberta pipeline to China

Pacific Shipping Lanes Alberta to ChinaPremier Alison Redford can celebrate a victory today as her Canadian Energy Strategy earned the public support of British Columbia Premier Christy Clark. Only mere hours after cancelling a meeting that had been arranged to discuss the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline from Alberta to BC, the two premiers announced that they had agreed on a framework for the pipeline that would allow for the easier sea export of unrefined Canadian oil to countries in Asia, including China. This does not mean the pipeline is approved, but it does signal that Ms. Clark is unlikely to be a roadblock.

An agreement to open “new markets” satisfies four of Ms. Clark’s five requirements for BC to consider support for heavy oil pipelines to be approved. A press release issued by the Ms. Redford’s office reported that to reach Ms. Clark’s fifth condition, that BC recieve a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of the proposed pipeline, ‘Alberta agrees that B.C. has a right to negotiate with industry on appropriate economic benefits.’ The release also stated that both governments ‘reaffirmed that Alberta’s royalties are not on the table for negotiation.’ The results of this agreement shifts the pressure to the energy companies to provide a satisfactory fiscal and economic compensation to the BC government.

In May 2013, the BC government’s submission to the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel on the Northern Gateway Project claimed that it could not support the pipeline because Enbridge had “presented little evidence about how it will respond in the event of a spill.” While the National Energy Board, not the BC government, is responsible for environmental assessment of the project, it remains unclear what convinced Ms. Clark to change her mind.

The two premiers had publicly quarrelled over the pipeline project and Ms. Clark made the five requirements a key part of her Liberal Party’s campaign platform in the recent provincial election. While her party won re-election and the opposition NDP are choosing a new leader, it would be foolish to expect there will be no opposition to the pipeline in BC. Many northern communities, First Nations, and environmental groups in BC have pledged to stall the construction of the pipeline to the Pacific coast.

EcoJustice is raising concerns about how increased oil tanker traffic caused by the Northern Gateway Pipeline could impact a new Humpback whale recovery strategy and four critical habitats that have been identified for protection. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans currently lists the Humpback Whale as a species at risk in the northern Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, questions have also been raised about the role that China’s state-owned oil companies could play in the construction of the project. While the state-owned PetroChina initially withdrew from the proposed project in 2007, the corporation announced in 2012 that it would bid to build the pipeline once the project was approved by regulatory authorities.

Looking southward, Ms. Redford and International Affairs Minister Cal Dallas are returning to Washington D.C. to lobby United States Senators, Representatives, and the State Department to approve the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline that would carry oil from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

A Government of Alberta press release announcing the trip quoted North Dakota Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who welcomes Ms. Redford visit to Washington D.C. This is at least the fifteenth trip made by Alberta government ministers to the American capital since Ms. Redford became Premier in 2012.

Burying the ghosts of the dreaded National Energy Program, Federal Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau surprised many political watchers last month with his support for the Keystone XL Pipeline. Mr. Trudeau voiced his support for the project while speaking on a panel that included former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard and former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a conference in Washington D.C. hosted by the Centre for American Progress.

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