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.
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.
Enbridge Northern Gateway officials are loath (to put it mildly) to speak to the media but sometimes they let things slip. Earlier this summer, at a social event, I heard an Enbridge official (probably inadvertently) reveal that when the company’s engineers came before District of Kitimat Council earlier this year they were surprised and somewhat unprepared to fully answer the detailed technical questions from Councillor Phil Germuth on pipeline leak detection.
The results of the municipal election in Kitimat, and elsewhere across BC show one clear message; voters do want industrial development in their communities, but not at any price. Communities are no longer prepared to be drive by casualties for giant corporations on their road to shareholder value.
The federal Conservatives and the BC provincial Liberals have, up until now, successfully used the “all or nothing thinking” argument. That argument is: You either accept everything a project proponent wants, whether in the mining or energy sectors, or you are against all development. Psychologists will tell you that “all or nothing thinking” only leads to personal defeat and depression. In politics, especially in an age of attack ads and polarization, the all or nothing thinking strategy often works. Saturday’s results, however, show that at least at the municipal level, the all or nothing argument is a political loser. Where “all politics is local” the majority of people are aware of the details of the issues and reject black and white thinking.
The Enbridge official went on to say that for their company observers, Germuth’s questions were a “what the…..” moment. As in “what the …..” is this small town councillor doing challenging our expertise?
But then Enbridge (and the other pipeline companies) have always tended to under estimate the intelligence of people who live along the route of proposed projects whether in British Columbia or elsewhere in North America, preferring to either ignore or demonize opponents and to lump skeptics into the opponent camp. The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel also lost credibility when it accepted most of Northern Gateway’s arguments at face value while saying “what the ……” do these amateurs living along the pipeline route know?
“I am pro-development,” Germuth proclaimed to reporters in Kitimat on Saturday night after his landslide victory in his campaign for mayor.
On the issue of leak detection, over a period of two years, Germuth did his homework, checked his facts and looked for the best technology on leak detection for pipelines. That’s a crucial issue here where pipelines cross hundreds of kilometres of wilderness and there just aren’t the people around to notice something is amiss (as the people of Marshall, Michigan wondered at the time of the Line 6B breach back in 2010). Enbridge should have been prepared; Germuth first raised public questions about leak detection at a public forum in August 2012. In February 2014, after another eighteen months of research, he was ready to cross-examine, as much as possible under council rules of procedure. Enbridge fumbled the answers.
So that’s the kind of politician that will be mayor of Kitimat for the next four years, technically astute, pro-development but skeptical of corporate promises and determined to protect the environment.
Across the province, despite obstacles to opposition set up by the federal and provincial governments, proponents are now in for a tougher time (something that some companies will actually welcome since it raises the standards for development).
We see similar results in key votes in British Columbia. In Vancouver, Gregor Roberston, despite some problems with policies in some neighborhoods, won re-election on his green and anti-tankers platform. In Burnaby, Derek Corrigan handily won re-election and has already repeated his determination to stop the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline through his town. In Prince Rupert, Lee Brain defeated incumbent Jack Musselman. Brain, who has on the ground experience working at an oil refinery in India, supports LNG development but has also been vocal in his opposition to Northern Gateway.
The new mayor in Terrace Carol Leclerc is an unknown factor, a former candidate for the BC Liberal party, who campaigned mainly on local issues. In the Terrace debate she refused to be pinned down on whether or not she supported Northern Gateway, saying, “Do I see Enbridge going ahead? Not a hope,” but later adding, “I’d go with a pipeline before I’d go with a rail car.”
Kitimat’s mayor and council elections also confirm that Northern Gateway plebiscite vote last April. Kitimat wants industrial development but not at the price of the community and the environment. The unofficial pro-development slate lost. A last minute attempt to smear Germuth on social media was quickly shot down by people from all sides of the Kitimat debate. Smears don’t usually work in small towns where everyone knows everyone.
Larry Walker, an environmentalist with a track record in municipal politics as an alderman in Spruce Grove, Alberta, won a seat. Together with Rob Goffinet and Germuth, that is three solid votes for the environment. The other new councillor is Claire Rattee who will be one to watch. Will the rookie be the swing vote as Corinne Scott was?
Mario Feldhoff who came to third to Goffinet in the overall vote (Edwin Empinado was second) is a solid councillor with a strong reputation for doing his homework and attention to detail and the unofficial leader of the side more inclined to support development. Feldhoff got votes from all sides in the community.
During the debates, Feldhoff repeated his position that he supports David Black’s Kitimat Clean refinery. But as an accountant, Feldhoff will have to realize that Black’s plan, which many commentators say was economically doubtful with oil at $110 a barrel, is impractical with oil at $78 a barrel for Brent Crude and expected to fall farther. Any idea of a refinery bringing jobs to Kitimat will have to be put on hold for now.
LNG projects are also dependent on the volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace. The companies involved keep postponing the all important Final Investment Decisions.
There are also Kitimat specific issues to deal with. What happens to the airshed, now and in the future? Access to the ocean remains a big issue. RTA’s gift of land on Minette Bay is a step in the right direction, but while estuary land is great for camping, canoeing and nature lovers, it is not a beach. There is still the need for a well-managed marina and boat launch that will be open and available to everyone in the valley.
Germuth will have to unite a sometimes contentious council to ensure Kitimat’s future prosperity without giving up the skepticism necessary when corporations sit on a table facing council on a Monday night, trying to sell their latest projects. That all means that Germuth has his job cut out for him over the next four years.
There’s a dumb, dumb, really dumb idea that just won’t go away—that Enbridge could solve all its problems if only, if only, it would send the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert.
Enbridge long ago rejected the idea. Before Enbridge updated its website to make Gateway Facts, to make it slick and more attractive, the old website had an FAQ where Enbridge explained why it wasn’t going to Prince Rupert.
Did you consider running the pipeline to Prince Rupert where a major port already exists?
We considered Prince Rupert and Kitimat as possible locations. We carried out a feasibility study that took into account a number of considerations. The study found that the routes to Prince Rupert were too steep to safely run the pipeline, and that Kitimat was the best and safest option available.
Here in the northwest even the supporters of the Northern Gateway roll their eyes when they hear the old Prince Rupert story come up again and again – and it’s not just because these people support the Kitimat plans for Northern Gateway, it’s because those supporters (not to mention the opponents) have driven along the Skeena from Terrace to Prince Rupert.
There just isn’t any room for a pipeline. It’s a game of centimetres.
Alternatives to Kitimat?
Now the new premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, who should know better if he’s going to lead that province, is hinting that Kitimat isn’t the only possible solution for the Northern Gateway.
Without specifying Prince Rupert, according to Gary Mason reporting in The Globe and Mail, Prentice was speculating about an alternative to Kitimat.
Asked whether he believes the Gateway terminus should be relocated to Prince Rupert or another destination, Mr. Prentice said, “Everything I’ve heard from the Haisla who live there is they don’t agree with the terminal being in Kitimat.” Is it possible to get First Nations approval if there is no support at the planned terminus site? “It’s pretty tough,” the Premier said.
Prince Rupert has a thriving local fishing industry that employs hundreds of people and is critically important to the local First Nations. He is convinced the community would not be willing to put that at risk.
“Overwhelmingly people in my community are much more comfortable with liquefied natural gas, with wood pellets, with coal, than any oil product,” he said.
The Prince Rupert Port Authority also rejected the idea
A spokesman for the Prince Rupert Port Authority said Wednesday there is currently no room for Enbridge to build at the port even if it wanted to. “We are fully subscribed,” Michael Gurney said. There are two large vacant lots within the port authority’s jurisdiction, but both are locked by other energy companies, earmarked for LNG projects.
So not only is there no room on the road to Prince Rupert, there is no room in Prince Rupert.
Let’s just consider for a moment that if Prince Rupert was the ideal location for the Northern Gateway terminal (which it is not), what would be needed to get the project going today.
The Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel would have be reconstituted or a new JRP created by the National Energy Board. That’s because the bitumen comes from Bruderheim, Alberta, crossing provincial boundaries and thus it’s in federal jurisdiction.
Even under the fast track rules imposed on the NEB by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, new environmental and social impact studies would be required, starting from scratch. So add another five years of paperwork before a single shovel goes into the ground.
The pipeline would have to cross the traditional territory of First Nations that, so far, have not been part of the negotiations, mostly the Tsimshian First Nation as well as the Nisga’a First Nation which has a treaty establishing local rule over their territory.
In February 2012, the largest anti-Enbridge demonstration outside of the Lower Mainland took place in Prince Rupert, with the elders of the Tsimshian First Nation welcoming the elders and members of the Gitga’at First Nation, at Hartley Bay, which had organized the protest.
When I say there isn’t room for a pipeline along the Skeena, it also means that there isn’t any room for the pipeline corridor right-of-way. Enbridge, in its submissions to the Joint Review Panel, said it requires a 25 metre wide right of way for the pipeline corridor. (For the record that’s just over 82 feet).
Along that highway, as you will see, there’s barely enough room for the CN mainline and Highway 16 (also known as the Yellowhead Highway) and on a lot of places both the highway and the railway roadbed are built on fill along the side of a cliff.
Albertans’ desperate desire to see the Northern Gateway go to anywhere to what they call “tide water” keeps coming up like the proverbial bad penny. The latest came when Jim Prentice speculated about a new route for the Northern Gateway.
I knew I had an appointment coming up in Prince Rupert on Monday, September 29. So I decided that only way to prove to people sitting in Calgary, Edmonton and Fort McMurray playing with Google Maps that the pipeline to Prince Rupert was a really dumb idea was to shoot photographs to show just why the Northern Gateway will never go to Prince Rupert—at least along the Skeena.
As you drive out of Terrace, you pass two large swing gates (also called by some “Checkpoint Charlie” gates after the Cold War era crossing in Berlin.) At the first rest stop west of Terrace, there are another set of gates at the Exstew. There’s a third set of gates just outside Prince Rupert.
The swing gates are avalanche gates and, in the winter, Highway 16 can be shut down if an avalanche closes the highway or the danger from avalanche is too great to allow motorists to proceed. When you drive the highway from Terrace to Prince Rupert in the winter (the signs were covered up when I drove Monday) you are warned “Avalanche danger Next 13 kilometres. No stopping.”
The drive along the Skeena from just west of Exchamsiks River Provincial Park all the way to Tyee where the highway turns inland to reach northwest to Prince Rupert on Kaien Island is one of the most spectacular drives on this planet. The highway snakes along a narrow strip of land with steep mountain cliffs on one side and the vast river on the other.
The problem is that apart from locals and tourists, none of the “experts” whether journalist, think tanker, bureaucrat or politician have, apparently ever driven from Prince Rupert to Terrace.
When both Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau were in the northwest earlier this summer to “engage” with the local people, apart from short boat trips down Douglas Channel, they flew everywhere. Scheduling you know. Stephen Harper has never visited northwest BC and probably never intends to. His cabinet members fly in for photo ops and then are on the next plane out of town.
Of all the visiting journalists who have come to the northwest only a couple have bothered to drive around the region. Most fly-in fly-out. These days, most often budget-strapped reporters never leave their offices, interviewing the same usual suspects by phone on every story.
On Monday, I took most of the photographs on my way back from Prince Rupert to Terrace after my appointment, so the sequence is from west to east. There are also very few places along the river where you can safely stop. There are concrete barricades on both sides of the highway to prevent vehicles either going into the river or onto the narrow CN right-of-way.
There are, however, two rest stops and a number of small turnoffs on the highway, the turnoffs mainly intended for use by BC Highways, but which are also used by tourists, fishers and photographers.
The first image was taken at one of those highway turnoffs just east of Aberdeen Creek. This is what the highway and rail corridor are like all along the Skeena, the highway, bounded by concrete barricades, the CN rail line and then the towering mountains. Note where the telegraph and telephone lines are—further up the cliffside.
A closer view of the highway and rail corridor just east of Aberdeen Creek.
Here is the view of the Skeena River from the Aberdeen Creek turnoff. You can see to the east, a mountain and the narrow strip of fill land that supports the highway and the rail line.
You see the broad width of the mighty Skeena, the Misty River, as it is called by the Tsimshian First Nation and by everyone else who lives in the northwest and on the right side of the image, the highway and rail corridor built on fill.
Any room for a pipeline?
There’s another turnoff on the other side of the headland east of Aberdeen Creek, looking back the way we came.
The final small turnoff is just by the Kylex River. Again you can see how narrow the highway and rail corridor are.
A few kilometres further along—as I said the highway snakes and curves its way along the riverbank– you come to the Basalt Creek rest area. So this telephoto image shows a logging truck heading west, taken from Basalt Creek, looking back at the highway.
Again you can see both the highway and CN line are built on fill. Is there any room for a pipeline?
Any room for a 25 metre pipeline right-of-way?
Between Basalt Creek and Telegraph Point, a few kilometres to the east, again the highway and rail line hug the narrow strip between the river and mountains.
This shot, taken from Telegraph Point, in October 2013, shows a CN intermodal container train heading to Prince Rupert. The container trains and the coal trains usually have between 150 and 180 cars. If a winter avalanche took out a train, there would be environmental damage, but that damage would be insignificant from coal or containers compared to a train of railbit tankers carrying diluted bitumen.
At Telegraph Point, the second of the three rest stops between Prince Rupert and Terrace, again there is just a narrow strip between the mountain, the highway and the river.
Across the highway from the rest stop, you can again see the narrow corridor, the first shot looking west the rail line close to the cliff face, the second, east, with the waterfall, which you don’t see during the rest of the year, fed by the fall monsoon.
Two shots from the same location, Telegraph Point, taken in March, 2013, of a CN locomotive hauling empty coal cars back to the fields around Tumbler Ridge. (No waterfall in March)
Everyone has assumed that if Northern Gateway changed its route, the most likely choice given the configuration of the pipeline at the moment is to follow the Skeena.
If Enbridge wanted to try a northern route, similar to the one TransCanada contemplates for Petronas, Northern Gateway would again run into trouble.
It would require reopening or creating a new Joint Review Panel, many more years of environmental and social impact studies of the route, even under Stephen Harper’s fast track system. The TransCanada/Petronas pipeline would also cross the traditional territory of the Gitxsan First Nation and if Enbridge tried that the company would have to deal with the fact that it signed a controversial agreement with Elmer Derrick that was immediately repudiated by most members of the Gitxsan First Nation and eventually dropped by Enbridge.
So why does this idea of a pipeline to Prince Rupert keep coming up?
In most cases, the idea of the pipeline to Prince Rupert is always proposed by Albertans, not from any credible source in British Columbia, or the suggestions come from desk bound analysts in Toronto and Ottawa both in think tanks and in the newsrooms of dying newspapers who have never seen the Skeena River apart from a tiny handful who have looked at Google Street View
(Yes you can Google Street View Highway 16 along the Skeena, I recommend it if you can’t do the drive)
Perhaps the worst example of this failure of both analysis and journalism came in the Edmonton Journal on July 7,2014, when it published a piece by Bob Russell, entitled Opinion: Make Prince Rupert the terminus, which went over the same old inaccurate arguments.
The overland route currently proposed by Enbridge is fraught with environmental issues because it goes over coastal mountains and streams before entering Kitimat’s port. This port will also be the base of perhaps as many as four liquefied natural gas terminals, which will result in the channel always busy with LNG ships outbound and returning from many Asian ports.
There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands. The technical issues of narrow passages can be overcome with engineering. In fact, the pipeline can be buried in the roadway at some restricted locations if absolutely necessary, but two different engineers have assured me that for the most part, the right of way should be able to handle the pipeline. A vital factor, of course, is to reduce the impact by eliminating the need for two pipelines.
The clue is how the Edmonton Journal describes Russell;
Bob Russell has an extensive background in planning and was a member of the Edmonton Metro Regional Planning Commission. He has flown the Douglas Channel, visited Kitimat and toured the Port of Prince Rupert.
This is so typical of the Albertan attitude toward northwest British Columbia, people fly in for a couple of days, make a quick observation, and fly out again and present themselves as experts on the region. (Some “experts” on Kitimat, very active on Twitter have apparently never left Calgary).
It obvious that the “two engineers” who assured him “the right-of-way could handle of pipeline” have no idea what they’re talking about. As the photos show there is barely enough room for a highway and a rail line much less a 25 metre wide pipeline corridor.
If the pipeline was to be built as Russell proposed, the only highway between Prince Rupert and the rest of Canada would have to be closed for years, there are no detours. All so a pipeline can be buried under the asphalt not in solid ground, but in the fill on the side of a riverbank in an avalanche zone?
Of course, closing a highway up here won’t inconvenience anyone in Edmonton or Calgary, will it?
Would CN be happy with years of disruption of their lucrative traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal outbound to Asia and all those containers coming in to feed Chinese products to the North American market? (you can be sure Walmart wouldn’t be happy about that, not to mention prairie farmers including those from Alberta)
There are existing rights of way for the major highway, the Yellowhead, and CN Rail line from Edmonton to the Port of Prince Rupert, so this eliminates the issue of transgressing First Nations lands.
Is also inaccurate.
I was told by First Nations leaders during the Idle No More demonstrations in the winter of 2013, that, a century ago, when the Grand Trunk built the railway along the Skeena , they did just that, built it without consulting the First Nations along the route, sometime digging up native cemeteries and sacred spots.
While apparently CN has worked in recent years to improve relations with the First Nations along the rail line, according to those leaders some issues of right-of-way remain to be resolved.
If there were any plans to build a diluted bitumen pipeline along that route, that would likely mean another court battle adding to those already before the Federal Court, a court battle that would cost Enbridge, CN, the federal government, environmental NGOs and the First Nations more millions in lawyers’ fees.
It’s doubtful if in the long gone (and perhaps mythical) days of “get it right” journalism that the Russell opinion piece would have passed the scrutiny of an old fashioned copy editor and fact checker.
In 2012, the Edmonton Journal (in a story no longer available on their website) also cited former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed and former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, as also favouring Prince Rupert.
Dodge, who was in Edmonton Tuesday to deliver a speech on the global economic outlook at MacEwan University, said Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat looks like even more of a long shot.
“I think the project to Kitimat looks, objectively, more risky. So why hasn’t much greater effort gone into looking at Prince Rupert and taking (bitumen) out that way? My guess is, the easiest place to get B.C. to buy into the project would be to go to Rupert.”
Dodge’s views echo those of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who also favours looking at an alternate pipeline route to Prince Rupert, where ocean-going supertankers can navigate more easily.
Back in 2012, I finished my piece for the Huffington Post by saying:
So why do people insist, despite the evidence, that the Northern Gateway go to Prince Rupert? It’s no longer an pipeline; it’s emotion and ideology. Ideology in that opposition to the Northern Gateway is seen by conservatives as heretical opposition to free enterprise itself. Emotion among those who see promoting the oil patch as an issue of “Alberta pride” and even Canadian patriotism.
For the promoters of the pipeline to Prince Rupert, ignoring the science of geology and the study of geography across all of northwestern B.C. is no different than repeatedly knocking your head against the Paleozoic metamorphic greenstone of the mountain cliffs along the Skeena. It only gives you a headache.
Things haven’t gotten much better in the past two years. In fact they’re getting worse as opposition to pipelines mounts.
It seems that in 2014 the Alberta and the federal government policy in promoting pipelines Northern Gateway, KinderMorgan’s TransMountain, Keystone XL, Line 9 Reversal and Energy East (slick PR and smiling representatives at open houses, politicians at strictly controlled photo ops) is to ignore facts on the ground and to refuse to deal with the concerns of local people from coast to coast.
There could, perhaps, be a more inclusive and truly science-based pipeline planning process that could see pipelines go on optimum routes but that isn’t happening.
The policy for the oil patch and its politician supporters when it comes to pipelines is facts and geology don’t really matter. So they put on ruby slippers, knock their heels together three times and send pipelines down a yellow brick road to an Emerald City (while telling the locals to ignore the man behind the curtain)
A poll released this morning by Insights West, and already being heavily promoted by Enbridge Northern Gateway claims to show: “Opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines has subsided over the past 10 months in British Columbia, with the province’s residents now being staunchly divided on the project…”
It goes on to report:
In the online survey of a representative sample of British Columbians, support for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines stands at 42%, a seven-point increase since an Insights West poll conducted in February. Conversely, opposition to the project has dropped by 14 points, from 61% at the start of 2013 to 47% today.
It is important to note that the level of “strong opposition” to the project has fallen to 29% (down 9 points since February), while “strong support” increased to 16% (+5).
What the press release doesn’t tell you is that opposition to the Northern Gateway, according to the poll, is at 65 per cent in Northern British Columbia, with 50 per cent strongly opposed and 15 per cent somewhat opposed.
The Insight Poll assumes the findings of the online poll are within the usual margin of error
We have assumed that the same margins of error apply as if it were a true unweighted random probability sample with a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.
The problem with the Insight West poll, like all other polls on the Northern Gateway, is that it is weighted toward the population heavy Lower Mainland. The tables released by Insight West show that the online poll had 504 respondents in Vancouver and 25 in Northern BC.
Northwest Coast Energy has spoken to pollsters both on the record and on background and it is clear that the polling entire province distorts the issue along the pipeline route.
The problems with these polls are two fold:
First is the standard polling definition of Northern British Columbia, which is based on Census data. “Northern BC” actually begins at Williams Lake, although most people believe Northern BC begins around Prince George.
Second the polls, due to small population and sample size, do not usually divide northwestern British Columbia, where the opposition is strongest to the Northern Gateway project, and northeastern British Columbia, where the energy industry is a major employer and support for the project is likely stronger.
The tables released by Insight West shows that poll surveyed just 25 people in “Northern British Columbia” but 504 in “Metro Vancouver.”
Braid says the 168 people represents 17% of the sample. These interviews would have been weighted down to about 7% in the overall results to reflect the actual population of the North in BC. The margin of error in the North is about +/-7.6%, 19 times out of 20.
So with a total sample of 749 in the Insight West online poll and just 25 people in Northern BC surveyed, that means the Insight West poll survey of Northern BC covers just 3.3 per cent of the total sample. In contrast, 504 people in Vancouver were surveyed, accounting for 67.2 per cent of the sample.
The Insight West survey does acknowledge that:
British Columbians continue to be of two minds on the Northern Gateway,” continues Canseco. “There is a large proportion of the population that remains concerned with the possibility of oil spills and environmental problems, but the argument about economic benefits has gained traction over the past few months.
The actual tables show that of the 25 people surveyed in Northern BC, 50 per cent “strongly oppose,” (13 out of the 25 people surveyed) 15 per cent “somewhat oppose” Northern Gateway. Twelve per cent “somewhat support” the project, four per cent (one person) “strongly support” the project.
Those numbers, although small, are likely an accurate reflection of the sentiments in northern BC, although a breakdown between the western and eastern parts of Northern BC would have been helpful.
As for the residents of Vancouver, the poll shows that area is divided (as the Insight West news release says) with 22 per cent strongly supporting (119 people) and 27 per cent somewhat supporting the project and 19 per cent somewhat opposed and 27 per cent strongly opposed (123 people).
The “growing support” for the pipeline project that Enbridge is promoting from the poll likely shows that their advertising campaign is having some impact on the Lower Mainland but is ineffective in the north.
It is possible to do more accurate polling on energy issues in Northern British Columbia. Earlier this year, a significant number of Kitimat residents reported that they had received calls from a polling company representing TransCanada which will be building the Coastal GasLink pipeline project for LNG Canada, a project where Shell will operate the terminal in Kitimat.
On Monday, when TransCanada officials appeared before District of Kitimat council, they did acknowledge that they have been polling people along the pipeline route so they can understand their concerns. So far, TransCanada has not released the results of that poll.
The US State Department report on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project also looks at the Kinder Morgan Transmountain pipeline (both the existing line and the proposed second line) and, in at least one part of the report, seems to speculate that, once expansion of the Panama Canal is completed in 2014, there could be larger tankers in Vancouver harbour, something that up until now, both Kinder Morgan and Port Metro Vancouver have denied. However, the State Department report does not say how the port of Vancouver could handle larger tankers.
The State Department EIS says if larger tankers were loaded at Vancouver, it could be economic for crude from the Kinder Morgan Transmountain pipeline to be moved to the US Gulf Coast.
Using heavy crude as a basis, a present day movement via Trans Mountain to Vancouver and thence on a Panamax tanker via the Panama Canal to Houston would have a total freight cost (pipeline tariff plus tanker freight and Panama toll) of around $8.50-9.50/barrel (bbl).
Recognizing that Kinder Morgan plans to enable future shipment in larger Suezmax tankers, and that the Panama Canal Authority is expanding the Canal to take tankers of that size, the rate using a Suezmax would be approximately $1/bbl lower. These rates compare to approximately $8/bbl to move heavy crude via pipeline from Hardisty to Houston. Thus, while in normal markets, a tanker movement from Western Canada would be somewhat more costly than via pipeline, in a scenario where ability to move WCSB crudes by pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast were constrained, refiners in the U.S. Gulf Coast could opt for tanker transport.
According to the progress report the current Panama Canal has the capacity for ships that are 32.3 metres wide by 304.6 metres long, This will increase to 49 metres wide by 366 metres long.
Later in the report the State Department goes on to say that bitumen and crude could, as an alternative to Keystone, go to Vancouver:
Under this option, WCSB [Western Canada Sedminetary Basin] would be shipped by existing railways or new pipelines from the Hardisty region to Vancouver or Kitimat, British Columbia for shipment by marine transport through the expanded Panama Canal and delivery to Gulf Coast area refiners. This option considers moving up to 730,000 bpd of heavy crude to the Port of Vancouver and then to the marine docks at the Westridge marine terminal in Vancouver or the port in Kitimat. Under this option, crude oil could move either via rail or by a new pipeline from the Hardisty region.
Currently, Kinder Morgan is planning an expansion of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline originating at Edmonton, increasing its capacity from 300,000 bpd (current) to up to 890,000 bpd(planned for operations in 2017).
The Trans Mountain pipeline runs into Vancouver via the existing Burnaby terminal over to the Westridge dock for loading heavy crude onto vessels. The pipeline has sufficient commitment from shippers to proceed with engineering and permitting processes. Kinder Morgan indicates that the project would significantly increase tanker traffic from about 5 to 34 cargoes per month, or up to about 400 cargoes per year . The increased marine traffic is due to increased volume to be shipped, and lack of sufficient channel draft to load larger vessels.
The proposed expansion at Westridge Terminal is based on the loading of Aframax tankers, the same tankers currently being loaded at Westridge. Larger tankers are not permitted in the Vancouver harbour, and are not under consideration for the expansion. Proposed changes at the dock include new loading facilities, fire protection, vapour recovery, secondary containment, and emergency response equipment.
To connect the Burnaby Terminal with the Westridge Terminal, the proposed expansion includes two new, four-kilometre pipelines each with a diameter of 762 millimeters (30 inches). These two new delivery lines would provide product deliveries to tankers at two new dock berths, and provide the scheduling flexibility required for a marine operation.
The role of Port Metro Vancouver is to conduct a rigorous project review to ensure the safe movement of goods through the Port. Kinder Morgan has yet to submit a formal project proposal to Canada’s National Energy Board. If they do, and should approval be granted, the project would then undergo several other permitting processes, one of which is a Port Metro Vancouver Project Permit Review. Vancouver is a very low volume tanker port. Currently, there are about 100 crude oil and chemical tankers calling the port each year. If the Kinder Morgan project receives approval, that number could increase to approximately 400 tankers a year. Other well-run ports such as the Port of Rotterdam handles 8,206 tankers a year, while Singapore handle 22,280 tankers a year.
Will larger tankers be calling at Port Metro Vancouver as a result of the Kinder Morgan Proposal?
There are no plans to exceed the current maximum size of tankers calling at Port Metro Vancouver. Due to depth restrictions in the Burrard Inlet, the largest dimension of tanker that can be handled is the Aframax, a medium-sized tanker with a maximum capacity of 120,000 tonnes. Even then, these vessels can load to only around 80% of capacity due to draft restrictions.
The State Department EIS was cautious about the Kinder Morgan project and did not do the same deailed analysis as it did for Prince Rupert.
The substantial increase in tanker traffic from the proposed Kinder Morgan expansion has raised safety and environmental concerns. Moving additional volumes of crude oil from the proposed Project into the Vancouver market by either a new pipeline or rail would result in 400 or more additional vessels loading at Vancouver each year and would require considerably more storage to be built than the current Kinder Morgan operations. The expansion of storage capacity, potential rail off-loading facilities and logistics, and increased marine traffic may make this option logistically challenging in a relatively compressed and populated geographical area.
Moreover, even if a separate pipeline from Hardisty could be planned, mapped, engineered, designed, and permitted starting today, it would likely not be available as an option until well after the proposed [Keytsone] Project’s planned start date. As a result of the logistical challenges in increasing the amounts of heavy Canadian grades of crude oil coming into the Vancouver/Burnaby region over and above the volumes from the Kinder Morgan expansion, this option was deemed to be less viable than movements from Kitimat and Prince Rupert and was eliminated from detailed analysis.
It’s not clear from the Keystone EIS, if the State Department was simply speculating on larger tankers in Vancouver harbour or if it was made of aware of possible hopes for a deep water tanker port elsewhere in the Vancouver harbour area.
The State Department EIS goes on to note:
While no new additional pipeline capacity has been added from Canada into the United States or to the Canadian West Coast since the Final EIS in 2011, a number of projects are proposed, including this proposed Project. The 300,000 bpd Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline that runs from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast at Vancouver, with a spur to Washington State refineries, has been over-subscribed for some time. A successful open season led the Kinder Morgan to announce and file for expansion to 750,000 bpd by potentially 2017. After a
second open season, Kinder Morgan has increased the expansion to 890,000 bpd. The bulk of the incremental crude moved on the line would potentially be destined for Asia. The review process for this project is continuing, but there is significant opposition based on concerns over environmental impacts associated with the oil sands and with additional tanker movements in the Port Vancouver harbor.
As noted above, both of these proposed pipeline projects to Canada’s West Coast face significant resistance and uncertainty, but there are strong cost advantages when compared with moving WCSB crude to the Gulf Coast even if rail were used to access the Canadian West Coast... In fact, using rail and tanker to ship crude oil from the WCSB via the West Coast to China is comparable to the pipeline rate to reach the U.S. Gulf Coast. An increase in the transport costs to the Gulf Coast (utilizing alternative transport options such as rail) would have a tendency to increase the economic incentive to utilize any West Coast export options, if they are available.
As part of the strengthened and modernized Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) put in place to support the government’s Responsible Resource Development Initiative, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency must decide whether a federal environmental assessment is required for the proposed Pacific Northwest LNG Project in British Columbia. To assist it in making its decision, the Agency is seeking comments from the public on the project and its potential effects on the environment.
Progress Energy Canada Ltd. is proposing to construct and operate a liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility and marine terminal near Prince Rupert, within the District of Port Edward. The Pacific Northwest LNG facility would be located on Lelu Island. The proposed project would convert natural gas to LNG for export to Pacific Rim markets in Asia.
The agency says written comments must be submitted by March 11, 2013.
The CEAA says it will post its decision on the website if a federal environmental assessment is required.
It goes on to say:
If it is determined that a federal environmental assessment is required, the public will have three more opportunities to comment on this project, consistent with the transparency and public engagement elements of CEAA 2012.
Projects subject to CEAA 2012 are assessed using a science-based approach. If the project is permitted to proceed to the next phase, it will continue to be subject to Canada’s strong environmental laws, rigorous enforcement and follow-up, and increased fines.
By “CEAA 2012,” the agency is referring to the omnibus bill, best known as C-38, which actually weakened the CEAA’s ability to review projects. “Science-based approach” has become a stock phrase used by the government of Stephen Harper on resource issues, while it weakened environmental review procedures, terminated the jobs of hundreds of scientists and restricted those who are left in the government from speaking to the media or commenting on issue.
As part of the strengthened and modernized Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) put in place to support the government’s responsible resource development initiative, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency must determine whether a federal environmental assessment is required pursuant to the CEAA 2012 for the proposed Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project in British Columbia (B.C.). To assist it in making its decision, the Agency is seeking comments from the public on the project and its potential effects on the environment.
Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd. is proposing the construction and operation of an approximately 650-km pipeline to deliver natural gas from the area near the community of Groundbirch, B.C. (40 km west of Dawson Creek) to a proposed liquefied natural gas facility near Kitimat, B.C. The project will initially have the capacity to flow approximately 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day and could deliver up to approximately 5.0 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas after further expansion.
Written comments must be submitted by December 3, 2012.
Like the current Enbridge Northern Gateway project Joint Review Panel and the National Energy Board hearings in June 2011 on the Kitimat LNG project all comments received will be considered public.
The CEAA says after it has received the comments whether or not there should be an assessmet, it will post a decision on its website stating whether a federal environmental assessment is required.
The CEAA goes on to say:
If it is determined that a federal environmental assessment is required, the public will have three more opportunities to comment on this project, consistent with the transparency and public engagement elements of CEAA 2012.
Projects subject to CEAA 2012 are assessed using a science-based approach. If the project is permitted to proceed to the next phase, it will continue to be subject to Canada’s strong environmental laws, rigorous enforcement and follow-up, and increased fines.
If there is a federal assessment, the most likely course would be to create a new Joint Review Panel. However, this will not be a JRP with the National Energy Board, because the Coastal GasLink project does not cross a provincial boundary, thus it would not make it subject to scrutiny by the NEB.
Instead, if current practice is followed (and that is uncertain given the evolving role of the Harper government in environmental decisions) the new JRP would be in partnership with the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission, which has jurisdiction over energy projects that are entirely within the province of BC.
The Jackpine Joint Review Panel is the first to held under the new rules from Bill C-38 that limit environmental assessment.
The lead up to the Alberta Jackpine Joint Review Panel hearings was mired in confusion, partly because of the restrictions imposed by the Harper government in Bill C-38 which limited the scope of environmental assessments.
According to initial media reports in The Financial Post, the Joint Review Panel excluded First Nations further downstream from the Jackpine project ruling and individual members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation that they were not “interested parties.” The Post cited rules on who can participate were tightened up when the Harper government changed the criterion for environmental assessment under Bill C-38. The Financial Post reported a French-owned oil company was permitted to participate.
A few days after the Financial Post report, Gary Perkins, counsel for the Jackpine Joint Review Panel released a letter to participants including Bill Erasmus, Dene National chief and Assembly of First Nations regional chief, who said he was denied standing. There appears to have been confusion over how people could register as intervenors for the Jackpine hearings, since according to the Perkins letter they apparently did so on a company website that no relation to the Jackpine JRP. Perkins also attempted to clarify its constitutional role with First Nations, saying it did not have jurisdiction to decide whether or not the Crown was consulting properly. (PDF copy below)
The Perkins letter also said that the Fort McKay First Nation, Fort McMurray First Nation #468, the Athabasca Cree First Nation, Fort McKay Metis Community Association and the Metis Association of Alberta Region 1 plus some individual members of First Nations are allowed to participate in the hearings.
The arcane rules of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel has caused months of confusion and frustration for many of those who participated, whether they from the BC provincial Department of Justice or other government participants, intervenors or those making ten minute comments.
Although most people in northwestern British Columbia support the liquified natural gas projects, the prospect of a new Joint Review Panel could likely quickly become controversial in this region. A Coastal GasLink JRP will be the first real test of the restrictions on environmental review imposed on Canada by the Harper government. Environmental groups, especially the few groups that oppose any pipeline projects, will be wary of precedents and likely to test the limits from Bill C-38. Both environmental groups and First Nations will be on alert for any limitations on who can participate in a review. First Nations, even if they support the LNG projects, as most do, will be wary of any attempt by the federal government to limit consultation, rights and title.
A Coastal Gaslink JRP will be a big hot potato for District of Kitimat Council, which has taken a controversial strictly neutral position on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project until after that Joint Review Panel reports sometime in 2014. Can the District Council now take a positive position on a natural gas pipeline, which from all appearances council supports, long before a Coastal GasLink JRP report (if there is a panel) without facing charges of hypocrisy?
TransCanada plans a rugged over-mountain route for its proposed Coastal Gaslink pipeline to the Shell Canada liquified natural gas project in Kitimat, BC, company officials said Monday, Oct. 15, 2012, in two presentations, one to District of Kitimat Council and a second at a community town hall briefing.
Rick Gateman, President of Coastal GasLink Project, a wholly owned TransCanada subsidiary told council that the project is now at a “conceptual route” stage because TransCanada can’t proceed to actual planning until it has done more detailed survey work and community consultations.
At the same council meeting, documents from Shell Canada notified the District that it has formally applied to the National Energy Board for an export licence for the natural gas.
Gateman told council that since the pipeline itself will be completely within the province of British Columbia, it comes under the jurisdiction of the British Columbia Environmental Assessment process and the BC Oil and Gas Commission and that the NEB will not be involved in approving the pipeline itself.
At first, the Coastal Gas Link pipeline would be connected to the existing Nova Gas Transmission system now used (and being expanded) in northeastern British Columbia.
From Vanderhoof, BC to west of Burns Lake, the Coastal GasLink pipeline would be somewhat adjacent to existing pipelines and the route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline and the proposed Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline.
Somewhat south of Houston, however, the pipeline takes a different route from the either the Northern Gateway or Pacific Trails Pipeline, going southwest, avoiding the controversial Mount Nimbus route.
Howard Backus, an engineering manager with TransCanada told council that the route changes so that Coastal GasLink can avoid “congestion” in the rugged mountain region.
Backus said that the Pacific Trails Pipeline for Apache and its partners in the Kitimat LNG project “is skirting” Nimbus while Enbridge plans to tunnel through the mountain. That tunnel is one of the most controversial aspects to the Northern Gateway project. The local environmental group Douglas Channel Watch has repeatedly warned of the dangers of avalanche and geological instability in the area where the Northern Gateway pipeline emerges from the tunnel. Enbridge has challenged Douglas Channel Watch’s conclusions in papers filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel.
Under TransCanada’s conceptual route, the pipeline heads southwest and then climbs into the mountains, crossing what Backus calls “a saddle” (not a pass) near the headwaters of the Kitimat River. The pipeline then comes down paralleling Hircsh Creek, emerging close to town, crossing the Kitimat River and terminating at the old Methanex plant where Shell plans its liquified natural gas plant. (That means that if the conceptual plans go ahead, the TransCanada pipeline would climb into the mountains, while Pacific Trails finds a way around and Enbridge tunnels).
Backus told council that going north “created more issues,” but did not elaborate.
Backus assured people at the town hall that energy companies have a lot of experience in building pipelines in mountainous areas, including the Andes in South America.
Asked by a local businessman at the town hall if it was possible to build a road along the route of the pipeline, Backus said the mountain areas would be too steep. Any pipeline maintenance would have to be done by tracked vehicle, he said.
Gateman told council that the pipeline would be buried along its entire route. If Shell increases the capacity of its LNG facility in Kitimat, the Coastal Gaslink pipeline could increase to 3.4 billion cubic feet a day or perhaps even more. For the initial capacity, the company will have one compressor station at the eastern end of the line. If capacity increases or if the route requires it, there could be as many as five additional compressor stations. (TransCanada’s long term planning is based on the idea that Shell will soon be adding natural gas from the rich Horn River Formation also in northeastern BC to the Kitimat export terminal.)
TransCanada will begin its field work, including route and environmental planning and “community engagement” in 2013 and file for regulatory approval in 2014. Once the project is approved, construction would begin in 2015.
Gateman said that TransCanada is consulting landowners along the proposed right of way and “on a wide area on either side.” The company also is consulting 30 First Nations along the proposed route. Gateman told council, “We probably have the most experience of any number of companies in working directly with and engaging directly with First Nations because of our pipelines across Canada.”
(Despite Gateman’s statement, the TransCanada maps showed that the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline would cross Wet’suwet’en traditional territory and officials seemed to be unaware of the ongoing problems between Apache and the Pacific Trails Pipeline and some Wet’suwet’en Houses who oppose that pipeline).
Gateman told council that the pipeline would be designed to last at least 60 years. He said that in the final test stages, the pipeline would be pressured “beyond capacity” using water rather than natural gas to try and find if any leaks developed during construction.
He said that the company would restore land disrupted by the construction of the pipeline, but noted that it would only restore “low-level vegetation.” Trees are not permitted too close to the pipeline for safety reasons.
TransCanada made the usual promises the region has heard from other companies of jobs, opportunities for local business and wide consultations. (TransCanada may have learned lessons from the botched public relations by the Enbridge Northern Gateway. A number of Kitimat residents have told Northwest Coast Energy News that TransCanada was polling in the region in mid-summer, with callers asking many specific questions about environment and the spinoffs for communities).
Councillor Phil Germuth questioned Gateman about the differences between a natural gas pipeline and a petroleum pipeline. Gateman replied that the pipelines are pretty much the same with the exception that a natural gas pipeline uses compressor stations while a petroleum pipeline uses pumping stations. Gateman did note that the original part of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that would carry bitumen through Alberta and US mountain states to Texas was a natural gas pipeline converted to carry the heavier hydrocarbons.
Although the natural gas projects have, so far, enjoyed wide support in northwestern British Columbia, environmental groups and First Nations have raised fears that sometime in the future, especially if there is overcapacity in natural gas lines, that some may converted to bitumen, whether or not Northern Gateway is approved and actually goes ahead.
Shell application to NEB
In a fax to District of Kitimat council, Shell Canada Senior Regulatory Specialist Scot MacKillop said that the Shell had applied to the National Energy Board on September 25, 2012 for a licence to export LNG via Kitimat for the next 25 years.
The Shell proposal, like the previous Kitimat LNG and BC LNG proposals, are export applications, unlike the Enbridge Northern Gateway which is a “facility application.”
In its letter to Shell’s lawyers, the NEB took pains to head off any objections to the project on environmental or other grounds by saying:
the Board will assess whether the LNG proposed to exported does not exceed the surplus reaming after due allowance has been made for the reasonably foreseeable requirements for use in Canada. The Board cannot consider comments that are unrelated…such as those relating to potential environmental effects of the proposed exportation and any social effects that would be directly related to those environmental effects.