Members of Unifor 2301 rallied in front of the Rio Tinto offices at City Centre Mall in Kitimat, Wednesday, October 7, to protest against what they called “precarious work” and health and safety issues at the Rio Tinto BC Operations aluminum smelter.
The rally was part what the union calls a “Rio Tinto Global Day of Action” aimed at Rio Tinto operations in North America, Europe, Africa and Australia. Unifor 2301 is part of the “Rio Tinto Global Union Network,”
Sean O’Driscoll, president of the local, concentrated on what he said was an increasingly tense relationship with Rio Tinto over health and safety issues. O’Driscoll told a group of supporters that relations with the company over health and safety have gone down hill since Rio Tinto took over Alcan. He said the CAW, predecessor to Unifor, had negotiated a strong health and safety agreement with Alcan that Rio Tinto is now trying to weaken down to minimum government imposed standards.
O’Driscoll said that the list of grievances between the union and management are growing and that instead of trying to solve the grievances, RIo Tinto has filed a grievance of its own claiming the union has filed too many grievances.
The main reason for the rally was a worldwide protest over what the union calls “precarious work,” the use of short term, usually poorly trained workers, what most industries call call “casuals” to save money. The other issue at the protest was increasing contracting out.
O’Driscoll also pointed to the controversial issue of increased sulphur dioxide emissions from the upgraded smelter. Unifor has joined environmental groups in a successful court challenge to the BC Environmental Assessment Agency’s approval of the emission plan.
Kitimat Unifor local 2301 has succeeded in forcing the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) to take responsibility for investigating the impact of plans for a dramatic increase of sulphur dioxide (SO2) at the Rio Tinto smelter in Kitimat. The BC Supreme Court has sided with Unifor in a judicial review involving the Ministry of Environment’s approval of the smelter’s expansion without a SO2 “scrubber”.
The project will increase SO2 emissions from 27 tonnes per day to 42 tonnes per day.
“Expanding the smelter without a scrubber is a terrible health risk to my community,” said Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor Local 2301 President. “We’re very pleased that Rio Tinto’s proposal will have to go through an environmental assessment. It’s a shame that it takes a Supreme Court Judge to force the BC Liberal government to do the right thing.”
The decision to approve the smelter expansion without scrubbers will now be sent back to the EAB.
Airborne sulphur dioxide is a well-known cause of respiratory ailments. Excessive SO2 levels in Kitimat are likely already impacting human health. In July 2012 a Community Health Synopsis study published by Northern Health concluded that the incidence of death from bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma is 60 per cent higher in Kitimat than the British Columbian average. Expert evidence known to the Minister of the Environment reveals that increased SO2 can cause serious health problems, including fatal respiratory failure.
In the decision, BC Supreme Court Justice W.F. Ehrcke wrote that it was unreasonable for the EAB to conclude that Unifor’s appeal must be rejected on the ground that the 2014 Letter of Approval to Rio Tinto was not an appealable decision within the meaning of the Act.
Other challenges to the emissions of sulphur dioxide from the Rio Tinto smelter are continuing.
The study shows that embryonic salmon and herring exposed to very low levels of crude oil can develop hidden heart defects that compromise their later survival.
That means that the Exxon Valdez spill on March 24, 1989 may have had much greater impacts on spawning fish than previously recognized, according to the study published in Nature’s online journal Scientific ReportsVery low embyronic crude oil exposures cause lasting defects in salmon and herring.
“These juvenile fish on the outside look completely normal, but their hearts are not functioning properly and that translates directly into reduced swimming ability and reduced survival,” said John Incardona, a research toxicologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) in Seattle. “In terms of impacts to shore-spawning fish, the oil spill likely had a much bigger footprint than anyone realized.”
Previous research has shown that crude oil disrupts the contraction of the fish heart muscle cells. Embryonic fish exposed to trace levels of crude oil grow into juveniles with abnormal hearts and reduced cardiorespiratory function.
“With this very early impact on the heart, you end up with an animal that just can’t pump blood through its body as well, which means it can’t swim as well to capture food, form schools, or migrate,” said Mark Carls, toxicologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “Crude oil is changing basic physiology, or what makes a fish a fish.”
The research builds on earlier work by the Auke Bay Laboratories, part of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which found much reduced survival of pink salmon exposed as embryos to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) from crude oil.
“Our findings are changing the picture in terms of assessing the risk and the potential impacts of oil spills,” said Nat Scholz, leader of the NWFSC’s ecotoxicology program and a coauthor of the new study. “We now know the developing fish heart is exquisitely sensitive to crude oil toxicity, and that subtle changes in heart formation can have delayed but important consequences for first-year survival, which in turn determines the long-term abundance of wild fish populations.”
The Exxon Valdez spill was the largest in U.S. history, with extensive oiling of shoreline spawning habitats for Pacific herring and pink salmon, the two most important commercial fish species in Prince William Sound.
Herring larvae sampled in proximity to oil were visibly abnormal, and mortality rates were higher for pink salmon embryos at oil spill sites than unaffected regions.
The herring fishery collapsed three to four years after the spill, when the herring spawned in oiled areas reached reproductive maturity.
The paper notes that the contribution of the spill to the herring population collapse, if any, was never determined and remains controversial.
Other studies, however, tend to confirm the findings, including heart problems for fish exposed to the Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon spill and even fish exposed to naturally occurring oil seeps.
The new findings suggest that the delayed effects of the spill may have been important contributors to the declines.
Scientists from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Alaska Fisheries Science Center temporarily exposed embryonic salmon and herring to low levels of crude oil from the North Slope of Alaska and found that both absorbed chemicals at similar concentrations in their tissues. The embryos were then transferred to clean seawater and raised as juvenile fish for seven to eight months.
Few of the exposed embryos were outwardly abnormal in any way. However, closer examination of the fish revealed subtle defects that could reduce their long-term survival.
Juvenile salmon exposed to oil grew more slowly, with those exposed to the highest concentrations growing the slowest. For salmon, early survival in the ocean is strongly influenced by juvenile growth, with smaller fish suffering higher loss to predators.
Scientists used swimming speed as a measure of cardiorespiratory performance and found that fish exposed to the highest concentrations of oil swam the slowest. Slower swimming is an indication of reduced aerobic capacity and cardiac output, and likely makes fish easier targets for predators.
Exposure to oil as embryos altered the structural development of the hearts of juvenile fish, potentially reducing their fitness and swimming ability. Poor swimming and cardiac fitness is also a factor in disease resistance.
Earlier studies on the ecosystem-scale crash of the Prince William Sound herring population several years after the Exxon Valdez spill were based on higher levels of exposure to the oil. The new study shows that that cardiac injury occurs in normal-appearing fish that survive even lower level exposures.
The scientists reviewed data on measured oil concentrations in surface water samples collected in Prince William Sound after the oil spill and during the 1989 herring spawning season. Most of the 233 samples contained less oil than was believed to be toxic to herring at the time, based on visible gross developmental abnormalities. However, nearly all of the samples contained oil at or above concentrations shown in the new study to alter heart development.
If the Exxon Valdez spill impacted heart development among a large majority of fish that were spawned in proximity to oiled shorelines, the subsequent losses of juveniles to delayed mortality would have left fewer adults to join the population. Although not direct proof, this provides a plausible explanation for the collapse of the Prince William Sound herring stock four years later, when fish spawned during the oil spill would have matured.
The study concludes that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez spill on near shore spawning populations of fish are likely to have been considerably underestimated in terms of both the geographic extent of affected habitat and the lingering toxicity of low levels of oil. The findings will likely contribute to more accurate assessments of the impacts of future oil spills, Incardona said. “Now we have a much better idea of what we should be looking for,” he said.
That means, according to the study “that the impacts of the Exxon Valdez oil spill on populations of near shore spawning fish are likely to have been considerably underestimated, in term of both the geographic extent of affected habitats and the lingering toxicity of low levels of residual oil.”
The report calls for more studies of the sensitivity of the developing fish heart since the vulnerability “also has implications for other pollution sources in marine ecosystems, including increasing maritime vessel traffic and expanding land-based urban runoff.”
Scientific studies after the Exxon Valdez spill indicated that the vast majority of species recovered following the spill and that functioning ecosystems, similar to those existing pre-spill, were established.
Species for which recovery is not fully apparent, such as Pacific herring, killer whales, and pigeon guillemots, appear to have been affected by other environmental factors or human influences not associated with the oil spill. Insufficient pre-spill baseline data on these species contributed to difficulties in determining the extent of spill effects.
Based on the evidence, the Panel finds that natural recovery of the aquatic environment after an oil spill is likely to be the primary recovery mechanism, particularly for marine spills. Both freshwater and marine ecosystem recovery is further mitigated where cleanup is possible, effective, and beneficial to the environment.
Natural processes that degrade oil would begin immediately following a spill. Although residual oil could remain buried in sediments for years, the Panel finds that toxicity associated with that oil would decline over time and would not cause widespread, long-term impacts.
A Portuguese man was fined $1 in Terrace Provincial Court Wednesday Sept. 2 and ordered to donate $5,000 to the Heritage Conservation Trust Fund for hitting a swimming deer on the head off Bish Cove in Douglas Channel on May 14.
Rodolfo Lopes, previously misidentified in court documents as Martins-Lopes, pleaded guilty in to one count under the BC Wildlife Act of harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle.
Evidence in the case showed that Lopes hit the deer on the head with a jig or gaff in an attempt to bring it on board. The deer managed to escape and make it to shore.
Such donations are permitted under the BC Wildlife Act. The money, which Lopes originally paid in bail, will be allocated to conservation efforts in the Kitimat region.
Other charges against Lopes, a former supervisor at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project, including one count of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal under the Criminal Code were stayed by the Crown.
Provincial Court Judge Terence Wright also prohibited Lopes from approaching wildlife for the next two years unless required by his employment.
Lopes did not return from Portugal for the hearing. Vancouver lawyer Don Sorochan, QC, appeared on his behalf.
Crown counsel Corinne Baerg said Lopes was a supervisor at Brasco, one of the subcontractors at KMP, and had hired a fishing guide to help celebrate both the end of their work at the aluminum smelter modernization project and Lopes’ planned wedding in August.
After a day of what was apparently unsuccessful fishing, Lopes and five others were on board the boat, returning to Kitimat, when a deer was spotted swimming in Douglas Channel.
According to the submission, the guide then took the boat “ running up alongside” the deer. At that point Lopes hit the deer on the head with what some witnesses said was a jig and others said was a gaff in attempt to haul it on board. The deer was able to free itself, swam to shore and disappeared into the bush.
After Conservation Officers were told about the incident by residents in Kitimat who saw a video of the fishing trip on Facebook, one of the men on the boat voluntarily surrendered cell phone video and other evidence was seized under a search warrant. The video was not shown in court.
Because Lopes was not a Canadian resident he was arrested and spent time in custody before being granted bail and was permitted to return to Portugal.
In his defence submission, Sorochan said Lopes was not familiar with Canadian hunting and wildlife laws and was totally dependent on the “advice of his professional guide.” Sorochon told the court that the incident had become exaggerated by people gossiping on social media.
Sorochan told the court that Lopes began with Brasco as a bricklayer in 1996 and had quickly risen to supervise construction projects all over the world. The lawyer called the attempt to get the deer “a naive impulse” by a man who was trying to be macho in an unfamiliar setting.
He submitted letters of reference for Lopes from Brasco, another company and a Kitimat union.
Wright, in confirming the proposed sentence, said that given the circumstances, the fine and donation was the “appropriate penalty.”
Wright noted that it was not possible to ascertain how badly injured the deer was. He also noted that Lopes did not have a criminal record and his employer had praised his work in many parts of the world.
Andreas Handl, who runs Kitimat’s Kingfish Westcoast Adventures, was scheduled to appear in a Kitimat court Thursday, Sept 3, but the appearance was adjourned until October.
He is charged under the B.C. Wildlife Act with harassing wildlife with a motor vehicle and hunting wildlife while swimming, as well as causing unnecessary pain and suffering under the Criminal Code.
Gaby Poirier, BC operations manager for the Rio Tinto Aluminum metals group called it a shining moment as the first ingots from the new modernized potlines were wheeled into the also new Henning Hall at the Kitimat smelter on Tuesday, July 7. Referring to the nearly complete Kitimat Modernization Project (KMP), Poirier said, “It’s now like these ingots, our time to shine. Let’s all shine together and become the best aluminum smelter in the world.”
The Kitimat Modernization Project increases aluminum production capacity by 48 per cent. “I have no doubt that KMP will help secure the future for Rio Tinto in British Columbia as a supplier of high quality, low carbon footprint aluminium for the Pacific Rim customer,” Poirier told employee and guests at the First Metal ceremony. (The company held similar ceremonies later in the week for employees unable to attend the first event).
“As we move to ramp to full production sometime in 2016, the transition is still at an early stage. Now more than ever we have to keep the focus to have a safe, sustainable ramp up. When we reach our full capacity of 420,000 tonnes sooner than you think… we’ will have been here 60 years. We’re aiming for another 60 years now.
“It’s more than a ramp up for us; it’s our journey to be the best aluminium smelter in the world. And yes the best, nothing less. Everything starts with a dream. So today we’ve got about 10 pots started, there are still 374 to go. And all this ramp up will be done to a scheduled drum beat, with a safe and sustainable. So today’s a well-deserved celebration for first hot metal and we are now preparing our first metal shipment but there are still significant challenges among us that we’ll go through together. One team one goal. That’s the only way we’ll be successful by working together.”
The modernized smelter, which was delivered in line with the revised schedule and budget, is powered exclusively by Rio Tinto’s wholly owned hydro power facility [at Kemano] and uses the company’s proprietary AP40 smelting technology which will effectively halve the smelter’s overall emissions, Rio Tinto said in a news release.
Michel Charron, KMP Project Director with Rio Tinto’s Technology Group, told reporters that the project did come in at the revised budget of $4.8 billion up from the original estimate of $3.3 billion, discounting reports in some media that the costs had reached as high as $5.5 billion. ‘”They gave me 4.8 and I finished at 4.8,” Charron said.
Charron compared what’s left to do with someone moving into a new house. “There’s a bit of asphalt to be put in, there’s a bit of construction on the last part of the potline…. there’s three months to finish up everything, the little things, the painting, so we’re going to be doing that.”
As of July 7, KMP employed 1024 people, Charron said. As the construction finishes, he said, “The work force will be going down quite rapidly at the end of July and through August and September,”
The newly constructed Henning Hall cafeteria, meeting hall and change facility, named in honour of Paul Henning, now Vice President of Strategic Projects, was packed as Charron, Poirier, Henning, Phil Newsome, KMP Project Director for Bechtel, Sean O’Driscoll, Unifor 2301 president, Mayor Phil Germuth and Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Councillor Taylor Cross brought in the two ingots which were actually poured on June 29.
“As we focus on getting a brand new and somewhat very complex facility up to speed, I urge you to remember that safety remains our top priority, ” Poirier said. “If we get this right the start-up and ramp up will be right too. And this is the only way we can be successful in delivering that world class project. So now in a few words, it is now the time to show what four generations of aluminum producers can do,” Poirier said.
Poirier then turned to Haisla Nation hereditary chief Sammy Robinson. Robinson and his wife Rose unveiled a totem pole commissioned by Rio Tinto for Henning Hall.
The pole tells the story of a time when there were a lot eagles in the Kitimat region. One young man was told “to listen to your elders, listen to your mother, not to laugh at handicapped people, not to laugh at old people for they are good in their own way,” Robinson said. Another thing that this young man was told was never to pick up anything shiny, but he didn’t listen and tried to capture a fur seal that has shiny fur. Unfortunately, for the young man, at that moment a giant eel was swallowing the fur seal and dragging them both down to the bottom of the sea. The eagles, however, got together and lifted the seal and the young man from sea and he safely returned to the beach.
Taylor Cross, Deputy Chief Counsellor for the Haisla, said “It’s a great feeling that big companies like this are doing their best to protect the environment we all live in. Every last one of us enjoys this beautiful country we live in. Myself I’m on my boat almost every weekend, down the Channel. I want to that to continue that for the rest of my life and for my kids’ lives. I want to pass that knowledge on that I’m getting. This project created employment opportunities for us, contracting opportunities for the Haisla Nation and training that we would have never gotten.
“Our unemployment rate when from about 60 to 65 per cent down to may be five or eight per cent. Every Haisla Nation member who wanted to work was working. It was a great achievement, it gave them skills, training, anything they wanted to be. And getting ready for the next project that’s going to come through Kitimat.” Cross warned that with KMP ending, unemployment among the Haisla will be going up again. The legacy agreement signed between Rio Tinto and the Haisla will ensure that members of the First Nation will continue to be trained and be part of running the smelter. A Haisla joint venture runs catering for the cafeteria.
Paul Henning, who had pushed the modernization project for years was greeted by a sustained round of applause. He opened his talk by saying how he told Sean O’Driscoll about the intent to modernize the plant. “He was the kind of guy like Gabby is striving and thriving and pushing and pulling. Nothing was a barrier, nothing was too high to climb to get this project and this guy said ‘hey just cool it these mega projects can take a decade.’ Well boy did we show him. Boy did we show him Boy did we show him, we did in it nine years,” as the guests laughed.
“Of course we have a wonderful platform. The platform not only being Kemano…the Douglas Channel and of course the site that… we have here in BC. The modernized smelter we know well. It is world class we have adopted the best technology we can apply in this location coupled to the lowest cost energy supply to a smelter anywhere in the world with access to global markets particularly the Asian Pacific Rim
“Sounds like a factor of success to me. If you’re going to build it, you build it right here.
“Even though the economic climate was difficult during the journey we’ve been through, I always felt that I had support at every level. We continued to get funding, even if it at sometimes it was smaller than we wanted. We got funding to keep this project alive. We engaged at different levels the creativity in construction… to help us get over that threshold and that hurdle to allow us to be here today. to be able to celebrate this fantastic milestone.
“I truly believe that KMP is a catalyst for megaprojects in the northwest. I am fortunate to be involved in other projects that are looking to come to Kitimat and they’re going to come to Kitimat because of its location but what I think you’ve also demonstrated as a community that they’re coming to Kitimat because of its people, As a host community you’ve demonstrated that you can live alongside and support three and half thousand construction professionals at any given time,
“I’m delighted that we’re through. I’m delighted that the team has got through before the next wave comes.
“I hope that legacy of the learning is two things, It’s enabled the community to be ready and be better prepared for the next one, also for those companies to learn from some of the opportunities and challenges we’ve been through and overcome.
“It was built in Kitimat BC by Canadians… I think at one point I think we had a hundred international workers. So the [labour agreement] allowed the ebb and flow of workers here form a Canadian base. I think that is also a true success factor.”
“For myself each milestone that we go through is a pinch. My goodness we actually pulled this off. We actually pulled this off. So my challenge, you know have the tools. you know have the equipment. You have the people, I was never worried about the people, smelting is in our DNA, three perhaps four generations of smelter experts in Kitimat. Now is your time to show what the best smelter in the world can do.”
In a news release this afternoon, Pacific Northwest LNG announced that the company has given a positive, but conditional, Final Investment Decision, to build an LNG facility on the environmentally sensitive Lelu Island at Port Edward. BC.
Pacific NorthWest LNG (PNW LNG) announced today that the required technical and commercial components of the project have been satisfied. Consequently, PNW LNG has resolved to move forward with a positive Final Investment Decision, subject to two conditions.
The Final Investment Decision will be confirmed by the partners of PNW LNG once two outstanding foundational conditions have been resolved. The first condition is approval of the Project Development Agreement by the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, and the second is a positive regulatory decision on Pacific NorthWest LNG’s environmental assessment by the Government of Canada.
“In parallel with work to support the Final Investment Decision, Pacific NorthWest LNG will continue constructive engagement with area First Nations, local communities, stakeholders and regulators,” said Michael Culbert, President of Pacific NorthWest LNG. “The integrated project is poised to create thousands of construction and operational careers in the midst of the current energy sector slowdown.”
Progress Energy Canada and the North Montney Joint Venture partners will continue to invest in its North Montney natural gas resources. The investment to date has proved and probable natural gas reserves of over 20 trillion cubic feet (tcf) with $2 billion-plus invested annually, representing approximately 4,000 sustainable jobs in northeast British Columbia.
“A Final Investment Decision is a crucial step to ensure that the project stays on track to service contracted LNG customers,” Culbert continued. “Pacific NorthWest LNG is poised to make a substantial investment that will benefit Canada for generations to come.”
Although Pacific Northwest LNG is first off the mark with a positive, if conditional, Final Investment Decision, putting a shovel in the ground is not guaranteed. Of all the proposed liquified natural gas projects for northwestern BC, the location on Lelu Island, right at the mouth of the Skeena River, is probably the most environmentally sensitive. Even if the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency does give its approval, probably with a long list of conditions, it is highly likely the decision will be challenged in court by First Nations and environmental groups.
The environmental process was put on hold in early June after the agency asked Pacific Northwest to provide more information about building the terminal. The island sits near Flora Bank, where young salmon shelter in eel grass after coming down the Skeena, taking time to grow before venturing out into the Pacific. Flora Bank has been called the “nursery” for one of the world’s most important salmon runs.
The fact that Pacific Northwest LNG has to supply more studies means that any final environmental assessment decision will come after October’s federal election.
After initial proposals to dredge the area where met with loud and sustained opposition, Pacific Northwest proposed a suspension bridge and trestle which means the LNG tankers would tie up well off the island in Chatham Sound.
Lelu Island is on the traditional territory of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation. Members of the First Nation recently voted overwhelmingly against accepting a billion dollars over the life of the project from Pacific Northwest.
Pacific NorthWest LNG filed a report, prepared by engineering and environmental company Stantec Inc., that said there would little or no environmental impact impact from building the $11.4-billion LNG terminal. Stantec’s report, however, is unlikely to reassure many people in the northwest because of Stantec’s close to ties to the energy industry. Stantec did major studies for the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project, studies that were challenged by other environmental studies opposing that pipeline project.
Petronas holds 62-per-cent of Pacific NorthWest LNG.
Partners are China’s Sinopec, which holds 10 per cent, Indian Oil Corp. Ltd. which holds 10 per cent, Japan Petroleum Exploration, 10 per cent, China Huadian Corp., 5 per cent and Petroleum Brunei, 3 per cent.
As well some First Nations and environmental groups in the northwest of British Columbia, in the northeast, Blueberry River First Nations who live in the North Montey natural gas region have said they are worried about increased drilling in their traditional territory are concerned about increased drilling by Progress Energy for natural gas within their traditional territory.
The Blueberry River group says it plans request judicial review of the B.C. Natural Gas Development Ministry’s decision to sign the 23-year royalty agreement for the region.
The headline on Thursday’s CBC.ca coverage of the sudden controversy over a boycott in British Columbia of Tim Horton’s over the Enbridge ads sums up everything that’s wrong about media coverage not only of the boycotts, but of northwest energy and environment issues overall.
“Tim Hortons yanks Enbridge ads, sparks Alberta backlash.” The anger at Tim Hortons across northwest British Columbia over those Enbridge ads, the calls for a boycott have been building for more than two weeks but no one in the media noticed despite widespread posts on Facebook and other social media.
As usual, the concerns of the northwest didn’t really become a story until Alberta got involved and the story has become the “Alberta backlash.” Now, there’s a backlash on social media to the Alberta backlash, with northwestern British Columbians tweeting and posting their displeasure, angry at the usual blinkered views of Alberta-centric coverage of energy issues.
Let’s make one thing clear– despite the outraged cries of the usual suspects like Defence Minister Jason Kenney, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who represents Calgary Centre-North and Kyle Harrietha, the Liberal candidate for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake that the boycott was aimed at Alberta’s entire energy industry and the province’s views of a manifest destiny as an energy super power, the doughnut boycott was really aimed specifically at Enbridge, and the company’s arrogance and incompetence.
Of course Jean, like most Albertans, isn’t looking at the bigger picture. The question that Jean should really be asking, is the continuing unquestioning support for Enbridge actually harming the rest of the Alberta energy industry by increasing the resistance in northwestern BC to other energy projects? When are Alberta politicians, whether federal or provincial, ever actually going to show even a Timbit of respect for the issues in northwestern British Columbia?
Look at what Enbridge is doing
There is strong support (with some reservations) for the liquified natural gas projects. There is a level of support for pipelines that would carry refined hydrocarbons to the coast, something that the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley is seriously considering. But it is so typical of Alberta, the Alberta media and most of the Canadian media, to believe that the boycott was an attack on the entire energy industry.
Ask any executive of an energy company that wants to do business in northwestern British Columbia and they’ll come up with the a joke that is now so old and so often repeated that it’s become a cliché, “We look at what Enbridge is doing and then do the exact opposite.”
The fact is that Enbridge has been dealing with northwestern British Columbia for more than ten years and they still can’t do anything right. Shell, Chevron, Petronas (and before them Apache) and even TransCanada make more efforts to listen to the people, First Nations and non-Aboriginal residents alike, than Enbridge ever has or ever will (despite their claims in their PR campaigns).
While these energy giants may not agree with what they hear, they are respectful and depending on their corporate culture are making genuine efforts to come up with ways to make their projects work. After a decade of blunders, however, Enbridge still hasn’t shown that much respect for anyone here. Those touchy feely ads that appear on television and at Tim Horton’s are just another example of how not to run a public relations campaign.
There are those who oppose any bitumen sands extraction who signed the online petition, but the core of opposition, as always, comes from northwestern BC and the issue is an ill-conceived pipeline.
Enbridge has been successful in one area of its public relations strategy. They’ve convinced Albertans that Enbridge and the Northern Gateway pipeline is an essential part of not only the Alberta economy but Alberta culture. Any attack on Enbridge becomes an attack on Alberta. Hence the unreasoned anger when after Tim Hortons pulled the ads.
The big blame America lie
The other Big Lie we keep hearing from the Harper Government, is that this all orchestrated by American NGOs and activists. Again this shows Alberta-centric contempt for British Columbia. It’s very easy and convenient to keep believing that everyone in northern British Columbia are dumb and stupid and are being led by the ear by those nasty green Americans who have it in for the efforts to make Canada an energy superpower. That idea, promoted by the more conservative Canadian media has always been animal waste. The battle to protect the environment of northwestern British Columbia while at the same time attracting resource projects that have recognized and obtained social licence to operate has always and will always in BC on a case by case, community by community basis.
A morning shock with your morning coffee and Timbits
Social media across northwestern British Columbia, mostly Facebook, began spreading the news within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys. There were angry posts from individuals who had walked in Tim Hortons and saw the ads.
Why didn’t the media get the story?
So why wasn’t the story covered by the media at least ten days ago?
That’s because in this age of tight budgets, it’s considered easy and economical to try to all of northern BC cover from either Vancouver or Calgary; that means covering from far away both the coast where the pipelines and tankers may or may not operate to the east near the Rockies where the natural gas extraction is on going
If you look at map of northern BC, and the two federal ridings Skeena Bulkley Valley and Prince George–Peace River–Northern Rockies, the population is about 200,000 spread over an area about half the size of Europe. Both ridings in this region are supposedly vital to the future of the Canadian economy, but you wouldn’t know it from most of the media. (The Globe and Mail is an exception, with more ongoing coverage of northern BC than you will find in either The Vancouver Sun or The Province).
As for CBC, there are just eight radio staff, two in Prince Rupert and six in Prince George to cover all the apparently vital issues across half the province. ( Almost all the staff work mostly for the Daybreak North morning show which dominates the regional rates but it looks like with the latest CBC cutbacks that at least one of those positions will be eliminated). CBC TV and Global cover the region from Vancouver.
At least the Vancouver based media make efforts to cover the north from time to time. The Alberta media, however, especially the Calgary Herald, is hopeless, and so biased against British Columbia and so dismissive of the issues here, that the coverage across Alberta is completely unreliable about 90 per cent of the time—it’s no wonder that the majority of Albertans have no understanding of British Columbia culture and issues.
Then there are the punditi, pontificating from their cubicles in Ottawa and Toronto without a clue, without doing the basic journalism of picking up the phone (or writing an e-mail) to actually find out what’s going on.
Andrew Coyne, for example, made these rather silly two tongue-in-cheek tweets Thursday night. While Coyne’s tweets do often exhibit a sense of humour, his excellent coverage of the decline of our democratic parliament has to be compared with his blind, unchecked ideological assumptions about the issues of the northwest, which are simplistic, cubicle bound and far off the mark. The same can be said for Jeffrey Simpson in his occasional writing about this region. Neither the view from the Hill, where you can see as far as the Queensway, nor from Bloor Street, where you can see part of the Don Valley, are vantage points to understand what is going in northern British Columbia.
So let’s look at the specific errors in the media coverage of the Tim Horton’s story.
Both Shawn McCarthy in the Globe and Mail and Kyle Bakyx on CBC.ca seem to accept without question that SumofUs, was the instigator of the petition. Like many issues in northwestern BC, the Lower Mainland or US based activist groups follow the lead of northwestern BC and jump on the bandwagon, not the other way around. Jason Kirby in MacLean’s says the boycott movement began a week ago. Here in Kitimat, it began within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys and was picked up on activist social media groups before the SumofUs petition site.
McCarthy repeats the conventional wisdom: “The Conservatives and oil industry supporters have been waging a public relations war with the environmental groups that oppose expansion of the oil sands and construction of new pipelines.”
CBC.ca quotes Alan Middleton of York University “Enbridge, of course, is not just pipelines and oilsands; they are a whole range of products including heating people’s homes. Tims should have thought about that.” Again a mistake. I lived in Toronto for many years. A company called Consumers Gas supplied natural gas to homes until it was taken over by Enbridge, so Enbridge does heat the homes in Toronto. But what has that got to do with northwestern British Columbia? Why didn’t CBC.ca call the University of Northern British Columbia? Easier to call York (which by the way is where I got both my BA and MA)
McCarthy quotes Rempel as saying, “One has to wonder whether head office talked to their franchise owners in Alberta before making the decision. I imagine those calls are being made this afternoon – certainly there are a lot of people voicing their displeasure.”
The question that should have been asked whether or not Tim Hortons consulted their franchise owners in British Columbia before ordering them to play the ads. People here were “voicing their displeasure” from the moment the first Kitimatian walked into the local Timmys for an early morning coffee and had to stand in line while being told how wonderful Enbridge is.
Of course, if Albertans force Tim Hortons into reinstating the ads, that will only trigger a bigger boycott in British Columbia. As Maclean’s asks, “what were they thinking?”
Jason Kenney, flying in, flying out
As for Jason Kenney, who is quoted by the CBC as tweeting: “I’m proud to represent thousands of constituents who work for Enbridge & other CDN energy companies,” if Kenney aspires to be Prime Minister one day, he had better start thinking about representing more Canadians than just those employed by the energy industry—a mistake that his boss Stephen Harper keeps making.
Jason Kenney did visit Kitimat for a just a few hours in February 2014 for a tour of the Rio Tinto modernization project and an obligatory and brief meeting with the Haisla First Nation council. If Kenney had actually bothered to stick around a few more hours and talk to the community, everyone from the environmentalists to the industrial development advocates, he might not have been so quick on the trigger in the Twitter wars.
Not one of the major media who covered this story, not The Globe and Mail, not CBC.ca, not MacLean’s, no one else, once bothered to actually call or e-mail someone who lives along the Northern Gateway pipeline route in British Columbia, the area where the boycott movement actually began to ask about Enbridge’s track record in this region. The media still doesn’t get it. This morning’s stories are all about Alberta. As usual, my dear, the media doesn’t give a damn about northwestern British Columbia.
That is why the coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure of the Canadian media.
Where else the media is failing northwestern BC
Full disclosure. Since I took early retirement from CBC in 2010 and returned to Kitimat, I have worked as a freelancer for CBC radio and television, Global News, Canadian Press, The National Post, The Globe and Mail and other media.
However, largely due to budget cuts, freelance opportunities, not only for myself, but others across the region have dried up. The media seems to be concentrating more on the major urban areas where there is larger population base and at least more of the ever shrinking advertising dollar. I am now told more often than I was a couple of years ago that “we don’t have the budget.”
Now this isn’t just a freelancer who would like some more work (although it would be nice). If the media these days actually had environmental beats for reporters the boycott of Tim Hortons in northwest BC would have been flagged within a couple of days, not almost two and half weeks and later only when Alberta got hot under its oily collar.
So as well as the Tim Horton’s boycott here are two major ongoing stories from Kitimat that the media haven’t been covering.
100 day municipal strike
-Kitimat’s municipal workers, Unifor 2300, have been on strike since February 28. Three rounds of mediation have failed, the union has refused binding arbitration, the pool, gym and community meeting halls have been closed since February, the municipal parks and byways are now returning to the wilderness. Only essential services are being maintained (but residents still have to pay their property taxes by July 2, taxes that are skyrocketing due to increased assessments for home values based on LNG projects that haven’t started) By the time most people read this the strike will have been on for 100 days. There is no settlement in sight and both sides, despite a mediator ordered blackout, are fighting a press release war on social media. Can you imagine any other place that had a 100 day municipal workers strike with no coverage in the province’s main media outlets, whether newspaper or television? Local CBC radio has covered the strike, as has the local TV station CFTK. (Update: District of Kitimat says in a news release that the mediator has now approved the DoK news releases.)
Of course, in the bigger picture the media concentrates on business reporting. There haven’t been labour reporters for a generation.
So if most Canadians were surprised that there was a boycott of the unofficial national symbol, Tim Hortons, it’s because of that double double media fail and as the media continues to decline, as budgets are cut, as “commodity news” disappears, expect more surprises in the future. Oh by the way Kitimat is vital to the national economy but we can cover it from a cubicle in Toronto.
Final disclosure: I am not a coffee drinker. When I go to Timmy’s I prefer a large steeped tea and an apple fritter.
As of today, June 1, 2015, Northwest Coast Energy News will limit coverage to only certain stories and issues in the Kitimat region.
I had already put the site on a limited hiatus as of January 1, as I worked on a somewhat related long term writing project. During that time, which was fairly slow on energy news, I only covered what I believed to be the most essential stories.
I have reluctantly decided to limit coverage for the foreseesable future.
The writing project is taking longer than I expected but this only one factor. But it may be that the writing project may make some money. Northwest Coast Energy News has generated only a minimal income and that minimal income means that regular coverage on the site is now economically unsustainable.
As the date for the Kitimat session of the Rio Tinto Alcan air shed hearings came near I had to decide whether or not I could afford to sit through two weeks covering the hearings, doing what was essentially unpaid work. The huge assessment related jump in property taxes confirmed my decision to concentrate on work that may actually produce some revenue.
Despite expressions of support from many in the community on all sides of the energy issues, that support did not result in either advertising revenue nor sufficient donations to even cover the web hosting costs. With Kitimat Modernization winding down, no LNG Final Investment Decision on any project for at least a year, the still struggling world economy and rising costs in Kitimat across the board, it is unlikely that advertising or donations will increase.
Northwest Coast Energy News was, in effect, somewhat subsidized by work I did for my mainstream media clients. However, with fewer news stories in Kitimat and with the mainstream media also facing more budget cuts, that income stream has also slowed to a trickle. (I have been unable to interest my regular clients in coverage of the Unifor strike nor the RTA hearings).
The advantage of web site is that it can be maintained at minimal cost. If this was a print operation it would shut down.
Northwest Coast Energy News (and our friendly rival the Kitimat Daily) are known in the news business as “hyperlocal” sites. When I founded Northwest Coast Energy News in 2011, the “experts” all predicted that “hyperlocal” was the wave of the future. That optimism turned out to be wrong. Most hyperlocal sites have shut down in the past couple of years, due to lack of revenue and burn out in the case of “sole practitioner” or small staff sites. Around the world, the problem hyperlocal sites face is while communities generally welcome and express support for such sites, those communities are either unable or unwilling to provide the economic support necessary to keep the site going.
Northwest Coast Energy News is not shutting down—yet. I will continue to provide coverage on breaking energy, environment and business news that is vital to the community as well stories I can generate at minimal cost that may not be covered by the Kitimat Daily or the Northern Sentinel.
That means Northwest Coast Energy News should still be operating on a minimal basis in the case of a positive Final Investment Decision on an LNG project that could make the site economically viable.
The United States Coast Guard says it is monitoring repairs aboard the liquid natural gas carrier Excel in Homer, Alaska, Friday, May 1.
According to a news release from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, USCG issued an order for the vessel to remain anchored in Kachemak Bay near Homer after the 908-foot, Belgium-flagged vessel experienced a loss of propulsion due to a failed engineering gasket while inbound to Cook Inlet Monday.
The Excel was bound for the existing LNG facility, the Kenai LNG Plant, located in Nikiski on the Kenai Peninsula, in Alaska. The state of Alaska is planning to expand the LNG facilities there, and that site is a potential rival for British Columbia’s LNG export plans.
The Coast Guard release says:
The Excel was examined by Coast Guard inspectors from Marine Safety Detachment Homer, Tuesday, who conducted a Port State Control annual exam and verified the engineering gasket was replaced.
While preparing to get underway Wednesday, the vessel experienced an automated engineering casualty and canceled its voyage until a Bureau Veritas (BV) classification surveyor could arrive and verify the engineering casualty was fully resolved. After arriving aboard the vessel, the class surveyor directed the vessel’s crew to test the automated engineering system and deduced that the casualty was a product of a faulty engine order telegraph; a device used on ships for the pilot on the bridge to order engineers in the engine room to power the vessel at a certain desired speed. Coast Guard Sector Anchorage issued another order for the vessel to remain in Kachemak Bay.
Friday, the vessel was allowed to continue sailing to her destination at the ConocoPhilips LNG plant in Nikiski after additional safety measures were implemented. As part of the safety measures, the tug Stellar Wind escorted the vessel from Kachemack Bay to Nikiski and a second tug, the Glacier Wind, stood by in Nikiski to assist with docking operations.
The Excel completed her voyage and safely moored at the ConocoPhilips pier in Nikiski at approximately noon Friday where it remains until permanent repairs are verified by the class surveyor and Coast Guard inspectors.
“Ensuring safe navigation in Western Alaska, particularly in Cook Inlet, is one of my highest priorities,” said Capt. Paul Mehler III. “Our crews worked closely with the Southwest Alaska Pilots Association, the class surveyor and towing vessel industry to coordinate a safe and secure transit of the Excel from Kachemak Bay to Nikiski. The weather was also in our favor with clear skies, light winds, and steady ebb tide during the transit in Cook Inlet.”
The LNG export plant at Nikiski was built in 1969 by Phillips Petroleum and Marathon Oil. Phillips later merged with Conoco and subsequently purchased Marathon’s 30 per cent share. The Nikiski plant sent LNG shipments to Japan from 1969 to 2010 under long-term contracts with Tokyo Gas and Tokyo Electric, when the contracts expired.
In 2011 ConocoPhillips announced that it would be ceasing LNG exports from Kenai and preserving the plant for potential future use.
With the LNG rush, market conditions changed and the the plant resumed making LNG in early 2012 and exported four cargoes to Asian customers over the course of that year.
In March 2013, the export licence expired and the LNG plant was put on standby. As interest in LNG grew, and at the urging of the state of Alaska, in December 2013 ConocoPhillips Alaska applied to resume LNG exports and the U.S. Department of Energy approved the resumption in April, 2014. ConocoPhillips says it received authorization to export a total of 40 BCF of liquefied natural gas over a two-year period from 2014 through 2016.
The Alaska LNG project is “a proposed $45 to $65 billion liquefied natural gas export project – it would be the largest single investment in Alaska history. The project has the potential to create between 9,000 and 15,000 jobs during the design and construction phases; plus approximately 1,000 jobs for continued operations. In addition to generating billions of dollars in revenue for Alaska, the project will provide access to natural gas for Alaskans.” The project’s participants are the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) and affiliates of TransCanada, BP, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil.