Alberta brushes off B.C.'s new pipeline criteria
Published Monday, July 23, 2012 8:27AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 23, 2012 11:13PM EDT
B.C.'s Ministry of the Environment announced key requirements Monday that must be met before it approves a $5.5-billion pipeline that would run from Alberta's oilsands to the Pacific coast, including a larger share of the economic benefits.
The controversial Northern Gateway Project has met opposition from aboriginal groups and environmentalists, but the province has withheld judgment until now.
Now, Premier Christy Clark says that project and any other pipeline proposals must meet a number of the criteria in order to be considered.
“Our government is committed to economic development that is balanced with environmental protection,” Clark said in a statement Monday.
She added: “We need to combine environmental safety with our fair share of fiscal and economic benefits.”
B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake told reporters that while the Alberta government has said in the past that compensation for B.C.’s risk is not an option, given the province’s position, the terms of the benefit sharing agreement must be renegotiated.
"Given that B.C. would shoulder 100 per cent of the marine risk and a significant portion of the land-based risk, we do not feel the current approach to sharing these benefits is appropriate," Lake said.
"British Columbians are fair and reasonable, but they have to have confidence that a fair share of benefits would come to this province before we would consider supporting any such proposal," added Lake.
Lake’s views were largely brushed off by the Alberta government.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford noted that a project review by the National Energy Board and an extra $500 million that Enbridge plans to spend on safety and monitoring should negate B.C.’s demands based on environmental risk.
"These efforts, combined with the fact that pipelines are still by far the safest means by which to transport oil, significantly mitigate the environmental risk and weaken the B.C. government's argument for compensation based on potential risk," Redford said in a statement.
Redford’s statement also noted that the country operates on a system where goods flow freely across the country -- goods “including forest products, oil, liquefied natural gas, potash, uranium, grain and manufactured goods.”
Pan-Canadian energy strategy
Monday is the first time the B.C. government has released an outlined position on the Northern Gateway project.
The statement was released just ahead of the annual meeting of provincial and territorial leaders in Halifax on Wednesday. A pan-Canadian energy strategy is on Wednesday’s agenda.
While Lake said he had “no doubt” that outstanding issues could be resolved, he also hinted that the province may pursue various options if the preconditions aren’t met.
"Even if they were to approve it at the NEB, there are scores of provincial permits that will be necessary and we will have to give due consideration to each one," he said.
"And of course, there's the issue of being able to supply the power necessary through B.C. Hydro."
Enbridge responded to B.C.’s demands, saying it welcomed the dialogue.
"Enbridge and the Northern Gateway project team have worked hard to ensure this unique project would be built and operated to the highest standards and has committed to further enhancements to make what is already a safe project even safer," the company's spokesman Todd Nogier said in a statement.
Meanwhile Ottawa reaffirmed its support for the project, citing the thousands of jobs and billions in revenue the pipeline would generate.
Following are the requirements as set out by the provincial government:
Successful completion of the environmental review process. In the case of Enbridge, that would mean a recommendation by the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel that the project proceed;
World-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery systems for B.C.’s coastline and ocean to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines and shipments;
World-leading practices for land oil spill prevention, response and recovery systems to manage and mitigate the risks and costs of heavy oil pipelines;
Legal requirements regarding aboriginal and treaty rights are addressed, and First Nations are provided with the opportunities, information and resources necessary to participate in and benefit from a heavy-oil project; and
British Columbia must receive a fair share of the fiscal and economic benefits of a proposed heavy oil project that reflects the level, degree and nature of the risk borne by the province, the environment and taxpayers.
B.C. also said it wants the following:
A limit of its liability in the event of a spill and assurance there are adequate financial resources should one occur;
an increased government response and tougher federal legislation that requires industry to provide and replace marine response equipment;
a Natural Resources Damage Assessment process to ensure that a responsible party will cover all costs borne from a spill.
Lake said that B.C. has not determined what amount of compensation would be adequate, but the province plans to negotiate with Enbridge and other levels of government.
Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver did not respond directly to any of B.C.’s new demands.
Instead he reiterated that Ottawa will only support projects that meet its "rigorous" environmental regulations.
The federal government’s policy states that any heavy-oil project must address First Nations and treaty rights provide aboriginals with opportunities.
B.C.’s fresh demands come only days after Clark criticized Enbridge Inc., following a U.S. report slamming the company's handling of a major oil spill in Michigan.
The report said the company was slow to respond, and eventually sent a small team equipped with the wrong gear to halt the flow of oil.
Last week, Enbridge announced a plan to spend up to $500 million to improve the safety features of the Northern Gateway pipeline. However, aboriginal groups said the measures didn't address concerns about coastal oil spills.
B.C. Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak said she continues to recognize the staunch B.C. First Nations opposition to the pipeline.
However, while she is determined to ensure they are given opportunities to gain from the project, in the end they will not have "veto power," she said.
Polak’s words angered the Union of B.C. Indian Chief who called her pledge "meaningless."
"Quite frankly, both Premier Clark and Enbridge are completely missing the boat," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said in a statement. "It's not about the money, it's about the environment, stupid."
B.C.’s Official Opposition also slammed the government's about face.
"The government is saying, as long as we can clean up a massive spill after the fact, that's OK with us," B.C. NDP leader Adrian Dix told reporters. "It's not OK with British Columbians, and it's not OK with me."
Back in April the NDP opposed the pipeline after sending a letter to the National Energy Board's joint review panel.
Dix said certain conditions Clark has demanded are already a given, including waiting for the completion of the environmental review process and working with First Nations.
Dix added that the criteria for increased economic benefits and demanding Ottawa contribute towards oil spill resources are reactive and do not address oil tanker traffic or prevent a catastrophe.
Dix maintained that his party remains opposed to the pipeline, regardless of the outcome of the environmental assessment which is expected early next year.
With files from The Canadian Press