Joanne Monaghan, a model mayor for a small town

Joanne Monaghan’s 35 year political career came to halt (at least for now) Saturday when she came third in Saturday’s municipal mayoralty election, behind Phil Germuth and Trish Parsons.


The best analogy is that of the sports star or coach who stays one season too many. Monaghan had set her sights on 40 years in local politics. But in the 2014 mayor’s race she ran up against a strong sentiment that it was time for a change. She probably allowed that career goal to override any political instincts she may have built up over those years where a small town politician has to keep track of the pulse of events.

Joanne Monaghan
Joanne Monaghan’s poor performance in the all candidates debate hurt her campaign (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Monaghan has an impressive track record: municipal councillor since 1980, mayor since 2009. That means Monaghan was mayor during some of the toughest times that Kitimat has faced after the Eurocan pull out.

She served two terms as the head of the Union of BC Municipalities (the first woman) the third woman to be president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. She was Chair of the Regional District Kitimat Stikine for eight years and Vice Chair for nine. She has served on the British Columbia Heritage Trust, the Northwest Community College Board, the Provincial Tourism Council, and the Provincial Transportation Committee. Monaghan is also a member of the Northern Development Initiative, and is chair of the University of Northern B.C. Advisory Committee.

The Canadian International Development Agency sent her to Ecuador on a “Municipal Government Technology Transfer between a community in Ecuador and Kitimat. She also facilitated workshops in “Women in Politics” in South Africa and Ghana.

Monaghan served on many local committees, both community bodies mandated by council as well as volunteer groups.

Her 35 years in local politics mean that she knows everyone in town. Her 35 years in municipal politics allowed her to build up valuable contacts in other municipalities, provincial and federal politics as well as the media.

Joanne Monaghan was a model mayor for a small town, for 35 years she was always available to members of the Kitimat community, always ready to respond to a phone call or an e-mail from a Kitimat resident, working hard on issues from restoring old sidewalks to bringing new industry to the valley. She was always available to show up at a local event, even if it was just for a few minutes.

So want went wrong with her campaign?

Monaghan was successful in bringing Tim Horton’s to Kitimat, an asset to any community. She worked hard to bring other business small and large to Kitimat.

If nothing much ever happened in Kitimat, if it was a small one industry town expanding into tourism, Monaghan would probably have been re-elected on Saturday.

If Kitimat was a town facing one major issue, Monaghan might still be mayor.

What made Joanne Monaghan a great small town mayor was also her weakness, trying to do too much and thus while trying to handle a growing number of cascading important issues, becoming overwhelmed by them.

Kitimat is facing Northern Gateway, three liquified natural gas projects, Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization, the airshed problems from all those projects, the housing crisis, bettering relations with the Haisla, just to name a few, as well as sorting out normal municipal priorities like maintaining sidewalks.

As early as a year ago, a feeling began to grow in Kitimat that Monaghan wasn’t skeptical enough about some of the companies coming to town bearing gifts. Monaghan tended to avoid the tough questions on Northern Gateway, punting issues (to continue the sports analogy) until the Joint Review Panel reported. Monaghan was not alone among council in burying its head in the sand over the Joint Review Panel but as the leader of a group that is supposed to operate with collegial consensus, Monaghan blocked any real involvement by the District in the JRP.

While Monaghan had helped bring Kitimat from gloom after Eurocan to current fragile boom with the KMP and LNG, there was a feeling that hungry for good news, she was too often willing to accept the assurances from the big corporations dealing with council.

At council, other members began to outshine Monaghan. On different sides of most issues, Phil Germuth and Mario Feldhoff, despite both working full time, always came prepared, files full of documents, facts and figures. Rob Goffinet was always ready to ask a skeptical question. Rookie Edwin Empinado wore his idealism on his sleeve, although he sometimes struggled expressing his focus on issues. Monaghan, on the other hand, often seemed unprepared and inflexible on major issues.

Throughout the summer, there was speculation and conversations around Kitimat, about whether Joanne Monaghan would stand for another term as mayor. In a metropolitan city, polling would have confirmed that there was a growing feeling that it was time for a change. If Monaghan noted the warning signs, and they were noticeable in a small town, she chose to ignore them.

When Monaghan said in her campaign literature that she would “stand up to outside influences and special interest groups” who did she mean by “special interest groups?” If she meant Douglas Channel Watch the most prominent “special interest group” in town or the no vote in the plebiscite in general, she narrowed her options, since Trish Parsons was the “pro-development” candidate.

all candidates debate
Both Trish Parsons and Phil Germuth put forward strong arguments in the all candidates debate while Monaghan appeared to be upnprepared. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

If there was a moment where Monaghan really lost the election, it was her performance in the all candidates debate at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre. Phil Germuth shone in the debate and Trish Parsons was a close second. They were clearly prepared and rehearsed, ready with their statements and with their answers to the questions, winging the questions that were totally out of left field. The generational difference between Monaghan and her rivals was clear on stage. It appeared she hadn’t properly prepared, her answers rambled and she was frequently cut off by the moderator for going over the time limit. A solid debate performance might have brought some of Monaghan’s former supporters back into her camp but that never happened.

Although Parsons performed well in debate, the feeling in the community was that, despite her work with the Chamber of Commerce and community groups, she should have “paid her dues” by at least one term on council before trying for the mayor’s chair. So Parsons was unable to build support beyond her pro-development base.

With Monaghan’s support slipping away and Parsons stalled, the community vote went strongly to Phil to Germuth.

So what is Joanne Monaghan’s legacy? That legacy is that she is the model small town mayor who answered everyone’s phone calls and e-mails, who listened to everyone’s points of view, even those she clearly disagreed with, while also being the model small town mayor who worked hard to tackle district wide issues.

As far as the national media is concerned, Toronto’s notorious Rob Ford created his Ford Nation supporters through a personal touch, by always returning phone calls, making sure Toronto responded to even the most minor complaints. But even before Ford’s personal problems became worldwide media fodder, it was clear that Ford was too often neglecting handling the big picture, the Toronto wide issues, for a constituent’s crack in a sidewalk.

Monaghan was working on that personal touch when Ford was still in high school. Monaghan was smarter than Ford (if Monaghan was a A, Ford was an F), for 35 years she balanced the personal touch with active concern and dogged work for the entire District.

Between 2011 and 2014, Kitimat jumped from the minor leagues to the Premier League, and there was a clear demand for fresh blood to strengthen the political team. The voters decided that the veteran team coach should retire. But Coach Monaghan still does have a shelf full of trophies from those 35 years. If this really was the sporting world, her number should be retired as well and lifted to the rafters.


Sending the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert: A dumb, dumb, dumb idea—and here are the photos to prove it.

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.

Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)
Current proposed route for the Northern Gateway pipeline. (Enbridge)

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.

A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014.  Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
A rainbow hugs the mountains near the Telegraph Point rest area on the Skeena River between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Sept. 29, 2014. Traffic is seen on the narrow corridor between the mountains and the river (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.

A couple of days ago, the Prince Rupert’s Mayor Jack Mussallem told The Globe and Mail in Mayor, port authority say no room for Northern Gateway pipeline in Prince Rupert

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.

Traditional leaders of the Gitga'at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Traditional leaders of the Gitga’at First Nation lead a protest march through the streets of Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.

While Kitimat Council long stood neutral on the issue, the councils at Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers as well as the Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District had voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Audio Slideshow; No to Tankers Rally, Prince Rupert, February 4, 2012

The Skeena Route

The Skeena is one of the greatest salmon rivers on the planet. The Petronas LNG project has already run into problems because its planned terminal at Lelu Island would also impact the crucial eel-grass which is the nursery for young salmon leaving the Skeena and preparing to enter the ocean. Note that northern BC is generally in favour of LNG terminals, if the terminals are in the right place, so expect huge protests against any bitumen terminal at the mouth of the Skeena.

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.

Now I’ve said this all before, two years ago, in a piece for the Huffington Post, Get Over it! A Pipeline to Prince Rupert Is Bust

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.

A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014.  (Robin Rowland)
A logging truck passes the avalanche gates at Exstew on Highway 16, Sept. 29, 2014. (Robin Rowland)

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 Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The Exstew avalanche gates, (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

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.


telegraphmarch2013Two 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)



Alternative routes

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.

There are alternatives. The Petronas LNG project and its partner TransCanada Pipelines have proposed a more northern cross-country route, which would go north from the Hazeltons, avoiding the Skeena 

Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)
Proposed natural gas pipeline. (TransCanada)

The BG Group and Spectra Energy are also contemplating a pipeline…although details on the website are rather sparse.

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)

Russell’s statement

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)

Related links

The Save Our Salmon website has a different view, arguing that federal government and the energy companies have a plan to create an energy corridor for bitumen pipelines to Prince Rupert.

Controlling land and pipelines key to Haisla LNG future NEB filing says

The Haisla Nation’s plan for entering the LNG business is based on the idea that “it is anticipated that the Haisla Projects will be developed using a business model based on controlling two components of the value chain: land and pipeline capacity” according to its application to the National Energy Board for a natural gas export licence.

Cedar LNG Development Ltd., owned by the Haisla Nation, filed three requests for export licences with the NEB on August 28, under the names Cedar 1 LNG, Cedar 2 LNG and Cedar 3 LNG.  Another name used in the application is the “Haisla Projects.”

The 25-year export licence request is standard in the LNG business; it allows export of natural gas in excess of projected North American requirements. Thus like the NEB hearings for the Kitimat LNG and LNG Canada projects it is not what is called a “facility” licence which is what Enbridge Northern Gateway requested.

The project anticipates six “jetties” that would load LNG into either barges or ships at three points along Douglas Channel, one where the present and financially troubled BC LNG/Douglas Channel Partners project would be.

A second would be beside the BC LNG project, which may refer to the Triton project proposed by  Pacific Northern Gas parent company Altagas.

Both are on land now owned by the Haisla Nation in “fee simple” land ownership under Canadian law.

Map of Haisla LNG sites
Map from the Haisla application to the NEB showing that the Haisla Projects Region will allow for a total of six LNG jetty sites. One of these, on DL99, is currently ear-marked to be used for a project involving a consortium (BCLNG) One will be situated on the DL309 Haisla fee simple land and the other four jetties are to be  situated on the Haisla leased lands that surround the Chevron-led LNG development at Bish Cove. The map also shows that the Haisla own land at Minette Bay.

The other four would be on land surrounding the current Chevron-led Kitimat LNG project along Douglas Channel and in the mountains overlooking Bish Cove which the Haisla have leased.

Ellis Ross
Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross at Bish Cove, June 19, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The move last week and the revelation of the Haisla’s plans for the land are a cumulation of Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross’s idea of restoring more of the First Nation’s traditional territory by buying or leasing the land using standard Canadian land law and at the same time getting around some of the more restrictive provisions of the Indian Act that apply to reserve land.

Just how the Haisla will go into the pipeline business is not as clear as the First Nation’s acquisition of the land. The application says:

The pipeline capacity required to transport sourced LNG to the Haisla Projects will include a mix of new and existing pipeline and infrastructure. The Haisla are in the advanced stages of negotiating and drafting definitive agreements with the major gas producers and pipeline transmission companies located in the vicinity with respect to securing pipeline capacity. It is expected that the Haisla Projects will rely on the Haisla’s business partners or customers to source gas from their own reserves and the market.

With the Haisla basing their business strategy on land and pipelines, the First Nation’s strategy is looking for  flexibility in what is a volatile and uncertain market for LNG.

The application says the Haisla “are currently in advanced stage discussions and negotiations with a number of investors, gas producers, LNG purchasers, pipeline transmission companies, technology providers and shippers. As such, the particular business models have yet to be finalized. However, it is anticipated that between the various Haisla Projects, multiple export arrangements may be utilized.”

As part of the idea of flexibility, the actual LNG infrastructure will be constructed and operated with potential partners. That is why there are three separate applications so that each “application will represent a separate project with independent commercial dealings with investors, gas producers, LNG purchasers, pipeline transmission companies, technology providers and shippers.”

The Haisla say that they are “working with a number of entities to develop business structures and partnerships to provide transaction flexibility, adequate financing, modern technology, local knowledge, and marketing expertise specific to Asian targets. The separate projects will accommodate expected production and demand and will also allow for a number of midlevel organizations to be involved with the various projects as well as traditional major gas producers and LNG purchasers.”

The Haisla are working with the Norwegian Golar LNG which had been involved in the stalled BC LNG project, using a Golar LNG’s vessels and technology, using a new design that is now being built in Singapore by Keppel Shipyard.

Golar LNG uses PRICO LNG  process technology developed by Black & Veatch,  (Wikipedia entry) “which is reliable, flexible and offers simplified operation and reduced equipment count.”

The filing says the project will “be developed using either barge-based or converted Moss-style FLNG vessels. The terminals will consist of vessel-based liquefaction and processing facilities, vessel-based storage tanks, and facilities to support ship berthing and cargo loading”

The jetties to be used for the Haisla Projects may be either individual FLNG vessels or “double stacked”, meaning that the FLNG vessels are moored side-by-side at a single jetty. The Haisla have conducted various jetty design work and site /evaluation studies with Moffat and Nichol.

The Haisla Projects anticipate that the construction will be in 2017 to 2020, “subject to receiving all necessary permits and approvals” and is expected to continue for a term of up to twenty five years. There is one warning, “The timelines of the Haisla Projects will also depend on the contracts and relationships between the Applicant and its partners.”

The filing goes on to say:

Haisla Nation Council and its Economic Development Committee are committed to furthering economic development for the Haisla. The Haisla’s business philosophy is to advance commercially successful initiatives and to promote environmentally responsible and sustainable development, while minimizing impacts on land and water resources, partnering with First Nations and non-First Nations persons, working with joint venture business partners, and promoting and facilitating long-term development opportunities.

The Haisla Applications will allow the Haisla to be directly involved as participants in Canada’s LNG industry, rather than having only royalty or indirect interests. The Kitimat LNG and LNG Canada projects, and the associated Pacific Trails Pipeline and Coastal Gas Link Pipeline, have increased economic opportunities in the region and the Haisla are very supportive of these projects locating within the traditional territory of the Haisla. The support of the Haisla for these two projects reflects a critical evolution of the Haisla’s economic and social objectives.

You can see the filing on the NEB projects page at

Map from the Haisla Nation application to the NEB showing the proposed LNG developments in relation  to Douglas Channel.
Map from the Haisla Nation application to the NEB showing the proposed LNG developments in relation to Douglas Channel.
Bitumen map
Map from the Enbridge filing with the Joint Review Panel showing the same area with the proposed Northern Gateway bitumen terminal.



The Supreme Court decision on Tsilhqot’in Rights and Title is a shot across the bow of the Alberta bound National Energy Board

The response to the Joint Review Panel decision on the Northern Gateway, beginning in December and continuing until this Canada Day,  both in the public and in the media  is sharply divided by the Rocky Mountains.

A lof of  Albertans,   most of  the energy companies and many in the media, especially the Toronto-based business press,  keep telling Canadians that the NEB is an independent, quasi-judicial body, that carefully weighs the scientific and other evidence before coming to a conclusion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands up in Question Period and from his prepared script also claims the  JRP and NEB are independent bodies.

Most of  those writing about the  attitude of the National Energy Board have never attended a single  hearing,  As for the Joint Review,.  those from the major media who  did attend  were only there for  the opening and closing sessions.

Members of the Joint Review panel make notes at Kitamaat Village (Robin Rowland)
Members of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, left to right, Kenneth Bateman, chair Sheila Leggett and Hans Matthews make notes at the June 25, 2012 hearings at the Haisla Recreation Centre, Kitamaat Village. A map of Douglas Channel can be seen behind the panel. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)


In British Columbia, those attended the Northern Gateway Joint Review sessions saw a strange and arcane bureaucratic system with rules of evidence and procedure often tilted toward a proponent in the energy sector.

Those rules of evidence were created for the cosy club atmosphere of the NEB in Calgary where mostly there are friendly hearings attended only by the proponents and energy sector lawyers. Those same rules were infuriating to those in northwest British Columbia trying and failing to persuade the JRP to take seriously many of  the concerns of the region. The rules of evidence and procedure were baffling to lawyers practicing in BC; even the highly experienced lawyers from the BC Department of Justice were chewed out by the JRP in Prince George for not following proper procedures.

Most egregious was the JRP’s refusal to consider the late evidence on the growing number of humpback whales in Douglas Channel.

Humpback whale in Douglas Channel
The tail fins of a humpback whale are seen in Douglas Channel near Bish Cove, as a fishing boat speeds toward Kitimat harbour in a rain storm on Aug. 21, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The JRP seemed to believe that time stopped at the evidentiary deadline, and although it acknowledged that Northern Gateway was a 50 year project,  the panel didn’t need to know anything new.

A careful reading of the two volumes of the Joint Review Panel report and decision clearly shows that JRP finding was not, as one columnist called it, a triumph of science over emotion, but a proceeding that was biased from the outset to find in favour of Enbridge. It is clear that even though the Joint Review Panel did impose 209 conditions on Northern Gateway, reading those almost 500 pages one sees time and time again that Northern Gateway’s evidence and assurances were accepted at face value, while the panel treated the evidence and testimony from opponents with a much higher level of skepticism.

Moving to Calgary

One of my sources once told me that the “NEB is nothing more than an extension of the Petroleum Club.” In the 1991 budget, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney moved the NEB headquarters from Ottawa to Calgary as a political gift to Alberta.

At that time the move was also seen as practical, Alberta was still complaining no one in Ottawa was listening to it. So if the Conservative government moved the NEB to Calgary, it would be there listening to the oil patch.  NEB offices were scattered across the country, consolidating them in Calgary seemed, at the time, to be a way of saving taxpayers’ money and enhancing internal communications.

Seen now, about 25 years later, it’s clear the NEB move from its Ottawa headquarters and regional offices to Calgary was a disaster waiting to happen. Over the past quarter century, despite its claims of independence, the NEB and its staff have become so embedded in the oil patch energy culture of Calgary that (probably subconsciously) the NEB  has shown that it is largely incapable of really taking seriously the culture of British Columbia on issues such as the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan projects. The NEB Calgary culture is also colliding,with the concerns and culture of other parts of the country as diluted bitumen pipelines head eastward.

That embedding in Alberta isn’t going to change. It might have been a good idea to move the NEB headquarters back to Ottawa but it’s too late for that. The NEB this week is moving to new quarters in Calgary  at a cost to taxpayers of a staggering $21 million.

The Conservative omnibus bills that gutted environmental protection and speed up the review process has made things much worse–at least until this week.

Now the Supreme Court has sent a shot across the bow of the full steam ahead National Energy Board, compelling the board to put much more weight on the concerns of First Nations.

The decision upholding the Tsilhqot’in claim to its traditional territory means the NEB and any future joint review panel (whether involving multiple federal agencies or federal agencies and a province) are going to have to take the concerns of First Nations and indeed all Canadians a lot more seriously—and the future of the planet as well, as described in the first part of this analysis. Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin wrote that on First Nations` traditional territory:

that it is collective title held not only for the present generation but for all succeeding generations. This means it cannot be alienated except to the Crown or encumbered in ways that would prevent future generations of the group from using and enjoying it.

“Future generations” is the key phrase.

Future generations could undermine that whole world view of the Joint Review Panel, since the panel so casually dismissed the fears of a major disaster on the coast, saying it was “unlikely” and could be “mitigated.”

The JRP basically had a so-what attitude to British Columbia, arguing that since parts of the British Columbia environment had already been degraded any future environmental problems would be minimal and could be “mitigated.”

Public interest

While in the introduction to its definition of the Public Interest, the JRP says

If approved and built, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project could operate for 50 years or more. Sustainable development was an important factor in our environmental assessment and our consideration of the public interest. The project would have to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generations.

Sounds like that might match the Chief Justice. But, as the old saying goes, the devil is in the details. And just a few paragraphs later, the JRP says:

Our assessment of the project’s effects on residents and communities Considering Northern Gateway’s project design, its commitments, and our conditions, we concluded that the project’s potential effects on people’s land, water, and resource use could be mitigated. We were not persuaded that construction and routine operations of the project would have a negative effect on the social fabric of communities in the project area. We also were not persuaded that the project would adversely affect the health and well being of people and communities along the route or in coastal areas. We found that the net overall economic effects of the project would be positive and would provide potential benefits and opportunities to those individuals and businesses that choose to participate in the project.

“Trust Enbridge”

The JRP’s attitude toward a major disaster was “trust Enbridge.”

We found that some level of risk is inherent in the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, and that no party could guarantee that a large spill would not occur. We found that a large spill, due to a malfunction or accident, from the pipeline facilities, terminal, or tankers, is not likely.

We found that Northern Gateway has taken steps to minimize the likelihood of a large spill through its precautionary design approach and its commitments to use innovative and redundant safety systems, such as its commitments to address human error, equipment failures, and its corporate safety culture. These commitments and all others made by the company

Oh well, the ecosystem will recover eventually—a conclusion that could be reached only by ignoring the evidence from Prince William Sound, site of the Exxon Valdez spill.

We found that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there will be significant adverse environmental effects, and that functioning ecosystems recover through mitigation and natural processes.

We found that a large oil spill would not cause permanent, widespread damage to the environment. The extent of the significant adverse effects would depend on the circumstances associated with the spill. Scientific research from past spill events indicates that the environment recovers to a state that supports functioning ecosystems similar to those existing before the spill. We found that, in the unlikely event of a large oil spill, there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups.

We found that, in rare circumstances, a localized population or species could potentially be permanently affected by an oil spill. Scientific research from a past spill event indicates that this will not impact the recovery of functioning ecosystems.

In other words, some communities, probably aboriginal communities, would have be sacrificed in the public interest and the economics of Alberta while the economy of that part of British Columbia would be destroyed.

Will the JRP have to start over?

The environmental law community and First Nations leaders are already taking a look at another paragraph in the Supreme Court judgement. Paragraph 92 in lawyer speak.

Gerald Amos
At the celebration of the Supreme Court decision, on June 26, Gerald Amos welcomed the suggestion from lawyers that the ruling could force a re-examination of Northern Gateway. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

One of the many reports comes from West Coast Environmental Law which noted in an e-mail

[T]he Tsilhqot’in decision, Canada’s highest court brings home the implications of this for Enbridge and other project proponents:

Once title is established, it may be necessary for the Crown to reassess prior conduct in light of the new reality in order to faithfully discharge its fiduciary duty to the title-holding group going forward.

For example, if the Crown begins a project without consent prior to Aboriginal title being established, it may be required to cancel the project upon establishment of the title if continuation of the project would be unjustifiably infringing.

And what about the overhaul of environmental legislation in 2012 to smooth the way for pipeline and other industrial development?

The court notes: “Similarly, if legislation was validly enacted before title was established, such legislation may be rendered inapplicable going forward to the extent that it unjustifiably infringes Aboriginal title.”


In other words, the Supreme Court decision resets everything.

It could nullify the recent decision by the Prime Minister to permit the Northern Gateway to go ahead. Or it could mean, especially given the number of court challenges just to the JRP, that, in light of the Tsilhqot’in decision the panel will be ordered by a court to go back to the drawing board and reconsider its findings.

Then there are the pending challenges to the Harper decision allowing the Northern Gateway to go ahead. Sources told Northwest Coast Energy News that the first of a number of court challenges were to be filed last week. It is likely that after the holiday weekend, lawyers will be rewriting their filings and their briefs in light of the Tsilhqot’in decision and presenting the Federal Court with those challenges some time in July.

The justices of the Supreme Court did allow a public interest exemption on the use of First Nations land for a larger purpose, but there must now be genuine consultation and the public interest will likely have be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, it can’t just be the whim of a prime minister with a tame, unquestioning caucus who decides what is in the public interest.

Who consults whom?

In the decision, Chief Justice McLaughlin wrote:

Governments and individuals proposing to use or exploit land, whether before or after a declaration of Aboriginal title, can avoid a charge of infringement or failure to adequately consult by obtaining the consent of the interested Aboriginal group

and later

The right to control the land conferred by Aboriginal title means that governments and others seeking to use the land must obtain the consent of the Aboriginal title holders. If the Aboriginal group does not consent to the use, the government’s only recourse is to establish that the proposed incursion on the land is justified under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

Compare that again with what the JRP said. As with the environmental impact it begins by saying:

The Panel finds that the magnitude, extent, and potential impacts of this project required an extensive program of public consultation. The Panel considers thorough and effective consultation to be a process that is inclusive of, and responsive to, all potentially-affected groups and individuals.

Then the JRP says:

The Panel notes that, among potentially-affected parties, there were differing perspectives on what constitutes a thorough and effective process of consultation. There were also different views among some parties about how consultation should occur, and their roles and responsibilities during consultation.

And then:

The Panel believes that it is critical for all parties to recognize and understand their respective roles and responsibilities for achieving effective dialogue during consultation. The Panel noted the principles of thorough and effective consultation at the beginning of this chapter. The Panel finds that these principles require that a process must provide timely, appropriate, and effective opportunities for all potentially-affected parties to learn about a project, provide their comments and concerns, and to discuss how these can be addressed by the applicant.

So what does it mean?

The JRP starts off by giving Northern Gateway a slap on the wrist:

The applicant [Enbridge] must be genuinely responsive. Affected parties have an ongoing and mutual responsibility to respond to opportunities for consultation, to communicate concerns they may have, and to discuss how these can be addressed.

But then it goes on in the same paragraph:

Consultation requires trust, mutual respect, and relationship-building. All parties have an obligation to seek a level of cultural fluency, in order to better understand the values, customs, needs, and preferences of the other parties involved in the consultation process. All parties may be required to adjust their expectations in response to the information, concerns, and interests raised and considered through the process. The Panel observed that this approach did not always occur in this proceeding.

Get the phrase “all parties.” It is clear here that the JRP is taking on the First Nations and other opponents for not seeing Northern Gateway’s point of view, since it accepts, as seen below, Northern Gateway’s contention that it is doing a good job with consultation,

And the word “trust.”  Again the Alberta-bound JRP (the panel had no members from British Columbia, two from Alberta, one from Ontario)  are saying “trust Enbridge.”

Unfortunately after a decade of operating in the northwest,  and despite its spin, Enbridge has failed time and time again to establish trust with First Nations  and it has equally failed to establish trust with a significant number non-aboriginal residents of the northwest.

The companies developing LNG projects have, for the most part, established a level of trust.

The joke up here  is now so old it’s a cliche (but still unknown to the eastern media) where an LNG executive says, “We look at what Enbridge did and do the exact opposite.”

The Panel accepts Northern Gateway’s view that consultation is a process which should ensure that all parties are better informed through consultation, and that it involves being prepared to amend proposals in light of information received. In this regard, the Panel notes that Northern Gateway made numerous changes to the design and operation of the project in response to input provided by the public, landowners, governments, and stakeholders

In fact, Northern Gateway is still fumbling the ball.

It is true that Northern Gateway did change its plans and put another $500 million into the plans for the project–after a lot of public pressure  and growing controversy  during the JRP hearings over its plans.

Sheila Leggett
JRP Chair Sheila Legget during the final arguments in Terrace, June 17, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Equally telling was Northern Gateway’s dismissal in its final arguments (arguments accepted by the JRP)  that there was no earthquake hazard in the region, despite two major earthquakes at Haida Gwaii and southern Alaska just months earlier,  both of which shook Kitimat.

In the final oral arguments, Northern Gateway’s lawyer Richard Neufeld summarily dismissed the fears of the Haida and Heiltskuk First Nations about destruction of the herring spawning beds because, he said,  first, the chances of a tanker disaster were unlikely and second, even if there was a tanker disaster it was even more unlikely that it would occur during the spawning season. (Not that the spawning  season matters, herring beds in San Francisco Bay are still damaged years after a spill there).

Now with the Tsilhqot’in decision, Enbridge can no longer summarily dismiss those fears. The companies who have proposed liquefied natural gas projects  are meeting with anyone, including avowed opponents, and opening dialogues, even if both sides continue to disagree. Despite its spin, accepted by the political pundits and eastern business media, those who live in the northwest know Northern Gateway’s consultations and engagement, so far,  have mostly been with friendly groups and friendly audiences.

The Supreme Court decision is going to change that attitude in the coming weeks. If Enbridge wants Northern Gateway to go ahead, the company is going to have to genuinely engage with First Nations. Given all the damage created by Enbridge over the past decade, that engagement is unlikely to change anything.

The Supreme Court decision is going to have one more consequence.

Eventually, in a few years,  the decision will negate that stupid attitude from the conservative media and some in the business community that the people of northwestern British Columbia are against all development.  That was never true but it’s a convenient excuse for those columnists and conservatives not to question their own assumptions.

If the reporters and columnists had bothered to come up here, if the press-release dispatching business leaders had  bothered to leave their executive suites, they’d know what northwestern BC wants is responsible and sustainable development, not quick in and out profits.

The Supreme Court decision means that any future industrial development in the northwest will be much different from anything seen in the past because First Nations must be involved from the beginning.

Given its sorry track record, it is unlikely that Enbridge will be part of that development. but others will  profit, yes profit, from that failure.

In the coming years it is also likely that there will be a new approach to development from the National Energy Board after they begin to see their narrow oil-patch friendly approach and rulings struck down by the courts quoting the Tsilhqot’in decision.

Harper’s Northern Gateway strategy and why it will end up in a muddy mess

It appears that the Stephen Harper’s strategy for approving Northern Gateway has been revealed on background to The Globe and Mail’s Gary Mason. (Either it’s a revelation or a trial balloon).

It comes down to the idea that Harper will approve Gateway “in the national interest,” count on a vote split between the NDP and Liberals in British Columbia to avoid any consequences to the Conservative majority and then leave it up to Enbridge to actually get the job of building the pipeline and terminal project done.

Mason quotes “ a senior member of Mr. Harper’s government,” and while Mason doesn’t say what part of Canada the source is from, (unlikely in my view the source is from BC) what the member told Mason reveals that the Harper government is still mired in it the Matrix-world that has always governed its policy on Northern Gateway.

The first step, apparently coming in the next few days, is that the Harper government “rigorous” new tanker protocols for traffic along the west coast.

Tanker protocols
So the obvious question is, will these protocols be new or will the government simply be reannoucing paper policies that they did in the March 2013? How many of the recommendations of the tanker task force is the government actually going to accept?

Even if the protocols are new, just who is going to enforce those policies?

Mason says:

Even if Gateway and the Kinder Morgan expansion went ahead, he argued, B.C. would still only see about 60 per cent of the annual oil tanker traffic the neighbouring state of Washington deals with. And yet Washington has an exceptionally clean record when it comes to the safe transport of oil in and out of its harbours – this, he noted, while operating under marine safety regulations that are not as rigorous as the ones Ottawa intends to put in place for the shipment of oil along the West Coast.

There are a lot big problems with that statement.

First, there’s an organization that the Mason’s source may have heard of known as the United States Coast Guard. The United States rigorously enforces its “weak” regulations, while Canada’s Coast Guard is plagued by staff shortages and budget cuts.

Second, the State of Washington also rigorously enforces its environmental regulations, not only on the coast but across the state. I have been told by retired British Columbia forestry and environmental officials (not to mention Fisheries and Oceans) that there are often more state environmental watch dogs in most Washington State counties than in all of northern British Columbia where the Northern Gateway is supposed to be going.

The September 2013, report by the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration on the export of Canadian bitumen sands through the US shows that the Washington Department of Ecology is working on strengthening regulations for both pipelines and (where it’s in state jurisdiction) tanker traffic. The same report says the state of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation is updating its plans and possible regulations in anticipation that bitumen filled tanker traffic from Kitimat would come close to the coast en route to Asia.

Third, the coast of northern British Columbia is more rugged and stormy than the waters off Washington.

Who pays?

The one factor that the urban media seems to ignore, is the big question.

Who pays?

Who pays to enforce the 209 conditions that the Joint Review Panel imposed on the Northern Gateway project?

If the Harper government announces new tanker regulations in the coming days, who pays to enforce those regulations?

There were no provisions in the February budget for enforcing the 209 conditions. Rather there were continuing budget cuts to the very departments that the JRP ruled must be involved in the studying, planning, implementation and enforcement of the 209 conditions, Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans and Transport Canada.

So while Mason says “The federal government will play its part in meeting the five conditions laid out by the B.C. government for support of the project,” the response must be “Show me the money!”

During the recent plebiscite campaign, Northern Gateway finally revealed its plans for the “super tugs” that will escort tankers along the coast and up Douglas Channel.  Owen McHugh, a Northern Gateway emergency manager said, “Adding these four or five tugs to the north coast provides a rescue capability that doesn’t exist in this format. So for any large commercial vessel that is traveling on our coast, this capacity to protect the waters of the north coast.”  Those tugs and Northern Gateway’s plans to station teams at small bases along the coast means that the company is, in effect, creating a parallel, private, coast guard on the BC Coast.

What about the Coast Guard itself? The Harper government has been gutting Coast Guard resources along the coast even before it had its majority. It closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station in Vancouver. There is more dependence on the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue volunteers, who have to raise money locally for modern rescue boats which cost up to $750,000. The money that government was “generously” giving to RCMSAR had to be split up to 70 stations in 42 communities along the coast as well as its administrative and training staff.

And speaking of boats, what about Coast Guard vessels on the coast? As the Globe and Mail has reported, the government’s shipbuilding program is already over budget  and behind schedule. The aim is  Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships  and new destroyers. With the crippling of HMCS Protecteur that has raised the concerns about the already troubled supply ship program.

Does anyone notice what is missing from that list? What’s missing are  better Coast Guard vessels just to police all the expected tanker traffic on the west coast (whether LNG or bitumen) and no mention of dedicated spill response vessels, which under the “polluter pay” policy will likely be left to private contractors (and hope that the ships are available at the time of a spill)

How will we know?

Then there is the question of how will people even know if the 209 conditions are being enforced; whether or not the reports demanded by the Joint Review Panel are going be sitting on the National Energy Board server and ignored.

There is every indication, given the government’s obsession with secrecy that until there is a disaster the Canadian public will never know what’s going on. Harper’s muzzling doesn’t just cover government scientists, it covers the lowest level of bureaucrats, as District of Kitimat Council found out when low level DFO bureaucrats refused to appear publicly before council to discuss the risk to the Kitimat River.

So the scenario is, according to Mason’s source

“I think once this decision is made, Enbridge could have shovels in the ground the next day,” the member said. “They are ready to go. This means the First Nations could start realizing profits from this right away, as opposed to the promised profits from LNG, which may never materialize. I think they need to think about that.”

First, as part of the blunders is that the Conservatives have always made is the assumption that eventually the First Nations of British Columbia can be paid off, ignoring the commitment of the First Nations, especially on the coast, to protect the environment that sustained them for thousands of years.

While the LNG market is volatile, the “member” forgets that most of the First Nations of British Columbia have opposed the Northern Gateway since Enbridge first floated the idea in 2001. The current LNG rush didn’t start until after Japan shut down its nuclear power plants after the March 2011 earthquake, The first major anti-Enbridge rally,  “The Solidarity Gathering of Nations” was held at Kitamaat Village in May 2010.

Writing off BC

It appears that Conservatives, in their election strategy have already written off Gateway opponents:

Still, there is a raw political calculus that needs to be taken into account. Polls measuring support for the pr.oject in B.C. vary, but generally have shown that anywhere from 55 to 60 per cent of the province opposes Gateway and 40 to 45 per cent support it. Isn’t that enough to scare off a government that needs critical votes in B.C. to win another majority?
“Let’s say 60 per cent are against it,” he said. “And that vote splits between the Liberals and the NDP come the next election. Who are the 40 per cent going to vote for?”

As for the cabinet, it has consistently shown its contempt for northwestern British Columbia  and that is unlikely to change.

Mason also speculates that Harper will approve Gateway to stick it to Barack Obama and the delays on Keystone XL. As he points out that’s a political, not an economic decision.

There are civil disobedience classes being held across northwestern BC  this month.  Access to Information requests by the Vancouver Observer revealed increased RCMP surveillance of the anti-Gateway movement.  There has always been talk of a “war in the woods” if the pipeline project is forced on an unwilling population.

So it comes down to a question that Mason and the Conservatives are avoiding. Mason’s source says Northern Gateway is crucial to the national interest:

“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s right, not what’s politically expedient,” he said. “You have to ask: What’s in the best interests of all Canadians?”

So given all that will the Harper government leave Enbridge to tough it out on its own?

Highly unlikely.

But will the Harper government, with its bean counting obsession on balancing the budget be willing to pay for all that is needed?

Highly likely.

There’s lots of marine clay along the pipeline route, laid down by ancient oceans. That brings to mind just one word. Quagmire, not just the wet, sticky BC mud but a political quagmire.

Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla NationThe Haisla Nation are calling on the federal cabinet to postpone its decision on the Northern Gateway project to allow time for adequate consultations with First Nations, according to the Haisla response to the Joint Review Panel, seen by Northwest Coast Energy News.

The Joint Review Panel report and recommendations were released on Dec. 19, 2013 and the cabinet has 180 days from that point to recommend approval of the project.

The Haisla argue that Section 54 of the National Energy Board act allows the Governor-in-Council, the federal cabinet, to extend the timeline if it wants to, if recommended by the Minister of Natural Resources.

So far, the Harper government has refused to extend the deadline. The Haisla response document says Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross spoke to Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver on the telephone requesting the extension, but, according to the document, all Oliver did was point to the legislation that calls for the 180 day response to a joint review report.

The Haisla response document also has a long lists of what the Haisla say are flaws in the Joint Review Panel report.


In correspondence with the Haisla, Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project, says:

the process set out by the Government of Canada in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework was finalized after receiving and carefully considering input from Aboriginal groups….The Government of Canada believes the process outlined in the Aboriginal Consultation Framework provides for a deep level of meaningful consultation with Aboriginal groups with Phase IV being the final step prior to a decision being made on the Project.

The Haisla dispute there has been any “deep level of meaningful consultation,” citing in the document a long list of attempts to engage the federal government with little or no response.

In their response, the Haisla Nation Council says:

Canada, has, to date, refused to engage in meaningful consultations with the Haisla Nation. Instead Canada has unilaterally imposed what it calls a “deep level meaningful consultation” process which is fundamentally flawed for a number of reasons…

The document lists attempts by the Haisla to engage with ministers and government departments including requests for a meeting with then Environment Minister Peter Kent, prior to the opening of the JRP formal hearings in Kitamaat Village in January 2012. Although the Haisla requested a meeting with Kent, several times in 2011, no meeting ever occurred. It was not until April 19, 2012, four months later that Kent replied to the Haisla saying he had asked the President of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to meet with the First Nation prior to the start of the JRP hearings. However, it was apparently impossible to schedule such a meeting in December, 2011.

To which the Haisla reply:

For over six years, Canada ignored Haisla Nations requests for meetings. Once the JRP’s oral hearings process commenced, Canada further closed the door on any opportunity for a meeting until the JRP Report was release. This refusal to consult was baseless. The ongoing JRP process was not a rational or justifiable basis for Canada’s refusal to consult…

Canada has yet to meet with the Haisla Nation to discuss the proposed project, other than to tell the Haisla Nation it is only engaging through the JRP process for now. This is not consultation. It is, perhaps, at best an initial step towards a consultation process.
Ignoring the Eyford report

Joe Oliver
Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver (front far right) answers questions after his news conference at the Northwest Community College Long House, March 19, 2013. Douglas Eyford is standing behind Oliver. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

In March 2013, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver flew to Terrace for a photo op to announce the appointment of Douglas Eyford to consult First Nations on the Northern Gateway project. Oliver then flew back to Ottawa without meeting anyone in the region. Eyford’s report Forging Partnership Build Relationship was released in November, 2013.

The Haisla say:

Mr. Eyford’s Report recommended that Canada should consider undertaking early engagement to address Aboriginal interests that may not be dealt within a regulatory process. The Haisla Nation has been seeking such early engagement from Canada since the proposed project was first announced.

Mr. Eyford’s Report also recommended that Canada should engage and conduct consultations n addition to those in regulatory processes, as may be required, to address issues and facilitate resolutions in exceptional circumstances. The Haisla Nation also asked for this, identifying early that this proposed project was an exceptional circumstance due to the significant potential impacts on the Haisla Nation.

It is not too late for Canada to correct the deficiencies in its consultation process, but cannot realistically do so by adhering unilaterally by Canada and laid out in Mr. Maracle’s letter of December 16, 2013

The Haisla Nation Council response was sent to Brett Maracle, Crown Consultation Coordinator at the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for the Northern Gateway project. The Haisla also sent copies of the response to Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources, Gaetan Caron, Chair of the National Energy Board, Leon Aqlukkaq, Minister of the Environment, Bernard Valcourt Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, BC Premier Christy Clark, Steve Thomson, BC Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources and Mary Polak, BC Minister of the Environment.


Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

Haisla response lists evidence rejected by Northern Gateway Joint Review

Members of the Joint Review panel make notes at Kitamaat Village (Robin Rowland)
Members of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, left to right, Kenneth Bateman, chair Sheila Leggett and Hans Matthews make notes at the June 25, 2012 hearings at the Haisla Recreation Centre, Kitamaat Village. A map of Douglas Channel can be seen behind the panel. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The Haisla Nation in their response to the Crown on the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel details four studies, three Canadian and one American that were released after the Joint Review evidentiary deadline had passed, evidence that the Haisla say should be considered in any consideration of the Northern Gateway pipeline, terminal and tanker project. (The American report from the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration was released after the JRP final report)

JRP chair Sheila Leggett’s constant citing of rules of procedure and her stubborn refusal to consider new evidence and studies in a dynamic situation that was changing rapidly was one of the reasons that many people in the northwest said the JRP had lost credibility.

The Haisla say: “It is incumbent upon Canada to consider and discuss the information in these reports as part of a meaningful consultation process…” and then lists “key findings” that have potential impacts on aboriginal rights and title:

The West Coast Spill response for the government of British Columbia which found:

  • Most oil spilled into the marine environment cannot be cleaned up
  • There is a disconnect between planning and actual repose capability
  • Canada’s spill response is “far from world class.”

The Transport Canada Ship Oil Spill Preparedness and Response study:

  • Douglas Channel will go from low risk to high risk for pills if the project goes ahead
  • The study recommends preparation for a “true worst case discharge” rather than “the credible worst case discharge” as proposed by Northern Gateway
  • Canada needed a much more rigorous regulatory regime covering tankers.

The joint federal government technical report on the properties of bitumen from the Canadian Oil Sands:

  • There are uncertainties on how diluted bitumen would behave in a marine environment.
  • Northern Gateway did not provide adequate information about sediment levels to allow for proper study of interaction with diluted bitumen
  • Dispersant may not be effective.
  • Weathered diluted bitumen would “reach densities at which it will sink freshwater without mechanical or physical assistance.”

The US National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration report on Transporting Alberta Oil sands:

  • Diluted bitumen has “significant differences from conventional crudes.’ (The JRP used conventional crude as a benchmark in its findings)
  • The physical properties of diluted bitumen “fluctuate based on a number of factors.
  • Pipeline operators may not have detailed information related to products in the pipeline at the time of a spill
  • There is a lack of experimental data on the weathering behaviour of oil sands product which limits the ability of spill response organizations “to understand and predict the behaviour and fate of oil sands products in freshwater, estuarine and saltwater environments.”


Ottawa’s Northern Gateway consultation with First Nations limited to three simple questions and 45 days: documents

Haisla ask cabinet to postpone Northern Gateway decision to allow for adequate consultation with First Nations

Haisla consultation reply outlines flaws in Northern Gateway Joint Review report


Editorial: (II) Kitimat Council in chaos

Peter Ponter at Council
At the January 20 council meeting, Peter Ponter asks what happened to the District of Kitimat’s original motion on neutrality. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The District of Kitimat Council is in chaos. We’re not referring to Monday’s chaotic meeting where often it was hard to figure out what Councillors were saying and where they were going.

We are referring to “Chaos” as it is defined in physics, “sensitive dependence on initial conditions,” known to most people as the “butterfly effect” (the exaggerated notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in one place could cause a storm in another place). Or we could suggest that Kitimat Council has a critical case of bad karma that is now coming back to haunt them.

How can you trust a council that doesn’t understand and follow its own motions?

District Council claims it is neutral on the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. That is wrong.

District Council decided, in violation of its own resolutions, to do absolutely nothing about the Northern Gateway Project until they have to. Doing nothing is not neutrality. Doing nothing is a default notion that actually tilts council in favour of the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Doing nothing has meant that Council has become incapable of dealing with Gateway related issues within its own jurisdiction because they have no idea of what is going on.

A tale of two motions

So what were the initial conditions? As Peter Ponter pointed out in his presentation to Council Monday night, the original motion on neutrality called on Council to take an active part in the Joint Review proceedings.

As reported in the Kitimat Daily at the time, the motion from Councillor Rob Goffinet read:

”I move that the Mayor and Council of District of Kitimat go on record neither opposing nor supporting the Enbridge Pipeline Super Tanker Proposal and that we wish to, as a Mayor and Council, with our community, take part in the 1-2 year environmental assessment process and the Joint Review Panel to learn and understand whether this will be a beneficial project to Kitimat, the Northwest and British Columbia.

That motion was carried unanimously.

So then what happened? Nothing. The District of Kitimat did register as a government participant in the proceedings but did nothing to actually actively participate “to learn and understand whether this will be beneficial project to Kitimat….”

With the 2011 election over, the new council, sitting for the first time in 2012, was asked to reaffirm its position. At that time, Phil Germuth presented a motion that council survey the residents of Kitimat to find out what their position was on the Northern Gateway project. Our report here and Kitimat Daily’s report here.

At the time Councillor Mario Feldhoff said:

“The perfect time for the community to indicate whether they support is to reflect upon the JRP report. Do we agree with their submissions? Otherwise, our emotions are getting ahead of us and we may be perceive as being late in the game but, we may have, from my perspective, informed comment from the citizenry after they have had a chance to read a report from the JRP would be preferable in my opinion, in opposed to getting a sense of how people feel about things right now.”

So, in fact, there was not one neutrality motion as Council now maintains.

There were two separate motions, on two separate aspects of neutrality. The first called for council to remain neutral but to participate in the Joint Review Panel. The second called for council to survey the community on their feelings after the completion of the JRP.

The two motions did not, repeat not, cancel each other out. But that was, in effect, what happened. The council seems to have decided that Feldhoff’s comment was actually a motion, and that after that January 2012 meeting, they should do absolutely nothing but wait until the Joint Review Process was complete.

Every time after January 2012, when council was asked about anything, they said we are waiting for the Joint Review Process to be complete, even though council had unanimously passed a motion saying it would take part in the JRP. That is proof of Kitimat Council’s incompetence.

As we pointed in May 2012, after the introduction of the Omnibus bills, neutrality has never meant sitting on one’s ass and doing nothing. Neutral nations have always vigorously looked out for their own interests.

We will repeat that in the long history of regulatory hearings, public inquiries and even coroners inquests there have always been a role for neutral parties, represented by competent and properly instructed counsel, who vigorously look out for their client’s interests, without taking an advocacy position on a matter before the tribunal. The District of Kitimat could have, in fact, should have, actively participated and where necessary in the Joint Review and have its representatives ask tough questions of every side on all matters relevant to the District of Kitimat.

Participation didn’t happen, and, unfortunately, that is now all water under the Kitimat River Bridge.

A gift of prophecy


Kitimat Council
District of Kitimat Council listens to delegates plea for a simple question on the upcoming plebiscite. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The bigger problem is that a majority on Kitimat council believes that it has the gift of prophecy, naively believing that the Joint Review Panel understands all mysteries and all knowledge. A majority of members on Kitimat council have blind faith, believing that the JRP can safely move pipelines across mountains.

With its gift of prophecy, Kitimat Council believes that all is right with the Joint Review Panel, that its 209 recommendations are gospel and thus council approves a vote question not about the Northern Gateway project but the Joint Review.

Faith is the operative word, for apart from dropping into listen from time to time, council did not participate in the proceedings in any way, and thus did not experience the many flaws in the Joint Review process that led some people to say as early as the middle of 2012 that the JRP had no credibility.

We’re already seeing the flaws in the blind faith in the JRP. As this site pointed out, the costs of the Kalamazoo cleanup now exceed the amount of money the JRP conditions call on Enbridge to set aside in case of a spill. A report by federal scientists show the Joint Review Panel erred in accepting Enbridge’s laboratory evidence that bitumen doesn’t sink.

There are already court challenges to the Joint Review Panel. (Update. A media count as of January 23 says there are now 10 court challenges to the JRP)

Most important for Kitimat, a challenge filed by the Haisla Nation which, among the many flaws it finds with the JRP report, says the JRP improperly concluded that a large spill is unlikely either from the pipeline itself, the terminal facilities or the oil tankers tasked with navigating B.C.’s coastal waters.

It doesn’t do much for the already strained relationship between the District of Kitimat and the Haisla Nation that Council continues its uncritical support of the JRP while the Haisla are challenging it in court. That the Haisla motion to the Federal Court of Appeal includes challenges to the procedural unfairness of the JRP proceedings.

The Gitxaala First Nation says Joint Review Panel ignored issues surrounding aboriginal rights and title.

A coalition of environmental groups have told the federal court there was not enough  evidence before the JRP to support its conclusion that the Northern Gateway pipeline would not have significant adverse effects on the environment; one key part of the suit is the fact that the JRP refused to consider the federal humpback strategy for Douglas Channel.

Although it is unlikely that the courts will throw out the Joint Review findings before the April vote, it might just happen. At that point, a plebiscite question based on the JRP would look pretty silly.

Who runs the Kitimat River?

We now come to the long term consequences of a do nothing council. We have to ask if the District of Kitimat Council will become lame ducks, at least in some part of town, because they have stood by and, in their misplaced faith in the National Energy Board, ceded the right to decide what happens in Kitimat to the NEB?

According to a report in the Toronto Star, using the new rules under the omnibus bills, this week the National Energy Board approved expansion of the Enbridge Line 7 pipeline in southern Ontario, without a hearing and without notifying Hamilton, the municipality involved (the pipeline actually goes through Hamilton) because the municipality was not “affected in any way” by the project. Since the media got on to the story, Enbridge has kindly said to Hamilton “we have heard and understood it and assured them directly that we will include them in all future consultation and activity on this project.”

There was another decision by the National Energy Board in December, when it agreed with DFO that it would have jurisdiction on fish habitat, if there are pipelines along water bodies such as the Kitimat River.   DFO has since clarified their position, which means we’re not going to see the absurd vision of NEB officials checking fishing licences in Radley Park.

There is already one pipeline along the west bank of the Kitimat River, Pacific Northern Gas. If the LNG projects go ahead, as well as more molecule traffic on the PNG pipeline there will be the Coastal Gas Link serving Shell and the Pacific Trails Pipeline serving Chevron and Apache. If it goes ahead, the Northern Gateway Pipeline will mean four pipelines along the west bank of the Kitimat River.

Four pipelines along the banks of the Kitimat River all under the benign eye of the National Energy Board in Calgary since they have “expertise” on pipelines and water courses.

The NEB has shown recently it doesn’t have much respect for municipalities. While the actual regulations under the DFO-NEB deal are likely to be unclear for some time, we know that what the NEB’s mandate is, to promote the oil and gas industry in this country, not to protect rivers and streams. So if the people of Kitimat, especially those who fish the Kitimat River or work in the Service Centre are in the way of what NEB bureaucrats in Calgary decide is best for us and those three, maybe four, pipelines, well too bad, eh? The NEB has the mandate to act in the national and public interest, not the residents of Kitimat.

Kitimat Council with its blind faith in the National Energy Board may very likely be a case of be careful what you wish for, sitting uselessly in the chambers at Northwest Community College while the NEB in Calgary carves up the District’s jurisdiction and does what it thinks is best for the  oil patch.

Thus the Council deliberations become a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, meaning nothing.





DFO clarifies relationship with NEB on fisheries protection along pipeline routes

On January 16, Fisheries and Oceans issued a statement “clarifying” its role after signing an agreement with the National Energy Board on fisheries protection along pipeline routes, saying DFO “remains responsible for fisheries protection, including the issuance of Fisheries Act authorizations.”

Fisheries and Oceans signed the agreement with the National Energy Board in mid-December.

DFO says there is little difference between its agreement with the NEB and collaborative agreements with the provinces.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has established a collaborative agreement with the National Energy Board that will help eliminate overlap and duplication during regulatory reviews while maintaining a strong regime to manage threats to fish and fish habitat.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada remains responsible for fisheries protection, including the issuance of Fisheries Act authorizations.

Our collaborative arrangement builds on the decades of training, experience and expertise of NEB biologists in assessing the potential environmental impacts of development projects, including regarding fish and fish habitat.

These arrangements will yield a number of benefits:
• Ensuring regulators focus on the greatest threats to fish and fish habitat;
• Making the best use of available resources; and
• More efficient approval processes.

The Policy and Operational Guidelines that are followed by DFO staff and anyone else involved in these matters are available on Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s website.

The National Energy Board is best placed to deliver regulatory review responsibilities under the Fisheries Act for activities relating to federally regulated energy infrastructure (such as pipelines).

The Memorandum of Understanding between Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the National Energy Board will enable the NEB to:
• Review proponent applications for impacts to fish and fish habitat;
• Assess appropriate measures to avoid and mitigate impacts to fish and fish habitat;
• Include measures to avoid and mitigate impacts as conditions of licences, orders or certificates issued by the NEB; and
• Assess the acceptability of proponent offsetting plans when authorization is required.

Over the years, DFO has established similar arrangements with some Provinces and with Conservation Authorities.
In all cases, the standards for fisheries protection are established by DFO and the Fisheries Act Authorizations continue to be done by DFO.

Two JRP conditions are already outdated, Cullen says

Skeena Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says at least two of the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel’s 209 conditions may already be outdated.

In a news release January 15, 2013, Cullen said, “The requirement of $950 million in spill insurance was recently called into question as reports surfaced of cleanup costs at the sites of Enbridge’s 2010 Michigan spill surpassing $1.035 billion.”

The $1.035 billion figure was contained in Enbridge’s American arm, Enbridge Energy Partners, latest filing for the third quarter over 2013 with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Cullen went to say that, “The JRP’s order for Enbridge to carry out new research on the behaviour of diluted in bitumen in a marine environment has been questioned following the publication of an Environment Canada study confirming that diluted bitumen will sink in saltwater in high waves and where sediment is present.”

Cullen is referring to a study by Environment Canada Emergencies Science and Technology,Fisheries and Oceans Canada Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research and Natural Resoures Canada on bitumen that was completed in November and released this week.

The study found

. Like conventional crude oil, both diluted bitumen products floated on saltwater (free of sediment), even after evaporation and exposure to light and mixing with water;
. When fine sediments were suspended in the saltwater, high-energy wave action mixed the sediments with the diluted bitumen, causing the mixture to sink or be dispersed as floating tarballs;
(The use of the term “tarball” in this report follows convention in the literature and refers to the consistency of floating, heavily-weathered oil. It does not describe the chemical composition of the product.)
. Under conditions simulating breaking waves, where chemical dispersants have proven effective with conventional crude oils, a commercial chemical dispersant (Corexit 9500) had quite limited effectiveness in dispersing dilbit;
. Application of fine sediments to floating diluted bitumen was not effective in helping to disperse the products;
. The two diluted bitumen products display some of the same behaviours as conventional petroleum products (i.e. fuel oils and conventional crude oils), but also significant differences, notably for the rate and extent of evaporation.

Read the report:Properties, Composition and Marine Spill Behaviour, Fate and Transport of Two Diluted Bitumen Products from the Canadian Oil Sands (pdf)
The Joint Review Panel found that dilbit was “ no more likely to sink to the bottom than other
heavier oils”

The Panel acknowledges the variety of opinions from experts regarding the behavior and fate of oil spilled in aquatic environments. These experts generally agreed that the ultimate behavior and fate of the oil would depend on a number of factors, including the volume of oil spilled, the physical and chemical characteristics of the product, and the environmental conditions at the time.

The Panel finds that likely oil behaviour and potential response options can be predicted from knowledge of the type of oil spilled and its physical and chemical characteristics. Details of oil behaviour and response options cannot be specified until the actual circumstances of a spill are known.

The Panel is of the view that, if placed along a spectrum of: tendency to submerge; persistence; and recovery difficulty, dilbit would be on the higher end of the spectrum, similar to other heavy oil products.

The Panel accepts evidence from previous spills showing that, in response to circumstances at the time, the behaviour of heavier oils, including conventional oils and synthetic crudes, can be dynamic. Some oil floats, some sinks, and some is neutrally buoyant and subject to submergence and overwashing.

Although the project would transport different types of oil, the majority of the evidence presented during the hearing process focussed on whether dilbit is likely to sink when spilled in an aquatic environment. In light of this, the Panel has chosen to focus its views on dilbit. The Panel heard that the fate and behaviour of dilbit has not been studied as much as that of other oils.

Although there is some uncertainty regarding the behavior of dilbit spilled in water, the Panel finds that the weight of evidence indicates that dilbit is no more likely to sink to the bottom than other heavier oils with similar physical and chemical properties.

The Panel finds that dilbit is unlikely to sink due to natural weathering processes alone, within the time frame in which initial, on-water response may occur, or in the absence of sediment or other particulate matter interactions. The Panel finds that a dilbit spill is not likely to sink as a continuous layer that coats the seabed or riverbed.

“It hasn’t even been a month since the JRP released their 209 conditions, and it seems like we’re already seeing some of them become obsolete,” Cullen said.

“Throughout the review process, the JRP continually ignored the situation in Michigan as it unfolded before our eyes. They saw the spill caused by Enbridge’s negligence, which was worsened by Enbridge’s incompetence, and how it brought untold damage to the local ecosystem and cost over $1 billion US. But the 209 conditions didn’t reflect what we learned about Enbridge’s history or its culture, or what we’ve learned about diluted bitumen at all.”

The Joint Review process was set up to deliver a positive verdict, according to Cullen, regardless of what the real life case studies in Michigan had already shown. “To say that it won’t cost as much – if not more – to respond to a spill in a remote corner of northwestern BC during winter than it was in Michigan in the middle of July is ridiculous,” Cullen said.

“What’s even more astonishing is that we asked repeatedly for these studies on the behaviour of diluted bitumen in the marine environment to be part of the Joint Review Panel’s assessment. That the government waited until after the JRP had given its conditional yes to release these findings is not only appalling but also highly suspect.

Cullen says there are two key questions that the Harper government now must answer. “What kind of protection is the government providing when it lowballs on the insurance for oil spills? And what kind of oversight is it giving Canadians when the verdict is given before the evidence is released?”