Court challenges and rising costs will stall the Northern Gateway project for most of 2015, Enbridge says in its Fourth Quarter (2014) Strategic Update, released Friday. That means if the Northern Gatway project actually goes ahead, the company now says it will not be completed until at least 2020 or 2021.
The strategic planning report also contains cryptic references that Enbridge may be planning a second pipeline project to the “west coast” possibly to carry LNG, that could also be completed by 2020 or 2021.
Editor’s Note: Some readers have pointed out that the obscure reference to the second pipeline to the west coast might also refer to the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to the Lower Mainland.
Enbridge executives made no direct references to Northern Gateway during the conference call marking the release of the company’s 2014 results, nor did financial analysts nor media participants ask any questions about the Northern Gateway, an indication, that for now, the controversial project has dropped off the media and financial radar.
As for a possible new Enbridge pipeline to the British Columbia coast, the strategic planning report notes:
Based on the prospect for higher global LNG demand, the large resource base in western Canada and the changing North American natural gas flow patterns discussed above, there is an increasing probability that additional projects to export LNG from the continental United States or potentially off the west Coast of Canada will proceed. However, a sustained period of low crude oil prices or other changes in global supply and demand for natural gas could delay such opportunities.
Then in the conference call, Guy Jarvis, Enbridge president of Liquids Pipelines, made this reference to a slide that projected Enbridge’s future earnings.
In our base case, which is the green line and which we discussed at Enbridge Day, Keystone XL is in service in 2019 and Energy East plus one of the two West Coast projects is in service in 2020. In this scenario, we are currently chockablock full and we remain full as we bring on the two faces of Alberta Clipper expansion capacity and as we squeeze the last bit of capacity availability out of our system leaving about 200,000 barrels a day of capacity that we can’t get at due to upstream bottlenecks and crude slate versus line allocations.
So that means Enbridge expects one of two West Coast projects to be online by 2020. One, of course, is Nothern Gateway, the second, perhaps a LNG project now on the drawing boards in Edmonton. If, however, the reference is to Kinder Morgan, that too may be delayed by opposition to that project. Sources indicate that pipeline companies often have various scenarios and plans on backburners that may be activated if market conditions are favourable.
As for Northern Gateway itself, Enbridge’s report on the project is buried deep in the strategic review, after almost every other project and pipeline the company is working on.
Enbridge begins by noting the history of the twin 1,177-kilometre (731-mile) pipeline system from near Edmonton, Alberta to a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. It then mentions the pipline would carry “crude oil for export” from the Edmonton area to Kitimat, fudging that the pipeline would actually carry diluted bitumen. The other pipeline would carry natural gas based condensate back to the oil sands. On June 17, 2014, the federal government approved the Northern Gateway project subject to the 209 conditions imposed by the Joint Review Panel six months earlier.
First Nations and enviromental groups then filed court challenges to the project.
The report notes that on December 17, 2014, the Federal Court of Canada consolidated all the challenges to Northern Gateway in a single proceeding.
Those challenging the Northern Gateway have until May 22, 2015 to file with the Federal Court the Appellants’ Memoranda of Fact and Law.
Northern Gateway must respond with a Respondents’ Memoranda by June 5, 2015.
The company says the Federal Court hearing will open sometime in the fall of 2015, with a decision possibly late in 2015. Enbridge expects either one side or the other to seek Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada which could delay the project into 2016 or 2017.
The report says that in October, 2014, Enbridge began reviewing its cost estimate for Northern Gateway, “based on full engineering analysis of the pipeline route and terminal location.” Now the companys says “the final cost of the project will be substantially higher than the preliminary cost figures included in the Northern Gateway filing with the JRP, which reflected a preliminary estimate prepared in 2004 and escalated to 2010.”
What is raising the cost of Northern Gateway include “significant costs associated with escalation of labour and construction costs” probably due to LNG other projects, as well as satisfying the JRP’s 209 conditions. It appears also that Enbridge is finally actually looking at the costs of building the pipeline over BC’s rugged terrain, “a larger portion of high cost pipeline terrain, more extensive terminal site rock excavations and a delayed anticipated in-service date.”
Enbridge adds: “The updated cost estimate is currently being assessed and refined by Northern Gateway and the potential shippers.”
It may be that Northern Gatway’s future is becoming more precarious, especially with the collapse in world oil prices.
Enbridge notes: “Subject to continued commercial support, receipt of regulatory and other approvals and adequately addressing landowner and local community concerns (including those of Aboriginal communities), the Company now estimates that Northern Gateway could be in service in 2019 at the earliest. The timing and outcome of judicial reviews could also impact the start of construction or other project activities, which may lead to a delay in the start of operations beyond the current forecast.” (The 2020 or 2021 figure came from the conference call and slide presentation, not the strategic report)
Given the many uncertainties surrounding Northern Gateway, including final ownership structure, the potential financial impact of the project cannot be determined at this time.
The Joint Review Panel certificate granting Enbridge permission to proceed expires, under Condition 2, on December 31, 2016. Under Condition 187, Northern Gateway must assure the JRP and National Energy Board that it has sufficient financial resources to both build the project and to implement all the safety and environmental conditions imposed by the JRP and accepted by Stephen Harper’s cabinet when it approved the project.
1. Why was the study suddenly released after the province said it was “privileged?”
2. Did the apparently rushed release mean that the study, as far as the public is concerned, is incomplete?
3. While most people in Kitimat believed that the study would be a wide ranging look at all parameters of industrial development in the valley, it was limited to just two factors, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.
4. It appears that everyone involved were consulted prior to the release with one key execption, the District of Kitimat. Why?
5. The study appears to have changed in its criterion from the time of the request for proposal and the final release one issue—an oil export terminal, which went from “crude” in the request for proposal to refined in the final report.
While the study is spun has a showing that industrial development in the Kitimat Valley can proceed as long as the environment is properly managed, the gaps and the spin will likely bring doubt to the results. That means that a wider ranging and truly independent study of the air shed is needed so that both residents and industry can then make the proper decisions.
In October 2013, the Ministry of the Environment issues a “request for proposal” to “study potential cumulative effects to environment and human health from existing and proposed industrial facilities in the Kitimat airshed.” to be filed by March 31, 2014.
The Province will fund a $650,000 scientific study to help inform regulatory and policy development for future industrial activity in the Kitimat area. The goal is to ensure the potential impacts from industrial air emissions are clearly understood prior to new projects being approved and in operation.
The Kitimat Airshed Impact Assessment Project will look at the cumulative effects of existing and proposed industrial air emissions in the airshed. These include emissions from: an existing aluminium smelter, three proposed LNG terminals, a proposed oil refinery, a crude-oil export facility, and gas-turbine-powered electrical generation facilities. The study will focus on sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from these facilities.
The study will assess the impact of emissions through a number of scenarios, including their potential effects on water and soil, as well as on vegetation and human health from direct exposure.
With that news release, it appears that many people assumed that “cumulative effects of existing and proposed industrial air emissions in the air shed,” would include all possible scenarios and contaminants.
The report, when it was released on Friday, covered just the “focus” sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide and no other factors in air quality.
Crude or refined oil export?
As Northwest Coast Energy News noted that the report, as released, doesn’t include any references to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, even though Northern Gateway is a source of “proposed industrial air emissions in the air shed.” The request for proposal also mentions “a crude-oil export facility” but the report as issued concerns a marine terminal for Black’s refinery
The products will be exported via a marine terminal on the Douglas Channel. Projected volumes include 320,000 barrels per day of diesel fuel, 110,000 barrels per day of gasoline and 60,000 barrels per day of jet fuel.
The map in the main report clearly shows that the study concerned the “Kitimat Clean Refinery Port” not a crude oil export facility—in other words likely Enbridge Northern Gateway.
On October 21, 2013, District of Kitimat Council endorsed a motion by former Councillor Corinne Scott:
“The BC Government has recently announced a budget of $650,000 to study the cumulative effects on the air quality due to the proposed industrial development in the District of Kitimat. It would be beneficial to have a representative from the District of Kitimat as an active participant on the committee to provide input and feedback as the study progresses.”
At the time Chief Adminstrative Officer Ron Poole told council that the minister’s office had called and promised to “involve the District.”
At that meeting, Councillor Mary Murphy reported that member were “vocal” at the Union of BC Municpalities that it was essential that Kitimat be involved. Councillors suggested that the study be wide ranging and include emissions already in the area and residual emissions left over from the closed Eurocan and Methaex operations.
The provincial final air shed report makes no mention at all of the District of Kitimat, Eurocan or Methanex.
In April, 2014, after the March 31, reporting deadine, the District and Council had heard nothing from the province. So in April, District Council passed a motion asking for a report on the status of the study.
In June, the province refused to release the report to lawyers involved in a suit against the Environmental Assessment Board which is challenging Rio Tinto Alcans’ permit to increase sulphur dixoide emission in the valley. According to the Globe and Mail, Dennis Doyle, a lawyer with the Ministry of the Attorney General, in the RTA suit, wrote to the Environmental Law Centre in Victoria
In a follow-up letter dated June 12, Mr. Doyle said, “On the matter of the Kitimat Airshed Study I am instructed that this report was prepared to guide development of government policy on industrial development in the Kitimat area and to assist the executive council in its ongoing deliberations. It is not a report that was prepared for the Respondent and played no part of the decision-making process for the permit amendment which is now under appeal.”
The EAB told the province to respond to that question by July 18. Instead there was a hastily called news conference and the report was released. However, a close look at the report shows that it was likely rushed to meet the EAB deadine and was incomplete—rather surprising for a report that was supposed to be complete by March 31.
What evidence is there that the report was rushed out by the Ministry of the Environment? The most compelling indication is that instead of a public-friendly Summary Report with an executive summary and clear conclusions, there was nothing more than a short Power Point presentation.
Most people in Kitimat who follow the energy debate are familiar with the approach of combining a readable summary with technical data. It is most evident in the report of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review, which issued a relative short summary, Connections along with the long technical report, Considerations.
Let’s take as a prime example, the original report on the Kitimat airshed commissioned by Rio Tinto Alcan. In that case, ESSA Technologies Ltd of Vancouver, the company hired by the RTA Kitimat Modernization Project to study the effects of increased sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat Valley, issued three documents, an easy to understand 37-page summary report, a much longer 456 page Technical Assessment Report and a third 332 page volume of appendices, technical data and tables.
It was the same company, ESSA Technologies, that was retained by the province to do the much larger study of the airshed. However, the only public-friendly information was the 16 page highly simplified Power Point presentation.
The ESSA summary report for RTA shows in plain language, the reasons for its conclusions that the increased sulphur dioxide from KMP on human health “is characterized as moderate, an acceptable impact, but in need of closer scrutiny with moderate monitoring.” That report also outlines the limitations and uncertainties of the study.
There was no similar plain language summary released for the overall provincial air shed study, even though it was produced by the same company and came to similar conclusions. To find any limitations or uncertainties in the provincial air shed study you have to do a computer search for those key words.
So it is apparent that intended audience for the report is not really those who live in Kitimat, where over the past five years there is wide knowledge that a summary release along with a technical report is considered a standard procedure.
Kitimat not consulted
At the Friday news conference, reporters asked Environment Minister Mary Polak several times about the delay in releasing the report, and then why it was suddenly released.
In answer to the initial question, Polak said, “We had always intended to release it.” She refused to comment on the claim of cabinet privilege, saying that was the responsibility of government lawyers at the Ministry of the Attorney General. She said that the government had received the March 31 report “by the end of April and “it went through quite a rigorous and thorough review by different agencies… we are satisfied now that the findings have been given the kind of rigorous overview and we’re pleased with what has resulted from that.”
Polak said the Haisla Nation were consulted before the commissioning of the report.
Asked again about who the BC government consulted during the review period, she replied, “There were a number of other groups involved in technical review, so not just Ministry of Environment, you’ll be aware of Northern Health authority, but Ministry of Natural Gas Development, Health Canada, Environment Canada and also specialist reviewers from the Province of Quebec, the University of Helsinki, UBC, also private consultants. Then we spent some time going over and having a technical review with Gitga’at and Coastal Coastal First Nations. So it was a matter of ensuring that we had done the very best review of the work before the occasion on which we released it.”
Which leaves one big question, why was the Province of Quebec and the University of Helsinki consulted and Kitimat, despite requests, was not?
Not in the report, not my department
The provincial government called for a report on the “cumulative effects of existing and proposed industrial air emissions” and noted it would focus “ focus on sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from these facilities.” It is clear that the report did not go beyond the narrow focus on those two substances.
At the Vancouver news conference, a reporter asked Polak why green house gases were not included.
She replied, “That’s not what this study was intended to look at. This department deals with pollutants and pollution and protecting our environment from it, whereas GHG [green house gas] emissions are dealt with in our department around climate change and climate action. These particular substances have an immediate impact on human health and vegetative health and the receiving environment generally unlike GHGs which are a more global impacted and of course have an impact on climate change. This study only looked at those pollutants sulphur doixide and nitrogen dioxide
Then a second reporter asked here about particulate matter, to which Polak replied, “Coming from the Fraser Valley I am very aware of the impact of particulate matter. Any industrial development that we permit in British Columbia or receives an environmental assessment certificate, particulate matter and the release of particulate matter is one of the things that gets evaluated as we determine whether or not to grant those permits. Or to put stipulations on those permits in order to ensure a reduction or management of particulate matter. That’s where that’s dealt with and we have some pretty good understanding of how that operates. We also have some modelling from this study.
“The reason this study didn’t report on that because we hadn’t asked them to. We specifically wanted to get at the issue of sulphur disoxide and nitrogen dioxide but please do not take frm that because it’s not in the study, it doesn’t get looked at. It simply gets looked at in a different process. In this case it was the understanding of the Kitimat air shed with respect to sulphur dixoide and nitrogen dioxide that we needed to have a better answers and better information.”
In other words, despite what the original proposal said: “The goal is to ensure the potential impacts from industrial air emissions are clearly understood prior to new projects being approved and in operation,” the provincial government is content to wait until the permit phase to consider particulate matter, rather than include particulate matter in the long term planning for the air shed.
And for green house gases, the same attitude seems to apply, either it’s not her department or it will be dealt with sometime in the future.
What’s going on in the air shed?
Although the provincial government has been able to spin that the air shed report clears the way for more industrial development in the region, the report isn’t much help for long term planning for those both for and against industrial development in the valley.
First one has to wonder just how comprehensive was the study, even when it comes to sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide?
The report for Rio Tinto Alcan for just one substance—sulphur dixoide—from one industry—aluminum smelting–led to a 456 page technical report with 332 pages of appendices.
The provincial technical report adds one more substance, nitrogen dioxide, and adds four LNG facilities, an oil refinery, different export terminals for those industries, and two hydro generating stations plus related shipping, including a passing mention of vehicular and train traffic. The new report is 363 pages, including the appendices. (It should be noted that the air shed report does reference some of the information in the RTA report)
The various studies for the Enbridge Northern Gateway, which often contained material on air emissions, included a much longer list of what in industry jargon are called CPOC “chemicals of potential concern,” including chemicals that might be released in trace amounts from the Northern Gateway terminal, but may be of more concern from LNG projects. Who knows unless those substances are studied?
As was required by the Joint Review Panel, Enbridge also studied potential problems from accidental release of air-borne contaminants from the Northern Gateway project. There is no mention of accidental release in the current air shed study.
Although the increase in truck traffic in Kitimat is clearly visible to people who live in the town, the air shed report also speculates that with LNG and a possible refinery, there will also be a significant increase in rail traffic coming into Kitimat, hauled, of course, by diesel locomotives, which the report says is “expected to be conservatively captured within the background concentration adjustment.”
Can the Valley “handle industrial expansion”
Stakeholders in the region from the District of Kitimat to the Gitga’at First Nation to various environmental groups asked for a comprehensive review of what is going to happen in the Kitimat air shed with industrial expansion.
So the answer to the question can the valley “handle industrial expansion” after the flawed and limited report from the provincial government is not “yes,” but “we don’t know yet.”
It appears that the report is part of Christy Clark’s ongoing campaign that LNG will save the provincial economy.
There are two factors the report ignores.
First the energy companies are going to make their final investment decision on cold hard facts, including their own assessment of the potential problems from the air shed, not spin from the provincial government.
Second, until there is a proper air shed study, the First Nations, including the Haisla in Kitimat, the Gitga’at at Hartley Bay, the Kitselas in Terrace will not have solid evidence to make a decision on the details of the LNG or refinery development on their traditional territory and increased ship traffic along the coast and that will come into immediate conflict with the Supreme Court ruling on the Tsilhqot’in decision and the finding that “Whether a particular use is irreconcilable with the ability of succeeding generations to benefit from the land will be a matter to be determined when the issue arises.”
There is a new Orwellian phrase used by both the federal and provincial government. Every report is “independent” and “science-based,” although all they all tend to support the policy of the commissioning agency.
What the Kitimat Valley, Douglas Channel and the Terrace region need is a truly independent and truly science based and truly comprehensive evaluation of the air shed. At the moment, that doesn’t exist. It should whether it comes from industry or if the local governments can find the budget to fund a proper study or some combination of the two.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.