If you read both the 76 pages of Volume One of the Northern Gateway Joint Review decision and the 417 pages of Volume 2, a total of 493 pages, one word keeps reappearing. That word is “burden.”
The JRP panel asks “How did we weigh the balance of burdens, benefits, and risks?”
And it says:
Many people and parties commented on the economic benefits and burdens that could be brought about by the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. In our view, opening Pacific Basin markets wouldbe important to the Canadian economy and society. Though difficult to measure, we found that the economic benefits of the project would likely outweigh any economic burdens.
The JRP notes:
The Province of British Columbia and many hearing participants argued that most of the project’s economic benefits would flow to Alberta, the rest of Canada, and foreign shareholders in oil and pipeline companies. They said British Columbia would bear too many of the environmental and economic burdens and risks compared to the benefits.
But, as the panel does throughout the ruling, it accepts, with little, if any, skepticism, Northern Gateway’s evidence and assertion:
Northern Gateway said about three-quarters of construction employment would occur in British Columbia, and the province would get the largest share of direct benefits from continuing operations.
It does touch on the “burdens” faced by the Aboriginal people of northern BC and others in the event of a catastrophic spill.
In the unlikely event of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by Aboriginal groups. We found that these adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread. We recognize that reduced or interrupted access to lands, waters, or resources used by Aboriginal groups, including for country foods, may result in disruptions in the ability of Aboriginal groups to practice their traditional activities. We recognize that such an event would place burdens and challenges on affected Aboriginal groups. We find that such interruptions would be temporary. We also recognize that, during recovery from a spill, users of lands, waters, or resources may experience disruptions and possible changes in access or use.
And the JRP goes on to say:
We recommend approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, subject to the 209 conditions set out in Volume 2 of our report. We have concluded that the project would be in the public interest. We find that the project’s potential benefits for Canada and Canadians outweigh the potential burdens and risks….
We are of the view that opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society. Societal and economic benefits can be expected from the project. We find that the environmental burdens associated with project construction and routine operation can generally be effectively mitigated. Some environmental burdens may not be fully mitigated in spite of reasonable best efforts and techniques…. We acknowledge that this project may require some people and local communities to adapt to temporary disruptions during construction.
As for the chance of a major oil spill, again the JRP talks about burdens:
The environmental, societal, and economic burdens of a large oil spill, while unlikely and not permanent, would be significant. Through our conditions we require Northern Gateway to implement appropriate and effective spill prevention measures and spill response capabilities, so that the likelihood and consequences of a large spill would be minimized.
It is our view that, after mitigation, the likelihood of significant adverse environmental effects resulting from project malfunctions or accidents is very low.
We find that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it.
In the Joint Review ruling is one fact. Northern British Columbia must bear the “burden” of the Northern Gateway project for the good of Alberta and the rest of Canada. The JRP accepts, without much questioning, Northern Gateway’s assurances that environmental disruptions during construction will be minimal and that the chances of a major spill from either a pipeline or a tanker are minimal.
Canadians as a whole may be better off with the Northern Gateway. Whether the people who live along the pipeline and tanker route will be better off is another question, one which the Joint Review Panel dismisses with casual disdain.
The politics of the Joint Review Panel
There are actually two Joint Review Panel reports.
One is political, one is regulatory. The political decision by the three member panel, two from Alberta and one from Ontario, is that the concerns of northwestern British Columbia are fully met by Enbridge Northern Gateway’s assurances. There is a second political decision, found throughout both volumes of the report, and the reader sees the Joint Review Panel has the notion that many parts of the environment have already been degraded by previous human activity, and that means the construction and operation of the Northern Gateway will have little consequence.
Here is where the Joint Review Panel is blind to its own bias. With its mandate to rule on the Canadian “public interest,” the panel makes the political determination that, in the Canadian public interest, northwestern BC must bear the “burden” of the project, while other political issues were not considered because, apparently those issues were outside the JRP’s mandate.
…some people asked us to consider the “downstream” emissions that could arise from upgrading, refining, and diluted bitumen use in China and elsewhere. These effects were outside our jurisdiction, and we did not consider them. We did consider emissions arising from construction activities, pipeline operations, and the engines of tankers in Canadian territorial waters.
During our hearings and in written submissions, many people urged us to include assessment of matters that were beyond the scope of the project and outside our mandate set out in the Joint Review Panel Agreement. These issues included both “upstream” oil development effects and “downstream” refining and use of the products shipped on the pipelines and tankers…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
If someone in Northwestern British Columbia favours the Northern Gateway project, if they believe (and many people do) what Enbridge Northern Gateway says about the economic benefits, then it is likely they will accept the burden and the further environmental degradation imposed by the Joint Review Panel on this region of British Columbia.
If, on other hand, for those who are opposed to the project, then the decision to impose the burden on this region is both unreasonable and undemocratic (since no one in northern BC, in the energy friendly east or the environmental west has been formally asked to accept or reject the project). For those opposed to the project, the idea that since the environment has already been disrupted by earlier industrial development, that Canadians can continue to degrade the environment with no consequence will only fuel opposition to the project.
As for the assertion that green house gas emissions were not part of the Joint Review Panel’s mandate, that is mendacious. The panel made a political decision on the role of the people of northwestern BC and the state of northwestern BC’s environment. The panel made a political decision to avoid ruling on the role of Northern Gateway in contributing to climate change or the larger world wide economic impact of pipelines and the bitumen sands.
The Joint Review Panel is supposed to be a regulatory body and should be pipeline, terminal and tanker project go ahead after the expected court challenges from First Nations on rights, title and consultation and from the environmental groups, then those 209 conditions kick in.
While the Joint Review Panel largely accepts Enbridge Northern Gateway’s evidence with little questions, in some areas the panel does find flaws in what Northern Gateway planned. In a few instances, it actually accepts the recommendations from intervenors (many from First Nations, who while opposed to the project, successfully demanded route changes to through environmentally sensitive or culturally significant territory.)
When it comes to regulations, as opposed to politics, the Joint Review Panel has done its job and done it well. If all 209 conditions and the other suggestions found in the extensive second volume of the ruling are actually enforced then it is likely that the Northern Gateway will be the safe project that Enbridge says it will be and actually might meet BC Premier Christy Clark’s five conditions for heavy oil pipelines across BC and tankers off the BC coast.
But and there is a big but.
The question is, however, who is going to enforce the 209 conditions? In recent conversations on various social media, people who were quiet during the JRP hearings, have now come out in favour of the pipeline project. Read those comments and you will find that the vast majority of project supporters want those conditions strictly enforced. Long before the JRP findings and before Premier Christy Clark issued her five conditions, supporters of the Northern Gateway, speaking privately, often had their own list of a dozen or two dozen conditions for their support of the project.
The people of northwestern BC had already witnessed cuts to Fisheries and Oceans, Environment Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard in his region even before Stephen Harper got his majority government in May 2011.
Since the majority government Harper has cut millions of dollars from the budgets for environmental studies, monitoring and enforcement. The Joint Review Panel began its work under the stringent rules of the former Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Act, both of which were gutted in the Harper government’s omnibus bills. Government scientists have been muzzled and, if allowed to speak, can only speak through departmental spin doctors. The Joint Review Panel requires Enbridge Northern Gateway to file hundreds of reports on the progress of surveying, environmental studies, safety studies, construction plans and activities and project operations. What is going to happen to those reports? Will they be acted on, or just filed in a filing cabinet, perhaps posted on an obscure and hard to find location on the NEB website and then forgotten?
Will the National Energy Board have the staff and the expertise to enforce the 209 conditions? Will there be any staff left at Environment Canada, Transport Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard where the conditions demand active participation by government agencies, or ongoing consultation between federal agencies and Northern Gateway? Will there actual be monitoring, participation and consultation between the project and the civil service, or will those activities amount to nothing more than meetings every six months or so, when reports are exchanged and then forgotten? Although Stephen Harper and his government say the Northern Gateway is a priority for the government, the bigger priority is a balanced budget and it is likely there will be more cuts in the coming federal budget, not enhancements to environmental protection for northwestern BC.
The opponents of the project might reluctantly agree to the 209 conditions if Harper government forces the project to go ahead. It will be up to the supporters to decide whether or not they will continue their support of Northern Gateway if the 209 conditions are nothing more than a few pages of Adobe PDF and nothing more.