Kitimat voters in the upcoming municipal election should carefully, very carefully, consider who are the best candidates that will, as much as humanly possible, produce a “world class” municipal mayor and council.
Northwest Coast Energy News will not endorse any individual for mayor or council in the 2014 municipal election.
However, this election is probably the most important in the District’s history and so this editorial will outline the issues facing the District of Kitimat.
When that council takes office in January 2015, it must have one item high on the agenda. Plan B. That’s B for Bust. In the past few days, just as the nomination process closed for municipal candidates, the world’s commodity markets began showing a sharp downturn and that commodity downturn will be a factor, like it or not, during the years that the new council will be in office.
The term “world class” has been bandied about a lot recently, especially by BC Premier Christy Clark and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But that “world class” term has largely been political spin. For Clark it gives her government a hall pass if they decide, in the end, that Northern Gateway isn’t worth the trouble. For Stephen Harper, “world class” is nothing more than a propaganda term.
When it comes to Kitimat, however, it is wise to take the term “world class” seriously. How many small town councils have to deal with the world’s second largest corporation, Royal Dutch Shell, the twelth, Chevron and, if Glencore takes over Rio Tinto, the tenth? How many small town councils have to deal daily with federal and provincial governments, governments that while praising Kitimat for its potential really want to bury it by taking for themselves much of the advantages that industrial development could bring here?
There is already one world class local council in the region, just down the road in Kitamaat Village, the Haisla Nation Council, which shows that with strong, intelligent and determined leadership, a small group can come out ahead in tough negotiations with giant transnational corporations and the governments. Yes, rights and title do give the Haisla Nation a negotiating and legal advantage, but a paper advantage is useless without vision and as Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross has said in interviews, the abiity to learn from mistakes and apply those lessons. We’ve heard people say that if Ellis Ross ever chose to run for mayor of Kitimat (which he wouldn’t because he is focused on improving the lives of the Haisla) he would win in a landslide.
The present council has had a couple of major failures, both with the Northern Gateway project. The first was the failure to participate in any way with the Joint Review process. Council chose to be neutral, and stubbornly maintained that neutrality meant sitting out the entire Joint Review hearings rather than participating in such a way that the Kitimat was properly represented during the hearings without taking a stand one way or another. The Haisla intervenors ablely not only represented the interests of the Nation, by default the Haisla often represented the interests of the entire district before the JRP. The second was the plebisicite which had a convoluted question and protracted disageement on how the plebisicite should be managed.
The question for voters is have those candidates for mayor and council who are part of the present adminstration shown a willingness to learn from those mistakes and do better in the next four years?
Which candidates for mayor and council have the intelligence, determination and vision to quide Kitimat during the next four years. Which candidates have the negotiating saavy and yes (whether male or female) cojones to get the best deal for the District in the coming years?
Access to the ocean
The big issue in this election, whether or not we are in a boom or a bust, is action to ensure that the residents of Kitimat have unimpeded access to the ocean for both casual recreation and for boaters. That means Kitimat needs a tough, determined council that is willing to really represent the residents in in the water access issue.
When it comes to the Regional District’s actions on the sale of MK Marina, the District of Kitimat has acted like a wimp. The attitude seems to be well, Kitimat has only one vote on regional council and the rest of the region doesn’t really care, so there’s nothing we can do about it. True leadership would be finding an imaginative way to make sure the interests of the people of Kitimat in gaining access to the ocean are not lost in regional council indifference.
It also means that there must be better relations with the Haisla Nation and a way around the fact that Rio Tinto controls far too much of the waterfront.
There’s also the long term problem that the federal government decreed two years ago, without consulting either the District or Rio Tinto, that the private port would become a public port. We’ve heard nothing about that since but the Harper government’s potential interference with the port of Kitimat cannot be ignored.
That may mean hiring additional staff. This site has said time and time again the District needs its own in house staff city solicitor who can deal with all the issues that come up, rather than depending on occasional legal advice from a lawyer on retainer. If the district can hire smart planners and economic development officers, it should also bring back the position of “harbour master” which existed on paper some years ago and that way there would be one district staffer who could use that title (even if conflicts with the feds) to work full time on ocean access.
One thing is certain, all members of the current District Council have had a huge work burden during the past three years, a work burden far beyond anything that is normal for a small municipal council in a town of 8,000 people. That work burden will likely increase during the next four years.
Experience counts. Voters should ask which councillor and mayoral candidates have handled that work burden the best? Which of the candidates, new or old, are genuinely willing to take on that burden, which will range from negotiating (within the powers of a municipality) with some of the world’s giant corporations, many with a century of more of negotiating experience, while at the same time dealing with perennial issues like snow clearing in the winter, garbage collection during bear season and deciding which of Kitimat’s unique system of sidewalks need to be fixed this year?
There are at least two positions on council that are up for grabs by new comer candidates. Who ever wins those positions will change the makeup of council, may even change the voting pattern (which during the current situation was often four to three one way or another, with Corrine Scott who is not running again, often, but not always, casting the deciding vote). So the voters should listen carefully and decide no matter what their position on all issues, who are the candidates that will strengthen the overall council.
One issue candidates
While we won’t know for certain until the debates, there appear to be a number of one issue candidates running, candidates that, it seems, want to refight both sides of the Northern Gateway plebisicite.
Unless these candidates show a wider vision the voters should reject those candidates.
On the “pro development” side there is a strange notion that if Kitimat could only elect a council that welcomes any industry, any time, then the world will beat a path to our door. That’s not only a fantasy, it’s a bad negotiating tactic as Christy Clark has found out. Clark in her provincial election campaign put all her political eggs in the LNG basket and (to mix metaphors) now the LNG industry is calling her cards and Clark has very little in the pot and a very weak hand. The big corporations would love a council that comes begging, cap in hand and will take any handouts the company may offer. Just look at Petronas and what it is demanding (not asking) from British Columbia.
On the other hand, a candidate who is stubbornly on the environmental side is also a danger to the future of the district, since that candidate may also be an impedement to tough negotiations needed to protect the district’s environment including the Kitimat airshed, the Kitimat River and the Kitimat Arm.
Electing a council that is unbalanced either on the pro development side or the pro environment side will solve nothing and will only increase the polarization in the community.
Electing one issue candidates who care only about one side or the other energy debate while it may give some voters satisfaction, will likely mean that these candidates, if elected, will not be working hard on the day-to-day municipal issues like water, sewerage, snow clearing, how many books the library has or unraveling the recycling condundrum.
So cast your ballot for those candidates best suited to take on the world, while at the same time making sure the sidewalks are safe.
The Haisla Nation have purchased the old hospital site in downtown Kitimat from the BC government and are planning what will likely be a multi-million dollar development across from City Centre that will include a condominium-hotel, a new shopping mall and a restaurant.
Premier Christy Clark came to Kitimat Tuesday to announce the sales agreement along with Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross. The agreement also involves the District of Kitimat indicating the beginning of building a new phase in the sometimes strained relationship between the district council and the First Nation.
On the day that the Conservative government approved the Northern Gateway pipeline project, all sides pointed to the hospital site agreement as an example of partnership that could lead to development of liquefied natural gas and other industrial projects in BC’s northwest.
The old pink hospital, built when there were plans for a Kitimat with 50,000 people was closed in 2002 when the new Kitimat General Hospital was opened. The old building was dismantled and then imploded in 2005 at a cost of $1.9 million. Five years later, in 2010, the land was transferred from Northern Health to the province.
That began four years of negotiations with provincial ministries, the Haisla Nation and the District of Kitimat, so that the First Nation could purchase the land which is on their traditional territory.
The land has sat idle since 2005, although it is prime real estate as the economy of Kitimat begins to boom with the growth of industrial projects like the $3.3 billion Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization project at the aluminum smelter as wells the Shell-led LNG Canada and the Chevron-led Kitimat LNG projects.
“It’s an important land transfer from the perspective of the community because this land has sat empty for too long,” Clark said. “It’s time for economic development. It will be such a big part of creating lots of energy, lots of jobs in the community but it’s really a demonstration of the partnerships that we’re going to have to have to make LNG and prosperity work in British Columbia”
Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross told reporters, “This is an example of how things should be done” in regard to First Nations rights and title. “Case law dictates how consultation must take place and if you respect and abide by them I think it proves we can actually come to a solution. BC’s not going anywhere, Canada’s not going anywhere, and First Nations aren’t going anywhere. None of us are going to get 100 percent of what we want. Where do we find that middle ground? It’s possible to do it if you actually take a page out of BC’s book and learn from the mistakes they made ten years ago to today where they’re doing things right.”
Both remarks were clearly intended to send a message to the federal government and Enbridge about consultations on the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project.
Clark concentrated on showing the connection between the land deal and future liquefied natural gas development.
Kitimat Ground Zero
“There are over 13 LNG proposals for British Columbia, all of them are at various stages of developments and if anyone of those and we certainly hope it will be more than one reaches final investment decision, that is going to mean a lot of change,” Clark said.
“To make sure this happens, it means opening our doors, opening our doors to First Nations and of course the Haisla were ready and eager to walk through that door, working with labour to make sure we can build a workforce, working with educational institutions across the province to make sure we are
ready to be sure that British Columbians are first in line for those jobs.”
“This site is really about nation building, it’s about community building and it’s about partnerships. This transfer of land will enable the Haisla to commercially develop this piece of property and that is going to mean huge opportunities in this community. It’s going to open up economic growth. It’s going to be a big benefit for Kitimat and the entire surrounding region on this piece of land that has sat empty for far far too long.
“We’re going to continue to work with the Haisla that have shown such vision and courage in leading the argument for LNG across this country and we want to make sure, as Ellis says that this property gets developed as soon as you possibly can. We’re very happy to work with the region of Kitimat, with industry with labour with First Nations to make sure we’re growing this opportunity for the future.
“We’re here because this was the day that worked for everybody. If there is a message for the country is that liquefied natural gas is a nation building opportunity. Ground zero is right here in Kitimat, this community is going to build our country the way that energy has built the country in the past. We have the resources in British Columbia to create hundreds of thousands of jobs and prosperity for every Canadian. I really want Canadian to know that this is not just a BC project. It’s not just a northwest BC project. It’s all these projects that are of national importance.
Ross did not put a cost on the project, since the first step is to do a survey for environmental remediation of the site.
An agreement in April between the Haisla and the District of Kitimat on how the lands will be developed was hailed at the ceremony as a step in healing the sometimes strained relationship between the District and the First Nation.
Ross praised the District of Kitimat for “their willingness to sit down and work with us,” adding that Tuesday’s agreement will lead to discussions on other issues.
Ross said Tuesday’s agreement is “a small step but significant” step in making the Haisla Nation members “self-determining from the ground up,” so they can get jobs without being dependent on either the Haisla Nation Council or other levels of government.
At the end of her speech, Clark deliberately brought up Northern Gateway, saying that “no heavy oil” project, including the Enbridge Northern Gateway, has met the province’s five conditions to proceed.
“We settled the five conditions, they’re very clear, they’ve been on the table for a very long time now,” Clark said. “It is up to the proponent in the private sector to figure how, if and when they’re going to be able to meet them. None of them have yet. So I want to assure people, that whatever decision the federal government announces today, our five conditions are not changing and none of the proposals have met those conditions, so we don’t support any of the projects as they stand.”
On the other hand, Clark said the proposed liquefied natural gas projects are “meeting all those five conditions. The companies that have invested in natural gas here in British Columbia are going to show the country that you can do business in British Columbia and we do it in a way that protects our environment and respects First Nations. We are proving we can do it, because we’re proving we can do it with LNG,”
Ross repeated that the Haisla are opposed to the Northern Gateway Project and that should the government’s decision approve the project, the next step is to go to court. He said that consultation by both the federal government and by Enbridge since the first contact in 2009 has been inadequate.
He told reporters, “One of the five conditions is that aboriginal interests are met and on behalf of the Haisla, I can say that one of the conditions that without a doubt that has gone wrong. The rest of the conditions are up to BC.”
Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan has slammed Douglas Channel Watch for a “disrespectful” demonstration held during the ceremony that saw the transfer of land from the province of BC to the Haisla Nation. BC Premier Christy Clark came to Kitimat for the event.
There were two groups of protesters across Haisla Boulevard from the transfer ceremony. While some were from Douglas Channel Watch, the vast majority were striking teachers.
In an e-mail from Monaghan to District staff and to Margaret Ouwehand, who handles e-mail traffic for the environmental group, obtained by Northwest Coast Energy News, Monaghan wrote about the protest:
This was not respectful to the Haisla. This was one of the greatest moments in the government between the Hasila and DOK and all we could hear were blaring horns. How disrepectful and a shame on our community. It would have been so much more cultured if that could have waited for an hour until the ceremony was concluded.
In the original notice of the protest sent to Northwest Coast Energy News and Douglas Channel Watch subscribers on Monday, Ouwehand wrote:
It is important to remain respectful of the Haisla event and to indicate our support their position regarding Enbridge
At the beginning of her remarks at the ceremony, Monaghan also said, “First I would just like to apologize for some of the noise in the background and the disrepectfulness of what’s happening at this great, great celebration, we’re having with the Haisla people today.”
It was clear for reporters who went across Haisla Boulevard to cover the demonstration that teachers, who began a full-scale strike on Tuesday, far outnumbered the handful of Douglas Channel Watch demonstraters in front of the “Downtown Kitimat” sign. It was mostly the teachers who lined Haisla Boulevard and waved signs, encouraging passing traffic to honk in support. Most teachers continued to protest while some members of Douglas Channel Watch left the protest to attend the ceremony that marked the return of the old hospital lands to the Haisla Nation.
UPDATE: District sprinklers disrupted teacher demonstration
At least three rallies are planned for Kitimat on Tuesday, June 17, as BC Premier Christy Clark is scheduled to arrive to announce a new agreement with the Haisla Nation and, a few hours later, the Harper government will announce its decision on approving the Northern Gateway project.
The Harper government is expected to approve the highly controversial pipeline, terminal and tanker project and once that happens, it is likely that Kitimat will be the focus of protests against (and perhaps for) Northern Gateway.
District Council was told Monday, June 16, that the RCMP and District staff have had meetings to come up with contingency plans if large numbers of protesters come to Kitimat in the future.
Answering a question from Councillor Phil Germuth, Staff Sergeant Phil Harrison, Kitimat detachment commander told Council that RCMP had met with Kitimat deputy chief administrative officer Warren Waycheshen to discuss the groups they were aware of that might be protesting in Kitimat.
“It’s actually hard to plan for some of them, we don’t know how large they’re going to be, “Harrison told Councl, “There are all sorts of different factors that go into coming up with an operational plan for any kind of a demonstration
“We’ve talked about where we may be able to hold demonstrations, how we are going to do accommodate the people, what are we going to do for sanitation,
what we are going to do for garbage collection. all that kind of stuff,” the staff sergeant said.
“Until we get more information regarding what kind of demonstration it’s going to be, it’s hard to plan for. We do encourage any leaders of any organization that’s going to be demonstrating to come and chat with us.
:Demonstrations are fully legal in Canada. We have no problems with those. Our concern is when it comes to the safety of the public and so, therefore, if there isanything we can do to help to mitigate any kind of problems that might arise if the safety of the public, we’d like to know that before hand.”
Waycheshen said it was up to Council to set policy but noted that the staff has been working on long term plans, saying. ‘We do a lot of pre-planning and then just wait to see if it comes or not.”
Waycheshen said that while the RCMP and District staff have studied the more obvious locations, “as the RCMP point out, there are certain times when people won’t congregate where you want them to, so we have to work around their locations.’
“We’ve looked at the need for water, porta-potties, meals and stuff,” Waycheshen said. “It’s always tough until you know the numbers When they come in, are they going to be self sufficient or not?
“We’ve talked to our suppliers to make them aware that this could be happening at short notice, so they’re aware of it,
“We’ve done as much as we can And almost like the emergency plan, we’ve talked to the emergency planning group for the District. There might be a point where we activate the EOC [Emergency Operations Centre] plan, not to treat it as an emergency but to give you a lot more flexibility to react in a quick way.”
“Some of the suppliers say we should be able to get you this and that, but we will have to know at the time.
“It’s really contingent on when they’re coming in. Our purchasing department has been really good about contacting people, this is the potential of what we could
It all starts on Tuesday when Premier Clark is scheduled to arrive at the old hospital site to announce the agreement with the Haisla.
Douglas Channel Watch says it plans to rally at the “Downtown Kitimat” sign across the street from the hospital site at 10:45. Kitimat’s teachers who will officially be on strike on Tuesday, plan their own rally at Centennial Park at the same time.
The Harper government will announce its decision on the Northern Gateway shortly after 4 p.m. Eastern Time, after the market close in the east, 1 p.m, Pacific Time.
Shortly after the government announcement, Douglas Channel Watch will then hold a second rally in Centennial Park.
The final investment decision for the LNG Canada project is 18 to 24 months ahead, Andy Calitz, CEO LNG Canada said Wednesday.
Calitz said that the project must go through a series of what are called “stage gates” before the respective corporate boards of the partners make that decision. Calitz said the project has already completed three stages, identifying the project, testing the idea, selecting what exactly the proponents are going to do. “Then there is the so-called design stage when all the design experts come in. We are hundred per cent certain we are tackling the next phase.” It is when the design phase is complete and then depending on world market conditions, that the final investment decision will be made.
Caltiz also pointed to one reason that while the LNG Canada project is moving ahead slowly,it appears to be moving faster than the rival Chevron-Apache Kitimat LNG project. That’s because the four investors in the LNG Canada project, Shell, PetroChina, Mitsubishi and KoGas (Korea Gas) are the customers, shipping their own product via the proposed TransCanada Coastal Gaslink pipeline, to the jointly owned terminal that will be built on the old Methanex site in Kitimat.
Caltiz’s comments came at a Vancouver news conference called to announce a joint venture agreement between the four partners. Under today’s agreement, Shell has increased its stake in the project to 50 per cent from 40 per cent; PetroChina will hold 20 per cent and each of Kogas and Mitsubishi Corporation holding 15 per cent. PetroChina and Shell increased their holdings by buying from the other partners.
Calitz said, “They each bring their own gas, they each put their own capacity in the pipeline to be transported by Transcanada, they together own the energy plant, then they lift the cargo in the same proportion, taking in to their own potrfolios, for every cargo that is produced, say for every 100,000 cubic metres, 15 will go Kogas 15 to Mitsubishi 20 will go Petrochina and 50 will go to Shell.”
One reason, along with the volatility and uncertainty of the liquified natural gas market that the Chevron Apache Kitmat LNG project appears to have stalled is a lack of customers. Kitimat LNG has said it is looking for equity partners similar to what was said today about the LNG Canada project.
Asked a general question about environmental concerns, Calitz singled out local concerns about the air shed quality in the Kitimat valley and similar concerns up in Prince Rupert, saying, “We are at all times very sensitive to our environmental impact… In the case of the airshed around the LNG plant, it is being quantified, it;s being looked at cumulatively in Prince Rupert, in Kitimat. We also make sure that we work with the government about the sensitivity of air shed impact to the communities of Terrace and Kitimat. I can confirm your point it is high on our agenda. We understand the issues we all developed energy projects before and will continue to be vigilant.”
He said there were three main concerns that would affect the final investment decision: “Where does the Asian gas price go? Two will we have enough labor and what will the labor rates and labor productivity be and three between the various companies that have a lot of experience in Canada specifically TransCanada pipelines into Kitimat, and the other pipeline company going into Prince Rupert, we need to get those pipelines through the mountains.”
While it may be reading too much into one statement, it appears that LNG Canada and its partners are taking a more careful approach to pipeline construction than the Enbridge Northern Gateway project where that company was always certain its plans for crossing the rugged northwest BC mountains would yield few problems.
The other major factor governing any decision on LNG plants in British Columbia is the volatile marketplace.
Reporters at the Vancouver news conference asked Caltiz about reported talks between China and Russia where Russia, now facing economic sanctions for its actions against Ukraine, would ship natural gas to China and if that would affect BC plans to export LNG to China.
“One can always draw linkages between any two subjects but I would say the linkage is between very weak and non existant,” Calitz said. “The closeest that anyone can come to a linkage is do the events in Europe and Ukraine increase the likelihood of a major pipeline between Russia and China, that’s for Russia and China to decide, but apart from that very very weak linkage.”
That state of prices remains a concern among reports that several Asian nations including the giants India and China plan to form a sort of buyers club, to drive down the high price of natural gas, which in Asia is a percentage of the price of crude oil, while in North America, market conditions have driven the price of natural gas much lower.
“There is a very active daily debate about prices paid for LNG in Asia. That debate, I am sure, will continue as long as the Henry Hub [the North America market price] is at $4 and Europe is at $8 and Asia based is somewhat from 12 to 18 dollars, depending on whether its contract or spot.
“If you ask is that of concern, then every project here will be affected by changes in price, whether the price goes up or down. will impact the final investment decision and it will impact in the way say the Pacific Northwest or the Kitimat LNG project.
“We as an energy project in British Columbia, like all other energy projects, like even from East Africa are looking at production costs and what the Asian prices are. So by 2015, what happens to that price and what happens in those negotiations will feature in the decisions of all the players.”
In a prepared statement, Calitz said,”“While we are in the early evaluation process and a decision to build the project is still a while away, this agreement reinforces our commitment to developing an LNG facility in British Columbia and allows us to proceed with the next steps in our project assessment, We will need to continue to work closely with the provincial and federal government to ensure that the project is economically viable, as well as working closely with First Nations, the local communities, and regulatory agencies, and move forward on a number of commercial agreements and contracts. We remain cautiously enthusiastic about the potential opportunity in B.C. and look forward to exploring it further.”
Premier Christy Clark, who made a brief appearance at the news conference before leaving to a prepare for another sales trip to Asia, was more optimistic, saying: “The private sector doesn’t make billion dollar investment decisions if they don’t think there isn’t going to be a return on it. It’s not for me … to determine what the market looks like, it’s the private sector that does that and I think the answer to them is you would not see those major companies taking the next step signing a joint venture agreement today if they didn’t think there was a market for BC gas.
“The other advantage that BC has that we will never sacrifice is our reputation as a dependable, reliable, honourable trading partner. When people do business in British Columbia on natural gas, they know we won’t play politics with them.They know we will keep our promises about where the tax levels will be and how they’re going to be treated as trading partners. That is a tremendous advantage for us in an unstable world.”
Temporary foreign workers
Asked by a reporter about LNG projects using temporary foreign workers, Clark replied. “The thing about temporary foreign workers is that temporary workers should come for temporary jobs, And in the process of building these huge facilities and pipelines with peaks in construction that we will not be able to meet within British Columbia or even Canada. There’s no question about that.
“Our view is very much British Columbians first, and the way to do that is to make sure people have all the skills training that they need to take advantage of those jobs, second reach out to the rest of the country and then third work with the unions and other organizations when needed to support temporary foreign workers coming in.
“We’ve had remarkable consensus with the trade unions, recognizing the need for some temporary foreign workers at some point in the construction of these projects. That’s why we’ve gone about planning it so carefully because we want to make sure when we will need workers in what skill set in what month and what years. We’re really breaking it down so we can be sure we have exhausted British Colunbia’s potential to fill those jobs before we start to look across the country or around the world.”
Projects on the go
The news release listed the many LNG projects under way from the four partners.
Shell currently has ten LNG projects in operation with approximately 26.1 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) operational LNG capacity, in nine countries, and two projects
with an additional 7.5 mtpa under construction. Shell is also one of the largest LNG vessel operators in the world, with interests in around a quarter of the LNG vessels in operation.
Phoenix Energy Holdings Limited (an affiliate of Petro-China Investment (Hong Kong) Limited) (“PetroChina”) is China’s largest oil and gas producer and supplier, as well as
one of the world’s major oilfield service providers and a contractor in engineering construction. PetroChina officially launched three LNG projects in June 2004, two of
which started operations in the first half of 2011.
Kogas Canada LNG is the world’s largest LNG importer. As the nation’s sole LNG provider, KOGAS currently operates three LNG terminals and a nationwide pipeline network, supplying natural gas fromaround the world to power generation plants, gas-utility companies and city gas companies throughout the country.
Since pioneering the first LNG import to Japan from Alaska in 1969, Mistubishi handles 40 per cent of Japan’s LNG imports and has successfully built a portfolio of LNG export investments across Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Oman, Russia and North America.
With the joint venture agreement, the group has incorporated a new federal corporation, LNG Canada Development Inc. The project’s corporate offices will continue to be located in Vancouver and Calgary, with the project office based in Kitimat.
Although pegged as a “major milestone” in the development of LNG Canada, the Kitimat social media rumour mill was correct in speculation Tuesday that the news conference concerned a corporate name change and sale of assets. The event was probably more a kickoff for Christy Clark’s upcoming tour of Asia.
Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House leader is calling today’s framework deal between BC Premier Christy Clark and Alberta premier Alison Redford, “a bust hand.”
In a statement released late Tuesday, Cullen said:
MP Nathan Cullen called the BC-Alberta framework agreement struck this morning regarding Enbridge “political window-dressing” that draws a blind on truth and transparency and deals a bust hand to British Columbia.
“When it comes to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, everything is negotiable for Christy Clark, including principals and promises made leading up to last May’s provincial election,” Cullen said.
“The reality is that none of the five conditions Ms. Clark made such a big deal about 16 months as being necessary for Enbridge to put a pipeline through our province were even remotely addressed in today’s announcement.
“The best we got after overnight negotiations and months of high drama is the ‘possibility of progress’ and a bizarre blessing that somehow allows BC to negotiate directly with Enbridge.
“Today’s agreement does absolutely zero to protect BC’s environment and economy from a bitumen disaster,” Cullen said.
“It’s a shameful political ploy that greases Ms. Clark’s real agenda, which is to pump oil through BC regardless of environmental or economic costs.
“Six months into a new mandate and Premier Clark has turned her back on promises to stand up for BC and demand a higher standard from industry.”
Cullen noted Enbridge’s social licence to operate is clearly tied to safe oil transport, effective spill response, and First Nations consent, conditions on which today’s agreement is silent.
Cullen vowed to continue fighting the Enbridge pipeline and to work toward sustainable resource development that is supported by Skeena-Bulkley Valley communities.
Could the future of northwestern British Columbia’s hoped for natural gas boom depend on the outcome of this weekend’s Australian general election?
While the mainstream media in North America has mostly been following the personal feud between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott or speculating whether or not Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s party will make a ripple or a splish, a natural gas crisis has rocketed high on to the Australian election agenda.
I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about Aussie politics, but I couldn’t ignore all the LNG and natural gas Australian election related stories that suddenly started showing up in my alerts.
Chevron and its partners in the Gorgon LNG project on Barrow Island are expected to postpone work on detailed design and engineering of a fourth processing line at the mega project until at least next year as they battle to contain the soaring cost of the foundation development.
As reported by WestBusiness at the weekend, Chevron’s latest internal cost review is understood to have placed a final cost on Gorgon’s three-train venture of up to $US59 billion ($65.6 billion), or 13 per cent above the last confirmed budget revision of $US52 billion.
Chevron is refusing to discuss the status of the cost review and is understood to have told its Gorgon team to “value engineer” in the hope of substantially reducing the latest overrun on a project that was originally supposed to cost $US37 billion to complete.
Raw logs all over again
For a resident of northwestern BC, one thought comes to mind from the media reports on the LNG situation in the Australian election, it’s raw logs all over again.
It appears from those media reports that while Australia has huge reserves of shale-based natural gas, the way the country has structured its LNG boom, major industries and consumers are becoming alarmed that domestic natural gas prices for both will soon skyrocket. There are calls for whatever party wins the election to pass legislation that would create “domestic gas reservation” so that Australians won’t see the gas exported while they pay higher prices for what’s left over.
Most of the shale gas reserves are in Western Australia, while the population—and industry– are concentrated far away on the east coast.
That is leading to another controversy, demands that eastern Australia develop its coal gas reserves, which, of course, brings to mind Shell’s decision to forgo development of coal gas deposits in the Sacred Headwaters and the ongoing fight by the Tahltan First Nation to stop Fortune Minerals’ open pit coal mine in the Sacred Headwaters at Klappan.
Then there’s another vexing issue that northwestern BC is facing and soon have to deal with. In the election, some Australian politicians and unions are calling for curbs on the use for temporary (and not so temporary) foreign workers.
Another factor is the growing cost of natural gas extraction and LNG export, which has, in the midst of the election campaign, pitted Chevron against Australian unions, with Chevron executives (as they did in other contexts before the election call) pointing to Canada—that means Kitimat, folks — as the cheaper alternative.
The Australian has reported that a poll, commissioned by the nation’s manufacturers, so it is somewhat suspect, that:
Manufacturers will today claim that most Australians want a policy of domestic gas reservation and that this would sway voter intentions, a move set to renew the acrimonious debate over rising gas prices.
Manufacturing Australia will release a survey it commissioned where 35 per cent of people said it was “quite likely” and 13 per cent “extremely likely” that it would sway their decision at the election if a party made a policy pledge on the issue.Those uncertain stood at 21 per cent.
Bob Katter flew through Gladstone as fast as the wind whistled through Spinnaker Park on Monday, where he told local media he wanted to reserve a domestic gas supply for Australia and scrap the 457 visas that bring foreign workers into the country….
Mr Katter said mineral processing was under enormous pressure in Australia with copper processing wiped out in northern Queensland and to counter that, the Katter Australia Party would reserve 1% of the gas supply for Queensland.
“Because of the escalating skyrocketing cost of coal, gas and electricity in the past eight years, one per cent of the gas will be reserved for the benefit of the people in Queensland if not Australia,” he said.
“That gas will be used to produce electricity at prices our retirees can afford, and young families can afford, and most importantly that our mineral processing plants have prices for processing they can afford.”
THE NSW gas industry has warned of higher gas prices, job cuts and a significant risk to the state’s energy security if the coal-seam gas sector is not developed.
James Baulderstone, vice-president of eastern Australia at Santos, said without indigenous gas of its own, NSW had no ability to control its energy supply security.
“NSW faces prospective gas shortages as long-term contracts underpinning the state’s gas supply expire over the next two to three years, the very time in which the commencement of LNG exports from Queensland will see annual gas demand in eastern Australia triple,” he said.
“Looming natural gas shortages in NSW could be avoided by the timely and balanced development of the state’s already discovered reserves of natural gas.”
Also embroiling the election is the growing dispute between Chevron and the Australian unions. As the Australian Financial Review reported, Chevron is claiming that high costs are slowing the LNG projects and blaming the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The federal government has rejected claims from Chevron that Australia’s high-cost economy is threatening the nation’s biggest energy project, Gorgon, even as the Maritime Union of Australia demands a 26 per cent pay rise and more than 100 other benefits for its members, including Qantas Club memberships and iTunes store credits.
As Chevron’s $52 billion Gorgon project became embroiled in the election campaign, trade union officials accused Chevron of seeking to dodge responsibility for poor labour productivity and high costs.
The union’s demands for employees working for 19 offshore oil and gas contractors around Australia include a 26 per cent raise over four years, no foreign labour without consultation, union control of hiring and four weeks holiday for every four weeks work.
(Note there are accusations of biased reporting during this election, especially from the media owned by Rupert Murdoch. I could find no independent confirmation of union demands for airline memberships and iTunes credits)
The Australian Labour minister, Gary Gray, who is from Western Australia, and according to reports, in a tough re-election fight, is blaming Chevron and the other energy companies for “failing to control the costs of their staff and contractors.”
“We do need our companies to get better in managing their productivity issues,” he said.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he had studied China’s latest five-year economic plan and concluded Australia’s industrial relations system wasn’t hurting the industry.
Boom or bust?
The Australian Financial Review quotes Chevron Australia managing director Roy Krzywosinski as saying Australia has a two-year window to get policy settings right and fix industrial relations and productivity or risk losing out on billions of further investment in liquefied natural gas projects.
It goes on to make a reference to Shell and operations in Canada—again that’s Kitimat folks.
after the unprecedented rush of LNG investment in the past four years, Australia has become the most costly place worldwide for new plants, while new competition is emerging in North America and east Africa.
Shell, which has slowed its $20 billion-plus Arrow LNG project in Queensland, said construction costs in Australia are now up to 30 per cent higher than in the US and Canada.
Mr Krzywosinski said LNG projects are “long-term projects that transcend governments” and Chevron would work with all sides of politics to get policy settings right.
The investment surge in LNG – often favourably compared with the Apollo moon program in its magnitude – is in some ways a bubble. Firms have rushed in, extrapolated an endless supply/demand imbalance for their product, ignored global competition, over-paid for assets and developed with little thought to what others were doing, grossly inflating input costs in the process.
The blogger goes on to say
This fallout is typical of the “built it and they will come” attitude that seized energy and mining executives in the final stages of the “commodity super cycle” boom. A similar story, with different dynamics, is playing out in coal and next year in iron ore.
The unions are largely not to blame for the cost blowouts even if they are a party to them. They are, after all, unions. What does capital think will happen if it hands them such a card to play?
Sound familiar? Australia a mirror of the BC election?
Again it appears from this far off shore, that the Australian election is somewhat mirroring the recent BC provincial election and not only because of the issue of LNG. The Labour PM Kevin Rudd returned to power after three years on the back benches, coming back after the party dumped PM Julia Gillard.
Like BC, the Australian Liberal Party is really conservative. The Liberal Leader Tony Abbott, wants to abolish Australia’s carbon tax but Abbott is also threatening to fine companies that don’t lower prices if (or when) the carbon tax is abolished.
The polls show that the Liberal Party is leading, but that Kevin Rudd is more popular than Tony Abbott. Rudd is running an attack campaign against Abbott, warning of the consequences of an (conservative) Liberal victory. Sounds a bit like Christy Clark.
Given the split in the polls, with the leader of one party more popular than the leader of the party that is leading the polls, this video of the editors of The Australian which accompanies this story shows their senior editors are awfully confident, perhaps over confident, about the polls. I know given what happened in BC, Alberta and even Israel, I’d be a lot more skeptical.
We’ll know the outcome of the Australian election by this time next week. As for LNG, given the volatility of the market, who knows?
(Editor’s Note: Tony Abbott and the Australian Liberal Party won a landslide victory in the weekend vote)
(Note some of the Australian media sites appear to be metered and allow only one viewing)
That’s where the pollsters failed and have failed time and time again for the past decade. As long as the pollsters keep asking the stupid question “What’s more important the environment or the economy?” a majority of voters, especially in uncertain times, will choose the economy. Politicians will campaign, as Christy Clark did brilliantly, by promising that there are better economic days ahead, putting the environment far down the priority list.
By the time Canadians and all human beings realize that a viable economy is based on a sustainable environment it may be too late to save either.
The Liberal majority under Christy Clark was a big surprise; the polling data indicated, at first, that there would be a big NDP majority and in the final days that the Adrian Dix and the NDP would sneak into the Legislature still in majority territory.
Instead, Christy Clark, who until (if) she finds a seat, will be running the province as premier from the legislature galleries.
The trouble is that the eastern establishment mainstream media are as out of touch as the pollsters. The Globe and Mail editorial, like most of the eastern media, once again sees British Columbia as nothing more than a junior partner in Confederation, existing to serve the interests of Alberta, with the concerns about our future secondary.
It now falls to Ms. Clark, who was cagey about her position on the Trans Mountain project, to take an objective look at the proposal, let go of her populist, B.C.-first rhetoric, and ensure that her government is an open-minded partner with Alberta in its bid to get its oil to tidewaters for export. Any reviews of the pipeline project must be done quickly and with a deadline.
It’s just plain unmitigated arrogance, but rather typical, to tell a premier who just won a majority in the legislature and the popular vote to “let go of her populist BC-first rhetoric.”
The liquifaction factor
There’s one big problem, a very big problem, with Clark’s promises. She opened her campaign in Kitimat by promising that the liquified natural gas developments will not only slay the deficit but pay down the BC provincial debt in 15 years.
I asked Clark in the media scrum after her announcement how she could make such a prediction when the LNG market is so volatile. She replied that her predictions were based on very conservative estimates. That was spin.
Clark based her election campaign on a promise that not only hopes to foretell the future for the next fifteen years but on liquifaction.
Now liquifaction has two meanings. First is the freezing of natural gas to LNG. Second is the problem that occurs during an earthquake when water saturated ground turns into a liquid, bringing about the collapse of countless buildings with the death and injury that follows.
Clark based her campaign on the hope that the LNG market will not liquify—as in the second meaning.
The LNG market looked so simple two years ago. Buy natural gas at low North American prices, pipeline it to the west coast, load it on tankers and sell it in Asia at the higher natural gas price there which is based on the price of oil. But, wait, the free market doesn’t work that way (sorry free enterprise coalition). Customers in Asia don’t want to pay the full oil-based price for natural gas if they can get it via the US Gulf ports at a cost plus North American price. If the export price of LNG falls, even if the BC projects proceed, the price will be a lot lower than Clark and the energy cheerleaders expect and there will be no new golden age for the BC economy.
Changes in the LNG market are happening at warp speed and it is hard to keep up (And many people in Kitimat are trying to keep up with the daily volatility since the future of the town may depend on LNG). Unfortunately, the dying mainstream media failed to explain, even in the simplest terms, that Christy Clark’s LNG promises might be as empty as a mothballed tanker. This is one case where concentrating on the horse race—and the grossly inaccurate polls—was a blunder, when there should have been reality checks on the LNG promise. The conservative cheerleaders in the media actually didn’t do their readers much good when they failed as reporters to check out the real state of the energy industry or predicted economic catastrophe if there was an NDP victory.
The NDP failure
The NDP campaign under Adrian Dix was not up to its appointed task of explaining the need for both a viable economy and a sustainable environment. Most pundits point to Dix’s mid-campaign switch to opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion as the beginning of the NDP decline.
More telling, for me, was Dix’s failure to explain the proposed two-year moratorium on fracking. There are lots of moratoriums and holds on fracking in North America and around the world. The Canadian media, however, failed miserably (if it even bothered to check) that fracking moratoriums are becoming a standard, although controversial, practice worldwide. A moratorium on fracking today is prudent given the uncertainty over current practices.
Yes, fracking has been used for 50 years but on a much smaller scale. There are two new factors. First is the sheer volume of operations, with no idea what the massive increase in fracking will do to the environment, especially the ground water. Second is the stubborn refusal of companies to release proprietary information on the chemicals they use—the same “public be damned” attitude toward environmental concerns that has got pipeline companies in trouble as well.
Christy Clark and the conservative commentators successfully painted the fracking moratorium as stopping all economic development in the province. Dix and the NDP completely failed to emphasize that their platform was that the party wanted industrial development in the province, but didn’t want to rush into development that will cost the province and its taxpayers down the road. (And taxpayers will eventually have to pay to clean up unfettered development long after the companies that profited have left town, something deficit and debt hawks always conveniently ignore.)
The Orange Coast
As Tyler Noble (formerly with CFTK News and now with the District of Kitimat) pointed out in a Facebook post, the electoral map shows perhaps the real story of the election. The British Columbia coast is entirely NDP orange. The Interior of BC went Liberal. The fight over tankers and pipelines is not going to go away with the result of this election, it’s going to get louder and a lot nastier.
So the University of Calgary pundits, the conservative columnists and editorialists from Calgary to Toronto and the Globe and Mail editorial board will soon have to forget their cheers and go back to complaining about the BC peasants who have to be “educated” about how good pipelines are for the economy.
The turnout, as currently reported, was 52 per cent. The student vote (an actual vote) went heavily to the NDP and the Greens. Part of the student vote result is traditionally, younger people generally tend to vote “progressive” parties. Young people, increasingly disillusioned by partisan politics, are not turning out to actually vote. With high unemployment among millennials and teenagers, these potential voters want jobs, but they’re also worried about the future of the planet. They’re not turning out to vote because many say they have no one to vote for (despite the appeals of the NDP and the Greens.)
Many older people, both on the left and the right are trapped in an obsolete world view of progressive views versus big business or the dreaded socialism versus free enterprise. Older people, worried about their economic future do vote and are often more small c conservative.
Clark campaigned on that paradigm and she won.
Be careful for what you wish for.
The failure of the economy vs environment question
It may be that by the next federal election in 2015 and by the next BC election in 2017, there might be, it is hoped, a profound change in the political narrative. If the pollsters hadn’t asked that obsolete and stupid question about the environment verus the economy, business versus socialism, they might actually have had some good data in this election.
In the United States, green conservatives are adding to the ruptures in the Republican Party. There is even a branch of the Christian Coalition, that is splintering because it too supports the idea of green values because it sees green as supporting family values, helping the poor and the idea of stewardship.
We see lots of green conservatives here in northwest BC among the hunters, fishers and fishing guides and those who work in the industrial sector who like hunting, fishing, hiking and boating. Did they vote for the NDP or the Liberals? Usually the sample size in northwest BC is too small, but drilling down might indicate that there were enough green conservatives who voted for what should now be called the Orange Coast.
If Adrian Dix and the NDP had campaigned effectively with an eye on the green conservatives, there might actually be an NDP majority. If Christy Clark actually keeps her hints of a possible tilt toward green conservatism and moves away from the free enterprise at any cost faction of the Liberals (including that 801 coalition that died at 802), she might actually be in for a long run as BC premier.
If, on the other hand, as the Globe and Mail advocates this morning, if Clark does move, bowing to Alberta’s demands, toward more unfettered development, as environmentalists fear and the aging free entrerprisers would love, the next provincial election will be one to watch, perhaps with the Greens filling a vacuum created by the Liberals and the NDP.
As for the pollsters, there have been two major failures in Canada, the BC and Alberta elections. The pollsters were wrong about the Israeli election as well, which means polling failure is not confined to Canadian politics. It’s time for the pollsters to stand down, go back to the beginning, and take a look at all their practices, including the basic questions they are asking and to wonder if the questions reflect an unconscious bias in favour of the party paying for the poll (good professional pollsters do usually try to avoid open bias question sequences).
If the polling companies don’t change, they too will soon follow the dying mainstream media into oblivion, so neither will be around to see a possible future where the concerns for the environment are a given and the debate is over the real solution to stave off catastrophe.
This post has been updated to clarify that those who I call Conservative cheerleaders failed to be clear about the energy industry, not the overall campaign.
Premier Christy Clark announced her controversial five conditions for pipeline development in BC in July 2012. Clark’s announcement was aimed both at the Northern Gateway Pipeline which would have its terminal in Kitimat, and the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion which has its terminal in Vancouver.
It is not clear how long the web page has been up, but the call for input from the public has received little, if any, publicity. The deadline for public submissions is February 15, 2013.
(Northwest Coast Energy News was alerted to the story by a Kitimat-based hiking club)
A separate call for academic papers had a deadline of January 25. The province plans a conference on oil spill response in Vancouver from March 25 to March 27. The website says”
As part of British Columbia’s commitment to a world leading preparedness and response regime for land based spills, it is hosting a symposium March 25-27, 2013 in Vancouver, BC. Due to the anticipated high interest in the symposium, attendance is by invitation only.
One question would be if invitation only is designed to exclude activist groups who may wish to participate or demonstrate. The Northern Gateway Joint Review panel banned public input at hearings in Vancouver and Victoria earlier this year to try, not always successfully, to head off demonstrations. The webpage says:
In keeping with the established polluter-pay principle, and recognizing the increase in development activities across the province, the Ministry of Environment (the ministry) is reviewing industry funded options for strengthening BC’s spill preparedness and response policies and capacity. Land based spill refers to any spill impacting the terrestrial environment, including coastal shorelines, regardless of the source.
This review addresses three aspects of land based spill preparedness and response: World leading regime for land based spill preparedness and response
Effective and efficient rules for restoration of the environment following a spill
Effective government oversight and coordination of industry spill response The ministry has developed a policy intentions paper for consultation (intentions paper) on the three aspects of the province’s land based spill preparedness and response regime under consideration.
The purpose of this intentions paper is to describe the ministry’s proposed policy direction and seek input on enhancing spill preparedness and response in BC. The intentions paper is a discussion document and your feedback will influence the policy approach.
Although the call for input is on the ministry website, the contact is a management consulting firm C. Rankin & Associates.
Kitimat, BC and New York City had one thing in common this week, the misuse and use of social media, Twitter and Facebook, that spread both accurate warnings and dangerous misinformation about an impending disaster. In the case of New York and the surrounding area, it was Superstorm Sandy that caused widespread devastation. For Kitimat it was the tsunami warning after the 7.7 earthquake off Haida Gwaii and no damage but a lot of worry for residents.
New York has a population of millions, it is the media centre for the United States, and much of the U.S. Northeast coast is still recovering from the horrendous damage from Superstorm Sandy.
Kitimat has a population of about 8,000 and my home town is off the media radar except when the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline issue pops up on the national assignment desks. If the October 27, 2012 tsunami from the Haida Gwaii earthquake did come up Douglas Channel to Kitimat harbour, it was so minimal that any water rise was scarcely noticed.
In one way New York (the state and the city) plus New Jersey and other states were ahead of Kitimat. In the US, there were numerous official sources on Twitter and Facebook, as well as those ubiquitous live TV news conferences with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg or various state governors.
On October 27, neither Kitimat nor the nearby town of Terrace had any official emergency outlets on social media. In Kitimat, that may change as early as this Monday when District Council considers what happened last Saturday night.
It has been documented that there was no official response from Emergency Management British Columbia (still largely known under its former name Provincial Emergency Program) until an hour after the first earthquake report from the US Geological Survey. Only sometime later did BC’s provincial emergency officials hold a short conference call with reporters. (At the time the BC Liberals were holding a policy convention at Whistler. After the conference call, TV reporters at the convention in Whistler were doing live reports with taped clips of Attorney General Shirley Bond. It should have been easy for Bond and other senior government officials, including Premier Christy Clark–who is plummeting the polls– to hold a live news conference just as US state governors and mayors did later in the week when it came to Superstorm Sandy)
So in that hour of silence from the BC government, one question that has to be raised is: Were the tsunami warnings so completely uncoordinated–at least as far as the public is concerned– that that was one cause of the misinformation and inaccurate information on Twitter and Facebook? Or did confusing information from authorities simply compound and amplify the social media misinformation that was already spreading across British Columbia and around the world?
Here in the northwest, the two area fire chiefs Trent Bossence of Kitimat and John Klie of Terrace have said after the quake that landline phones and some cell phones were out, in some areas up to an hour after the first shock. Klie told CFTK’s Tyler Noble on Open Connection that after the landline phones came back up the Terrace fire department was flooded with calls from people “who wanted it now.” The ability of firefighters to get information was then delayed “because so many people were trying to get through.”
Kitimat has the advantage of being a small town. Emergency services already had scheduled a volunteer recruiting session last Monday night (October 29) for Emergency Social Services–the folks who run, coordinate and work in reception centres during an emergency–so it was easy to turn that meeting into a earthquake/tsunami warning post mortem. (Imagine that happening in New York?)
The most important issue on Saturday night was the false information on both Facebook and Twitter that the Kildala neighbourhood was being evacuated due to the tsunami warning. Other false information on social media indicated that the giant Bechtel work camp at the Rio Tinto Alcan Kitimat Modernization Project was also being evacuated.
As Kitimat’s Emergency Plan Coordinator Bob McLeod told the earthquake post mortem about the information on Facebook and Twitter:
“Your aim is to be saving people, and you’re not saving people. There was one case where someone was going around banging on doors in Kildala, telling them to get out. I think it was over when he was in the lockup that night. But this is the type of foolishness that goes on. You have people going on Facebook saying ‘Alcan’s been evacuated. they’re evacuating Kildala.’ I am going to be generous and say it is misinformation… It was a blatant lie. And that does not help.”
(For those outside Kitimat you can check the town on Google maps) As seen on this screen grab, Kildala is a low lying part of town. The area north of Highway 37 is higher on a hill. Closer to the ocean at Douglas Channel are the Bechtel/RTA Kitimat Modernization Project work camps.
After driving from the village to the town, McFarlane told the meeting that he stopped at the town viewpoint where “people were telling me they had already been evacuated out of the Kildala neighbourhood, so my first stop after that was the fire department.” The fire hall is about a couple of blocks from the viewpoint, so it was easy to get accurate information from the fire department.
McFarlane continued, “I found the night of the earthquake that no information is just as bad as wrong information. People were calling me on my cell saying why does the Kitimat Daily say we have to evacuate.” That is because the Daily republished a warning from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre that “said tsunami warning, evacuation for the north coast. People were saying we’re on the north coast, we got to go.”
I was about fifteen to twenty minutes behind McFarlane in reaching town. (I did not leave Kitamaat Village until after we heard the first tsunami warning.) As soon as I got to back in cell range, my cell phone started to beep with saved messages from my TV and radio news clients calling for information. When I got to my home office, my landline was still dead and would be for about another twenty minutes. The only source of information at that point was Google News, Facebook and Twitter.
I saw the initial, and it turns out general, warning from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. Soon I was also getting what I hoped was more specific information on my marine radio from the Canadian Coast Guard Prince Rupert communications station.
But that, too was somewhat confusing. That Coast Guard advisory mentioned various zones, for example, Zone A and Zone B, but there was little specific context and that point I had no idea what Zone A meant. Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio then went on to say evacuate low lying coastal areas. (transcript below)
With that confusion, and mindful of “when in doubt, leave it out,” I did not mention the zone system in any information I posted on Facebook and Twitter that night. I only retweeted official information or tweets from reporters I knew and trusted (and I did not see any tweeted official information from the province with a link to the page that identifies the official tsunami zones)
From the interview on CFTK, it appears that both the Kitimat and Terrace fire departments were also getting inadequate information.
“We went to our normal place to look EM BC (Emergency Management BC) and there was nothing there,so we went to Plan B to get information and went on from there,” Bossence told Tyler Noble.
Klie said: “We struggle with that every disaster big or small. Social media, I think emergency organizations are trying to tap into more and more. Up north we may be a little behind the eight ball but sure enough Twitter and Facebook information is out there instantly. Looking at Facebook with my son, I saw that they were evacuating whole cities and I knew that was not true. Because of my experience I can filter some of the information, but there is so much information out there that it’s hard to filter what’s real and not real. It’s an area where emergency coordinators have to get into because its the fastest way of getting information out.”
“Once the phone system came back online at the Fire Hall we got a flood of phone calls,” Bossence told CFTK, “it was nonstop and it was people wanting to know. ‘What’s going on? What are we going to do? Are we leaving?’ and they’re giving us ‘This is what is what I’m reading, this is what I’m being texted, on Facebook they’re saying we’re supposed to evacuate’ adding to that we had an individual going around claiming he was a fire department, he was going door to door and telling people to evacuate. That was the added issue we had to deal with. It was definitely misinformation and a sense of urgency that was coming out through the social network (and eventually the media) was big problem for us.”
In Kitimat, I was told about the man going door to door with inaccurate information and as soon as I confirmed it with reliable official sources, I posted that on both Twitter and Facebook, emphasizing there was, at that time, no evacuation order.
But every situation is different. In contrast, in Superstorm Sandy, another story about men going door to door in Williamsburg, a section of Brooklyn was not true, as can be seen in an article summing problems with Twitter in New York, where Jared Keller of Bloomberg reported
I experienced this firsthand during Hurricane Sandy. After retweeting a message warning about muggers in Williamsburg dressed as Con Ed workers as an experiment, I received two sceptical responses checking the claim within 15 minutes, both from people who work in the media industry and spend a significant amount of time on Twitter. Within an hour, I received a mass text message from friends of mine who aren’t completely plugged into the social Web with the same warning: “I just read a news alert of two separate reports of people posing as coned workers, knocking on people’s door and robbing them at gunpoint in Williamsburg. I just want to pass along the info. Stay safe and maybe don’t answer your door.” Two other friends responded with thanks.
Keller goes on to stay “I know a lot of people, especially on Facebook, who end up believing whatever they see first,” says Kate Gardiner, a social media journalist. “It’s almost impossible to track something back to its point of origin there.”
With the earthquake and tsunami warning Saturday night, Twitter misinformation spread internationally. The first hashtag I saw was #bcquake, but as the the tsunami warning gained traction (especially after the warning was extended from BC and Alaska to Washington, Oregon and California and then to Hawaii) the more common hashtag #tsunami became prominent. As people outside BC began tweeting, they began using #Canadaquake and soon #prayforcanada also began to trend. Completely inaccurate information spread on #prayforcanada (believed to have originated in Indonesia) that it was Vancouver, not the north coast that had been hit by the 7.7 magnitude earthquake.
Are you in the Zone?
At this point, one question has to be asked. The spread of information, first the well-intended but wrong, second just rumour and third, the deliberately misleading, has been seen in social media not only during the earthquake and tsunami on the West Coast last weekend, and during Superstorm Sandy on the East Coast but all the way back to the 2004 Christmas tsunami in Southeast Asia.
For the west coast in 2012, however, how much of the problem of misinformation on social media during the earthquake and tsunami warning was the fault of confusing information from the authorities? Just how were people going to interpret such general terms as “north coast” and “low lying areas.”?
From the BC Provincial Emergency Program you have to ask “What is Zone A?” It turns out by checking a day or so later that the province of British Columbia has created Tsunami Identification Zones.
Before October 27, it is likely no one outside of the provincial bureaucracy had ever heard of the provincial tsunami zones. At that time no one in BC, either on Twitter or Facebook or through the media was identifying the BC Tsunami Zones for the public. Later on, the television networks put up maps showing Zones A and B —but that was only good if you had power and were watching the right channel. Kitimat Daily and Terrace Daily posted an official update at 10:42 long after the danger was past explaining the Zone system. It was no good at all if you were listening to news reports on radio or to Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio on a fishing boat and had no access to the actual maps.
Compounding the confusion is that the US system appears to be very different from the Canadian.
Also the US system has two levels of warning. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center sends out general warnings but hands over for a more specific warning map from the Alaska -based West Coast and Alaska Pacific Tsunami warning centre. It uses its own system of lettered and numbered zones for the west coast of North America. (See the Oct 27 tsunami advisory here Note it is a Google maps plugin.)
So in case of a tsunami warning, Kitimat is in Zone B for the province of British Columbia and the Provincial Emergency Program and in Zone BZ921 for the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre. For the much more familiar fisheries management areas Kitimat is in Zone 6 (which of course has nothing to do with a tsunami, it’s simply the coastal zone system everyone is familiar with)
Adding to the confusion is the fact that the EM British Columbia map shows Terrace, far inland up the Skeena River is considered in Zone A, along with Prince Rupert for tsunami warnings (if a tsunami was big enough to reach Terrace along the Skeena River valley, then I can only assume that much of the west coast of North America would have already been wiped out).
The Monday Post mortem
At the Monday, October 29 post mortem, when McLeod outlined the events of October 27, he began by looking back three weeks, saying, “I have feeling of frustration about a couple of things. October 7, I took 4,000 brochures [How Prepared Are you if Disaster Strikes?] down to the post office to mail out to the residents of Kitimat, They were all delivered by the post office. On Sunday, I had people coming to me and saying what are we supposed to do in the case of an earthquake? It is really, really difficult to get people interested.”
McLeod said that after he felt the earthquake, he went online to check information and then went up to the fire hall, which is Kitimat’s emergency coordination centre. There he met Fire Chief Bossence, his deputy, the RCMP detachment commander Staff Sergeant Steve Corp and representatives from Bechtel and the Rio Tinto Alcan modernization project.
“For the first little while we were going on line trying to get information. The usual method of dissemination getting information it comes from the West coast and Alaska tsunami warning system, then it goes to Victoria, Victoria gives it to the geophysical specialists and they will confirm or deny what ever the information and then it goes to the Provincial Emergency Program and they shoot it out to coastal communities.
“While in this case you’re working with what you find out from different sources and you are trying to determine how reliable these sources are.”
“In our case, for me the first thing you do when you get word of an impending tidal wave [tsunami] action is check the tide. If you’re on a high tide, it’s a different situation than a low tide
“The movie version of a tidal wave is this 50 foot mountain of water roaring along and this is not what is going to happen particularly in Douglas Channel because of the depth. So you are going to see a surge such as we saw in Japan and it will be an increasing surge of water.
“We were told that potentially some sort of surge hitting Langara [the northern most island in Haida Gwaii) at 9:16, 9:16 came and went and there was no notification of a noticeable surge of water. So were down to a non event and we were on a receding tide.” (See advisory below)
“Misinformation going out is not helpful,” McLeod said. “You’ve got to set up a stream of how you get information out to people and it’s a valid point. The District Website, the Facebook page, something like that can get information out. But again if you lose power where do get it? Text can work even locally with cell phones. if you’re in a dead area with a cell phone, you can still get text”
McLeod then asked the audience, mainly people ranging from their thirties to seventies if they text. Only four or five people put up their hands. “You people are going to be saved, the rest of us…” McLeod quipped.
If a conclusion can be drawn from the earthquake and tsunami warning in the Kitimat region on October 27, it’s not just that in an emergency inaccurate, incomplete or malicious information can spread a the speed of light on social media, it’s worse that incomplete, inadequate and confusing information from the authorities is amplified and distorted by rapid posting on social media. That concept is not new for anyone who has tried the phone chain game where the outcome is often completely different from the start.
If Gardiner is correct when she says “I know a lot of people, especially on Facebook, who end up believing whatever they see first,” the BC government delays made everything worse. People Tweeted the first thing they saw and the first thing people saw came from multiple and often conflicting sources. Add that to those Tweets that were exaggeration, rumour and lies.
The problem in 2012 it is not one person talking to one person talking to one person, it is a Tweet or Facebook posting that go out to thousands, or millions of people and that’s a lot more dangerous.
McLeod said the post mortem who said emergency services is trying to get more information out to public, but he added. “The unfortunate part is that if you publish it this week, by Christmas no one will remember. If you start throwing it out every week, it becomes like a stop sign at the end of the street. Nobody sees it.”
(Coming next. If Kitimat had to evacuate)
Transcript of Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio tsunami warning.
Pan pan. Pan pan. This is Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio, Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio. Warning for coastal British Columbia issued by Environment Canada on behalf of the British Columbia Provincial Emergency Program at 2057 Pacific Daylight Time Saturday 27 October. Tsunami warning for Zone A, the north coast and Haida Gwaii,Zone B, the central coast and including Bella Coola, Bella Bella and (unintelligible). A tsunami warning has been issued, if you are in a low-lying area coastal area, you are at risk and must move to higher ground or inland now.
Do not return until directed to do so. Closely monitor local radio stations for additional information from local authorities. Please minimize phone use in affected areas, for further information contact the provincial emergency program at website www. papa echo papa period bravo charlie period charlie alpha.Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio over.
TSUNAMI BULLETIN NUMBER 003
PACIFIC TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER/NOAA/NWS
ISSUED AT 0341Z 28 OCT 2012
THIS BULLETIN APPLIES TO AREAS WITHIN AND BORDERING THE PACIFIC
OCEAN AND ADJACENT SEAS…EXCEPT ALASKA…BRITISH COLUMBIA…
WASHINGTON…OREGON AND CALIFORNIA.
… TSUNAMI INFORMATION BULLETIN …
THIS BULLETIN IS FOR INFORMATION ONLY.
THIS BULLETIN IS ISSUED AS ADVICE TO GOVERNMENT AGENCIES. ONLY
NATIONAL AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT AGENCIES HAVE THE AUTHORITY TO MAKE
DECISIONS REGARDING THE OFFICIAL STATE OF ALERT IN THEIR AREA AND
ANY ACTIONS TO BE TAKEN IN RESPONSE.
AN EARTHQUAKE HAS OCCURRED WITH THESE PRELIMINARY PARAMETERS
ORIGIN TIME – 0304Z 28 OCT 2012
COORDINATES – 52.9 NORTH 131.9 WEST
DEPTH – 10 KM
LOCATION – QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISLANDS REGION
MAGNITUDE – 7.7
NO DESTRUCTIVE WIDESPREAD TSUNAMI THREAT EXISTS BASED ON
HISTORICAL EARTHQUAKE AND TSUNAMI DATA.
HOWEVER – THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER HAS
ISSUED A REGIONAL WARNING FOR COASTS LOCATED NEAR THE EARTHQUAKE.
THIS CENTER WILL CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE SITUATION BUT DOES NOT
EXPECT A WIDER THREAT TO OCCUR.
THIS WILL BE THE ONLY BULLETIN ISSUED FOR THIS EVENT UNLESS
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION BECOMES AVAILABLE.
THE WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER WILL ISSUE PRODUCTS
FOR ALASKA…BRITISH COLUMBIA…WASHINGTON…OREGON…CALIFORNIA.
PUBLIC TSUNAMI MESSAGE NUMBER 2
NWS WEST COAST/ALASKA TSUNAMI WARNING CENTER PALMER AK
834 PM PDT SAT OCT 27 2012
THE MAGNITUDE IS UPDATED TO 7.7. THE WARNING ZONE REMAINS THE
…THE TSUNAMI WARNING CONTINUES IN EFFECT FOR THE COASTAL
AREAS OF BRITISH COLUMBIA AND ALASKA FROM THE NORTH TIP OF
VANCOUVER ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA TO CAPE DECISION
ALASKA/LOCATED 85 MILES SE OF SITKA/…
…THIS MESSAGE IS INFORMATION ONLY FOR COASTAL AREAS OF
CALIFORNIA – OREGON – WASHINGTON AND BRITISH COLUMBIA FROM
THE CALIFORNIA-MEXICO BORDER TO THE NORTH TIP OF VANCOUVER
ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA…
…THIS MESSAGE IS INFORMATION ONLY FOR COASTAL AREAS OF
ALASKA FROM CAPE DECISION ALASKA/LOCATED 85 MILES SE OF
SITKA/ TO ATTU ALASKA…
A TSUNAMI WARNING MEANS… ALL COASTAL RESIDENTS IN THE WARNING
AREA WHO ARE NEAR THE BEACH OR IN LOW-LYING REGIONS SHOULD MOVE
IMMEDIATELY INLAND TO HIGHER GROUND AND AWAY FROM ALL HARBORS AND
INLETS INCLUDING THOSE SHELTERED DIRECTLY FROM THE SEA. THOSE
FEELING THE EARTH SHAKE… SEEING UNUSUAL WAVE ACTION… OR THE
WATER LEVEL RISING OR RECEDING MAY HAVE ONLY A FEW MINUTES BEFORE
THE TSUNAMI ARRIVAL AND SHOULD MOVE IMMEDIATELY. HOMES AND
SMALL BUILDINGS ARE NOT DESIGNED TO WITHSTAND TSUNAMI IMPACTS.
DO NOT STAY IN THESE STRUCTURES.
ALL RESIDENTS WITHIN THE WARNED AREA SHOULD BE ALERT FOR
INSTRUCTIONS BROADCAST FROM THEIR LOCAL CIVIL AUTHORITIES.
EARTHQUAKES OF THIS SIZE ARE KNOWN TO GENERATE TSUNAMIS.
AT 804 PM PACIFIC DAYLIGHT TIME ON OCTOBER 27 AN EARTHQUAKE WITH
PRELIMINARY MAGNITUDE 7.7 OCCURRED 25 MILES/40 KM SOUTH OF
SANDSPIT BRITISH COLUMBIA.
EARTHQUAKES OF THIS SIZE ARE KNOWN TO GENERATE TSUNAMIS.
IF A TSUNAMI HAS BEEN GENERATED THE WAVES WILL FIRST REACH
LANGARA ISLAND BRITISH COLUMBIA AT 916 PM PDT ON OCTOBER 27.
ESTIMATED TSUNAMI ARRIVAL TIMES AND MAPS ALONG WITH SAFETY RULES
AND OTHER INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND ON THE WEB SITE
TSUNAMIS CAN BE DANGEROUS WAVES THAT ARE NOT SURVIVABLE. WAVE
HEIGHTS ARE AMPLIFIED BY IRREGULAR SHORELINE AND ARE DIFFICULT TO
FORECAST. TSUNAMIS OFTEN APPEAR AS A STRONG SURGE AND MAY BE
PRECEDED BY A RECEDING WATER LEVEL. MARINERS IN WATER DEEPER
THAN 600 FEET SHOULD NOT BE AFFECTED BY A TSUNAMI. WAVE HEIGHTS
WILL INCREASE RAPIDLY AS WATER SHALLOWS. TSUNAMIS ARE A SERIES OF
OCEAN WAVES WHICH CAN BE DANGEROUS FOR SEVERAL HOURS AFTER THE
INITIAL WAVE ARRIVAL. DO NOT RETURN TO EVACUATED AREAS UNTIL AN
ALL CLEAR IS GIVEN BY LOCAL CIVIL AUTHORITIES.
PACIFIC COASTAL REGIONS OUTSIDE CALIFORNIA/ OREGON/ WASHINGTON/
BRITISH COLUMBIA AND ALASKA SHOULD REFER TO THE PACIFIC TSUNAMI
WARNING CENTER MESSAGES FOR INFORMATION ON THIS EVENT AT
THIS MESSAGE WILL BE UPDATED IN 30 MINUTES OR SOONER IF
THE SITUATION WARRANTS. THE TSUNAMI MESSAGE WILL REMAIN
IN EFFECT UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION STAY TUNED
TO NOAA WEATHER RADIO… YOUR LOCAL TV OR RADIO STATIONS… OR SEE
THE WEB SITE WCATWC.ARH.NOAA.GOV.
Did the media over react to the earthquake and tsunami warning?
There were also numerous Tweets on October 27, accusing the media of over reacting. The Haida Gwaii quake was 7.7 magnitude. Compare that to the Haiti earthquake on January 12, 2010 which was 7.0. The Christ Church, New Zealand earthquake on February 27, 2011 which caused major damage was 6.3 magnitude. So the Haida Gwaii earthquake was a major event. The tsunami warning that eventually reached as far off as Hawaii had to be taken seriously.
Fortunately Haida Gwaii is sparsely populated and there was minimal damage largely because most of the houses and buildings are wood and can absorb some of the shaking from an earthquake.
Given the tsunami damage in Southeast Asia in 2004 and in Japan in 2011, no media organization could ignore the developing story.
If there is justifiable criticism, it is that some media over hyped the story in the beginning, rather acting to reassure the public in a responsible manner. But the media that over hyped the earthquake and tsunami are the kind that would over hype any story. That is generally the result of management listening to “TV doctors” and media consultants who urge over hyping to increase ratings. (It often works). But those who, quite early in the event, who tweeted that the media was overreacting, were themselves guilty of overreaction in their Tweets.