Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The most obvious case against the Northern Gateway pipeline

I was going to blog this week about the Olympics, and how weary I get of the mainstream media's articles marvelling about China's rise to the top of the medal standings. There's nothing particularly marvellous about it at all - China is home to over 1.3 billion people, or approximately 18% of the world's population. If Chinese athletes end up taking home about 20% of the medals, which is what they're likely on track to do, it makes sense. What's more notable is that the US is keeping pace with China in the medals, even though the US only accounts for about 4% of the world's population. Or that India, also with over 1 billion people, will likely win no more than a medal or two. And don't moan about Canada being on pace for only a handful of medals; that's just fine for the summer Olympics given we're a relative minnow in our share of global population.

But instead, of medals or metals, I want to post a brief note about a report just released that shows why the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline is bad news if you live in British Columbia. You'll recall I blogged about this earlier this year; it's a proposal to build a pipeline linking the Alberta tar sands to the port of kitimat on the British Columbia Coast, from where tankers would travel a long stretch of BC coast to reach open ocean in order to transport bitumen to Asian markets.

The Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) is releasing a report today in which it calculates the economic benefits from the proposed pipeline. The report estimates that, over the next 25 years, the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would deliver $73 billion in financial benefits to the province of Alebrta and $1 billion to British Columbians. That's right; the benefits are 73:1 in favour of Albertans. But guess who bears the greatest economic and eoclogical risk when there is a spill, either from the pipeline itself, at the Kitimat terminal, or along the BC coast? Although no one has offered statisical estimates of the risks and potential costs, I think 73:1 would also be a reasonable guesstimate, with BC owning the 73 share and Alberta the 1. It is no surprise British Columbia premier last week said her province wants nothing to do with the pipeline project.

Note I use the term "when" and not "if" there will be a spill. Pipelines will inevitably leak, accidents invariably happen at sea terminals, and marine oil pollution inevitably occurs along frequently used oil tanker toutes. The only uncertainties are when the spills or leaks will occur, how often, and how quickly they'll be identified, conmtained and mitigated. Note also that CERI is not an environmental group; it is an inedpendent research group whose board members are made up of representatives of the Alberta government, Natural Resources Canada, and the oil industry. Finally, it should also be noted that the CERI report is based on the operational revenues of the pipeline. There will be short term economic benefits for British Colmbia during the construction phase of the pipeline, in terms of job creation. A future CERI report is expected to detail these. However, this is unlikely to make the pipeline more patable for many people in British Columbia, and the reasons can be explained in a simple analogy. Road construction also creates short-term employment, but that doesn't mean you would want a 4-lane highway built through your back yard, even if the construction company promised to give you a job to help build it. Same thing applies with this pipeline.

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