Sunday, December 07, 2008

Enbridge outlines its plans at Prince Rupert open house

While the proposed actual pipeline won't come anywhere near the city, Enbridge Energy brought their public relations team to Prince Rupert last week, outlining the impact that the northern Gateway project will have on the region.

With concerns growing in the area about the use of tankers plying the West Coast to and from Enbridge's customers and suppliers, the issue of environmental risk is one that is on many minds and one that Enbridge will have to address as they proceed with their plans.

Part of that process began with their open house here, one of a number along the Highway 16 corridor and through to Kitimat to address the numerous concerns and issues of the development.

The Daily news on Thursday featured the open house as their front page headline story, providing some background on the development thus far.

Company explains the benefits and safeguards at a public session in Rupert this week
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Pages one and three

Enbridge representatives came clad in green golf shirts and brought big flashy placards with pictures of mountains and cozy pastures in an effort to give their side of the story.
That story is about the oil pipeline operators' Northern Gateway project that they hope will snake its way from Brudenheim, Alberta, to Kitimat. It's a project that could deliver 4,000 temporary construction jobs for the region.

It is also a project that has its share of opposition.

"People come to open houses and they think that these are the venues that we tell you what we are doing but actually it is more of a venue saying this is what we think would work and you tell us what you think would work," explained Roger Harris, Enbridge's vice president of communications and aboriginal affairs.

The pipeline itself will not come to Prince Rupert, but there are concerns about oil tankers operating in the region. Some of the tankers would be carrying Alberta tar sands oil to Asia, while some tankers would be bringing in condensate from Australia to the B.C. coast, a highly volatile light petroleum product used to thin bitumen.

Harris went on to explain that another reason for the Prince Rupert stopover was because Enbridge realizes that any project that is developed in the Northwest affects the whole region.
"People in Prince Rupert need to be part of how we craft this project. Not just from the design of the pipeline perspective but also from the shipping vessel perspective," said Harris.
And that's where the nuts and bolts of the issue sits for the North Coast.

It's the old argument of environment versus economy, with both at risk. The sound of 4,000 temporary jobs opening up for a hurting Northern B.C. region, devastated by declines in fishing stocks and plundered by a pine beetle infestation that has battered the forestry industry, could be music to residents' ears. But it also comes with some potential environmental risks, say critics. Enbridge's open house was as much about selling the potential shipping safety measures as it was about the pipeline itself.

The organization's representatives were open about the way they have been perceived by the public and recognized the backlash they have seen.

There have been concerns about oil tankers entering the region. People along the North Coast have not forgotten March 24, 1989, when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crashed into Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, spilling 53.1 million gallons of oil into the ocean.

Enbridge has responded to Valdez concerns by mentioning that the new tankers are now double-hulled, with separate oil containers, rather than a single, big container that has been used in the past.

They say that such a vessel design would protect the coast from a Valdez-like spill.

"If we are going to actually design the future of the West Coast of Canada in a way that facilitates the things that everybody wants to do, from shellfish aquaculture to potentially this project, then we better start sitting down collectively and putting together what we need to do collectively to make it work," said Harris.

Another issue that has prevented the viability of the pipeline is a 1972 moratorium on oil tanker traffic and offshore oil drilling installed by then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. That moratorium came about in response to concerns about environmental damage to the North Coast region.

But the Enbridge representatives said they have been unable to find where any moratorium has been written down; meaning that respect for the moratorium may be a moot point.

One B.C. environmental group said that there is one, regardless of whether it is written and that it should be respected.

"The (federal) government has talked about in the past that there is moratorium - they have looked at reviews and looked at reviewing moratoriums on offshore oil and gas, and oil tanker traffic in B.C., so we feel there is a moratorium," said Living Oceans Society Executive Director Jennifer Lash.

Lash said that the federal government has verbally committed to that and therefore they have committed to a social contract with the people who work and live on this coast to not allow oil tanker traffic into the region.

She added that LOS was not saying that they were against tanker traffic all over the world but the North is one of the most ecologically sensitive places in Canada.

"History shows that what usually causes oil spills is human error. If there is an oil spill, industry considers it good if 10-to-15 per cent of oil spilt is recovered. That's just not good enough. We deserve better."

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