District of Kitimat Council voted Monday night to hold a plebiscite on whether or not the community supports the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project.
District council and staff will decide the actual question for voters and the date for the plebiscite in the coming couple of weeks.
A staff report described a plebiscite as “a non-binding form of referendum,” as defined by the BC Local Government Act.
The council decision comes after the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel released its decision on December 16, that approved the pipeline and tanker project along with 209 conditions.
After the release of the Joint Review decision, the District of Kitimat issued a news release saying, “Kitimat Council has taken a neutral stance with respect to Northern Gateway. Council will take the necessary time to review the report in order to understand the content and reasons for the decision.”
On January 16, 2012 the council adopted a resolution “that after the completion of the JRP process, the District of Kitimat survey the residents of Kitimat regarding their opinion on the Enbridge Northern Gateway project.” After the JRP decision, the District reaffrimed that it would “undertake a survey of Kitimat residents to determine their opinions of the project now that the JRP has concluded its process.”
District staff had recommended hiring an independent polling firm to conduct the survey, pointing to a pollster’s ability to craft the appropriate questions and provide quick results.
Council quickly shot down the idea. A motion by Councillor Mario Feldhoff to use a polling firm did not get a seconder.
Councillor Rob Goffinet, who made the motion for the plebiscite, noted that even as a politician he doesn’t answer phone calls from unknown numbers. He said, “People do not want a pollster to phone them and do a check list how do you feel on a project. How can we be assured if someone in or out of their home will answer a call from a pollster? I would give total responsibility to every adult citizen of Kitimat who has a point of view to express it in a yes or no ballot.”
Councillor Phil Germuth added, “Those are the same companies that went out prior to the last provincial election and said one party was going to wipe it out and we know what happened there.” Germuth was referring to BC Premier Christy Clark’s come from behind majority victory which was not predicted in the polls.
Germuth told the meeting he believed an unbiased question could be posed in the form of a referendum on the Northern Gateway project. “I have full confidence in our staff that they will be able, along with some assistance from council, to develop questions that are not going to appear biased. It should be very simple, yes means yes, no means no.”
Councillor Mario Feldhoff, who earlier in the evening had, for the first time, declared that he is in favour of the Northern Gateway project, told council that he preferred using a polling firm because it could come back with a “statistically significant” result.
Council voted six to one in favour of the plebiscite. The lone dissenter was Councillor Edwin Empinado who told his colleagues that a mail-in ballot, another of the options presented by staff, would be more inclusive. Empinado said he was concerned that a plebiscite would mean a low voter turnout.
Warren Waycheshen, the district’s deputy chief administrative officer, told council that the plebiscite would have to be held under the provisions of BC’s Local Government Act which covers elections and referenda, but with the plebiscite the council would have more flexibility in deciding how the vote would take place. The act would still cover such things as who was eligible to vote and the use of campaign signs.
The neutrality that council had maintained for at least the previous three years began to break down during Monday’s meeting meeting when Germuth proposed a motion that would have required Enbridge to install within Kitimat’s jurisdiction a detection system capable of locating small volumes of leakage from the pipeline, a measure that is likely beyond the recommendations of the JRP decision.
It was then that Feldhoff became the first Kitimat councillor to actually declare for or against the Northern Gateway, telling council, saying he agreed with the JRP, “The overall risk was manageable and the project was in Canada’s interest. On the whole I am in favour of the conditions and recommendations of the JRP… Not only am I a District of Kitimat Councillor, I am a Canadian. To my mind, opposition to the JRP Northern Gateway report at this stage is yet another case of NIMBY-ism, not in my backyard.”
In the end, at Feldhoff’s urging, the council modified the original motion, so that it called on the District to meet with Enbridge to discuss an enhanced pipeline leak detection system where a leak could “impact the Kitimat watershed.”
It’s not clear what Council will do with the result of the plebiscite, since it is “non-binding.”
In the past two years, Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers councils, together with Kitimat Stikine Regional District and the Skeena Queen Charlotte Regional District, all voted to oppose Northern Gateway. Those were all council votes, taken without surveying local opinion.
Most of the decisions are in the hands of the federal government which has 180 days from the release of the JRP report to approve the project.
The possible effects of a bitumen spill on Pacific waters were not considered in the oil response preparedness report released last week by the Harper government, the background data study reveals.
The consulting firm that did the study for Transport Canada, Genivar Inc, had no reliable data on the effect of a bitumen tanker disaster—because, so far, there has been no major ocean disaster involving diluted bitumen.
Instead, Genivar, based its findings on potential hazards and response on existing data on crude oil spills.
The Genivar study, however, does warn, that if the Enbridge Northern Gateway project does go ahead, the spill risk from diluted bitumen carrying tankers in Douglas Channel and along the north Pacific coast will jump from “low” or “medium” to “very high.” If the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline goes ahead, then the risk in Vancouver also jumps to “very high.”
The question of how bitumen might behave in the cold and choppy waters of the North Pacific was hotly debated during the Northern Gateway Joint Review hearings earlier this year. Enbridge Northern Gateway based its position on laboratory studies, studies that were challenged by environmental and First Nations intervenors, pointing both to the unknowns of the ocean environment and the continuing problems Enbridge has in cleaning up the spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
The Genivar report, Risk Assessment for Marine Spills in Canadian Waters Phase 1: Oil Spills South of 60th Parallel, was completed in November, then passed on to the “expert panel” that released their own report: A Review of Canada’s Ship-source Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime — Setting the Course for the Future. That second report was based not only on the data provided by Genivar but on the expertise of three panel members, their visits to some locations and input from government, industry, First Nations and municipalities.
The actual data report was not posted; it had to be requested through the Transport Canada website, which is how Northwest Coast Energy News obtained the background study.
High risk for Kitimat
The expert panel found “a very high risk” of oil spills in two areas of the Pacific Coast, in the north around the ports of Kitimat and Prince Rupert and in the heavy ocean traffic area of southern British Columbia, especially Port Metro Vancouver and into Washington State.
The expert panel made 45 recommendations that covered a wide range of issues including eliminating the present $161-million liability limit for each spill and replacing it with unlimited liability for polluters, annual spill training involving the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada, provincial and local authorities and the private sector, increased and improved annual spill training exercises, basing risk assessment on local geography and conditions and faster emergency responses to spills.
The expert panel calls for greatly increased research on the ocean environment at a time that Harper government has been gutting environmental research across Canada, while spinning that its policies are “science based.”
The science and technology around both the movement of oil and spill response has advanced significantly over the past several decades. We feel that while some aspects of the Regime have kept pace with these developments, in some areas, Canada has fallen behind world-leading countries like Norway and France. This can be attributed to a general lack of investment in research and development as well as the lack of coordination between industry and government over research priorities.
The Government of Canada should work closely with industry to establish a national research and development program for oil spill preparedness and response. The program should be co-funded by industry and the Government, and the research priorities should be set through a collaborative process that involves academia, where possible. Like the Regime itself, we view this program as a partnership between industry and government.
We envision that this program would also seek to leverage the work being done internationally on oil spill preparedness and response. The program should seek to establish partnerships with other world-leading countries in order to stay current on international advances and new technologies.
The expert panel, however, does not say how the federal government is expected to pay for meeting BC Premier Christy Clark’s condition for a “world class” spill prevention and response system at a time that Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is determined to balance the budget and the Harper government is continuing to cut back government services.
On bitumen, the Genivar data study says:
Modified bitumen products represent the majority of the “crude carried as cargo” in
Pacific sub-sector 5. They are not modelled as a separate category in this spill behaviour analysis but are represented as “persistent crude”.
Changes in spill behaviour depend to some extent on the environmental conditions at the time of the spill, as described in greater detail below. However, over the range of wind and sea conditions typically experienced in the Canadian marine environment, changes in oil properties are not overly sensitive to variations in climatic values, so a single set of wind and sea conditions will be used in the analysis.
The idea that “changes in oil properties” not being sensitive to variations in climate was also frequently challenged before the Joint Review Panel.
On the increase in traffic volume if the Northern Gateway project goes ahead, the Genivar report says.
Enbridge Inc. has proposed to construct a marine terminal at Kitimat, B.C. and a dual pipeline from the terminal to oil sands production in northern Alberta. The terminal would handle up to 193,000 barrels/day of imported diluents (i.e., low-gravity condensate) that would be piped to Alberta and used to dilute bitumen to enhance its flow properties. The diluted bitumen would then be piped to Kitimat at rates up to 525,000 barrels/day that would be shipped by tanker to export to markets in Asia and California.
At full capacity, the import of diluent and export of diluted bitumen would total up to 35 Mt/year. This amount is comparable to the currently-shipped volume in the Pacific sector related to volumes being exported from Vancouver and related to volumes being exported from the Alaskan to Washington State trade.
It goes on to say that the current tanker traffic on the north Pacific coast “has negligible risk in the near shore and intermediate zones, but significant potential spill frequency in the deep-sea zone related to the Alaskan trade.” Similarly, according to Genivar the environmental risk in the region “currently ranges from ‘medium’ to “very low” from near shore to deep-sea zones, respectively…. mainly driven by a combination of physical and biological features.”
The increase in traffic from Northern Gateway would likely increase the environmental risks. The the near shore risk from would jump from “very low” to “very high.” For the largest spill category, deep-sea risk would likely increase from “low” to “medium.”
No data on recreational or traditional First Nations fishery
To study the effect on an oil spill on the fishery, Genivar used data from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as the provinces to gauge “the port value of commercial fishing and the value of the fish, shellfish and aquaculture” in each zone it studied and then compared it to the the national averages for commercial fishery. Those figures included any commercial fishery by First Nations.
But Genivar noted, there is no reliable data on either the recreational fishery or the First Nations traditional, food, social and ceremonial fishery, saying:
It is important to highlight that this indicator does not consider recreational or traditional fishing. The importance of this industry is notable and an oil spill could damage the recreational fishing stock as well. However, the absence of comparable data and the fact that this study is restricted to federal and international data, and some provincial data from Quebec and Ontario for commercial fisheries, limits the ability to include recreational fishing… Nevertheless, as an absolute index, it will provide an overall vulnerability in the event of an oil spill.
The ongoing impact of cutbacks at Fisheries and Oceans has had a continuing impact on the northwest, especially in the controversial halibut recreational fishery, where DFO has admitted that it is basically guessing the size of each year’s recreational halibut catch.
Genivar also notes that lack of reliable data on the effect on a oil spill on tourism. The consultants go so far as to say one of the indicators they will use to measure the effect of any oil spill on tourism would come from “data extracted from the 2011 National Household Survey at the census division level and the accommodation and food services data will be used.”
The “National Household Survey” is also known as the long form census and it is the National Household Survey that the Harper government made voluntary rather mandatory, decreasing the reliability of the data. Global News recently analyzed those who had contributed to the survey and found that it poor people, the very rich and people in low population areas were least likely to fill out the voluntary census—which means the data for northwest BC is likely highly unreliable from the 2011 survey even though “The census divisions in coastal regions will be selected for each of the sub-sectors. This method will express the economic vulnerability of each sub-sector to a potential collapse in tourism following a spill.”
Despite the importance of cruise ship traffic on the west coast, Genivar notes, “In Canada, data for passenger vessels were unavailable.”
It also notes that “this study does not specifically take into account national parks and other landmarks, since their influence on tourism is indirectly included in the tourism employment
intensity index” so that Genivar could create what it calls the Human-Use Resource Index (HRI), even though that index appears to be based on incomplete data.
The list of participants in the oil spill preparedness and response study released last week by the federal government shows two glaring no shows, the District of Kitimat and Rio Tinto Alcan.
The Haisla Nation and the Gitga’at Nation did provide written submissions to the panel.
The expert panel was set up by the federal government to review “oil handling facilities and ship-source oil spill preparedness and response.” The expert panel was to review the “structure, functionality and the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the system, as well as analyzing the requirements for hazardous and noxious substances, including liquefied natural gas.”
The panel also invited any interested groups to submit documents or their own views to be taken into consideration.
Among the stakeholders interviewed by the panel were companies and organizations very familiar to Kitimat; Chevron and Shell, main partners in two of the LNG projects; Enbridge, which has proposed the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Kinder Morgan which has proposed expanding the dilbit pipeline on the Lower Mainland. Other stakeholders included Coastal First Nations, the Prince Rupert Port Authority, SMIT Marine and the Vancouver Port Authority.
As well as the Haisla and the Gitga’at, five west coast municipalities submitted their own reports to the tanker panel, both the city and districts of North Vancouver, the city of Richmond, the District of Ucluelet and the District of West Vancouver. San Juan County in Washington State also made a submission to the panel. So did the Prince Rupert and Vancouver Port authorities.
Chevron, Enbridge, Imperial Oil, Kinder Morgan, Pacific Northwest LNG, Seaspan Marine, and the Union of BC Municipalities, among others also submitted their views to the panel.
So why didn’t the District of Kitimat participate? When it came to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review, the mayor and council always maintained their neutrality motion meant that the District would not be an active participant. That was always a short sighted viewpoint. The District should have participated actively in the JRP in such a way as to protect the region’s interests where necessary while remaining neutral. If the District of Kitimat sat out the tanker panel because of the Northern Gateway neutrality policy, that was no excuse, because the expert panel’s mandate specifically included LNG.
Tanker traffic is a potential threat to the San Juan Islands (the Gulf Islands on the American side of the border). It is astounding that San Juan County would think that the Canadian tanker panel was important enough to make a submission and the District of Kitimat did not.
What about Rio Tinto Alcan? Kitimat has been a private port for 60 years, run first by Alcan and then by Rio Tinto Alcan. Why wasn’t RTA asked to participate as a stakeholder? Why didn’t RTA make a submission? Those who are pushing the Northern Gateway terminal always like to say that tankers have been calling at Kitimat for those 60 years. That is true. Of course, none of those tankers have been the Very Large Crude Carriers proposed by Northern Gateway. However, those 60 years means that RTA has the expertise on the Port of Kitimat and Douglas Channel. RTA probably has important data that could have helped both the expert panel and Genivar (which pointed out the paucity of data on small and medium sized tankers). In not participating in the tanker panel submissions and possibly not providing valuable data on Douglas Channel, RTA neglected its social responsibility both to the community of Kitimat and the rest of the province of British Columbia.
LNG Canada says it wants to be “first out of the gate” in the competitive race to send BC’s liquified natural gas to Asian markets.
The company held a well attended open house at the Kitimat Rod and Gun on November 27, with the usual array of posters and experts, to mark the beginning of the environmental assessment process for what is formally called the “LNG Canada Export Terminal Project.:
The LNG Canada Export Project is a partnership of Shell,Canada Energy, Diamond LNG Canada, an (“affiliate” of Mitsubishi), Korea Gas Corporation and Phoenix Energy (an “affiliate” of PetroChina) filed a draft application for an Environmental Assessment Certificate with the BC Environmental Assessment Office and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on November 8. The 30-day public comment period on the draft Application Information Requirements started on November 13, 2013 and end on December 13, 2013.
The extensive documentation can be downloaded in PDF format from the BCEAO site. The documents can also be viewed at the Kitimat and Terrace Public Libraries and the LNG Canada office in Kitimat at the old Methanex site.
“What we want to be able to do is actually to provide information in a way that we can provide a lot of conversation with the community, so we can really have a dialogue, to give them a place where they know than go to get answers. We do believe that we can be the best project in British Columbia, the only way we can do that is if we have the support of the community,” LNG Canada’s Susannah Pierce told reporters.
“We would like to be first out of the gate. This is a competitive industry and we’re not just competing in terms of providing Canadian gas to the Asian markets, we’re competing with everyone else for the opportunity to deliver product to market.”
The application says that the all-important Financial Investment Decision will likely be “made mid-decade followed by 4-5 years of construction with commissioning of the first phase to follow.”
The first phase would have a first phase of about 12 million tonnes a year of LNG, with another MTPA (million tonnes per anum) in “one or two subsequent phases.”
Federal, provincial and municipal governments or agencies, First Nations and the general public have the ability to comment on the proposal.
An aerial photo map included in the application shows the footprint of the proposed LNG Canada operation. Although the LNG Canada project is based at the old Methanex plant, the map shows that the LNG plant will take up a much larger area than the original. The old Methanex access road would be widened parallel to the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter and a Cyrogenic Pipeline would cross the Kitimat River estuary to the marine terminal.
The scope of the project includes one possibly controversial item: “Onsite power generation,” where natural gas would be used to power the cooling equipment to turn the gas into LNG.
The assessment will also look the natural gas receiving and production facility; “a marine terminal able to accomodate two LNG carriers each with capacity up to 265,000 cubic metres (approximately 122,000 DWT) and a materials offloading area; supporting infrastructure and the construction facilities.
The environmental assessment will examine air quality, green house gas management, the acoustic environment (the noise created by the project), soil, vegetation, wildlife, freshwater, esturine fish and habitat, marine resources including fish and fish habitat and marine mammals, water and ground water quality.
The economic and social assessment includes infrastructure, land use, “visual quality,” odour, marine transportation and use, community health and well being, archaeological heritage and human health.
The assessment process will also “assess potential cumulative economic, health, social and heritage effects from the Project…interacting cumulatively with similar effects of past, present and future projects activities. The current table of projects to be considered for cumulative effects include the Rio Tinto Alcan Aluminum Smelter and Modernization Project, the Kitimat LNG and Douglas LNG terminals, the possible Enbridge Northern Gateway porject, the new use for the old Methanex and Cenovus operations, the operations at the Sand Hill, the former Moon Bay and current MK Bay Marinas.
Projects further away include LNG and other projects and associated pipelines at Prince Rupert, including expansion of the current ports and the redevelopment of Watson Island. Cruise ship and BC ferry operations will be only considered where they impact the shipping routes. Any forestry operations will also only be considered where they impact the project.
Updated to fix typos, including spelling of Feldhoff
Aurora LNG, a partnership headed by Nexen, the Canadian branch of CNOOC, one of China’s largest energy companies, has applied to the National Energy Board for an export licence to ship 24 million tonnes of liquified natural gas over 25 years to Asian customers from Grassy Point near Prince Rupert.
Two Japanese companies, Inpex Corp and JGC are partners with CNNOC in the joint venture.
While the NEB is expected to grant the export licence with little difficulty, the company still has to go through environmental assessment and make a final investment decision.
So far none of the LNG projects in northwestern BC, including three in Kitimat where the NEB has already granted export licences, have been given that final go ahead from the boards of their parent companies. Tne NEB is also considering five other applications for LNG export licences.
At the time BC granted Nexen the potential tenure at Grassy Point, CEO Kevin Reinhart said: “Through project assessment and stakeholder consultation we are committed to examining the potential to build a best-in-class LNG facility – one that creates jobs, delivers lasting economic and social benefits and is developed with the environment top-of-mind.”
According to the BC government news release:
The agreement is for the northern part of Grassy Point, which covers 614.9 hectares of land, plus foreshore land equalling 158.7 hectares.
Aurora LNG will be examining the viability of constructing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and export terminal at this location.
Under the agreement, Aurora LNG will pay $12 million to the Province upon signing the sole proponent agreement. Another $12 million will be paid by Aurora LNG on, or before, the first anniversary of the agreement, as long as the proponent wants the arrangement to continue.
The right to acquire the land for construction or long-term use remains a matter of future negotiations. If the land is acquired by Aurora LNG, the $24 million submitted to government will be subtracted from the final sale price.
Nexen’s plans include a natural gas liquefaction plant, LNG storage and a marine terminal to handle LNG tankers capable of carrying between 210,000 and 217,000 cubic metres of gas. The initial plans call for two trains with a possibility of two more if conditions in the always volatile LNG market warrant.
Nexen is in talks with a number of “major pipeline providers” and no pipeline route has been announced.
It is expected the first LNG shipment from Grassy Point would occur sometime between 2021 and 2023.
The American Petroleum Institute, the lobby group for US energy companies has launched an interactive map on its website covering liquefied natural gas export projects.
The API says the U.S. Department of Energy has approved only four applications for permits to export liquefied natural gas nations that don’t have a free trader agreement with the US, adding: “There are currently 21 pending applications, covering 18 discrete facilities where U.S. businesses are seeking to build and operate terminals to process LNG for sales abroad.”
While the map does show proposed projects at Kitimat and Prince Rupert, the “interactivity” does not give details, while there is detailed information on the US projects including “anticipated capital investments, jobs, and export volumes associated with each U.S. site, as well an estimated value of potential exports.”
The Canadian Coast Guard says it will undertake “a significant environmental response operation” because more oil is leaking from the sunken Second World War United States Army Transport vessel, the Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski.
Hot tapping is a well-known and frequently used method of removing oil from the tanks of stricken vessels. Holes are carefully drilled into the side of the vessel to access fuel-tanks and then hot steam is pumped into the tanks. The steam increases the temperature of the oil and enables it to flow more easily. The oil is then pumped to the surface for safe disposal.
The procedure can be done with holes of very small sizes up to very large diameters. Hot tapping is used in both marine and land-based scenarios.
The Canadian Coast Guard says it “has engaged the Gitga’at First Nation and the Province of British Columbia to participate in the operation and maintain a presence at the wreck site” and will keep the Gitga’at First Nation informed of what is going on:
The Coast Guard recognizes that given their proximity to the Zalinski site and their interest in the oil recovery operation, the Gitga’at need to be informed on the progress of the operation and that they have important local knowledge and skill that will be beneficial to the operation.
The Coast Guard says that environmental monitoring in January and March of 2013, discovered “further upwelling” of oil and added new patches to the sunken vessel.
The Coast Guard says: “Although the patches from 2012 and 2013 remain in place, early patches have begun to leak and the Canadian Coast Guard has determined that the structural integrity of the vessel is deteriorating.”
The USAT Brigadier General M.G. Zalinski was built in 1919 and served as a United States Army Transport vessel during the Second World War. It ran aground during a storm and sank in 1946 in the Grenville Channel about 100 kilometres south of Prince Rupert.
In September 2003, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Maple reported pollution in the Grenville Channel to the Canadian Coast Guard.
The CCGS Tanu investigated the source of the pollution and collected oil samples, but, the news release says, the vessel remained elusive and undetected.
A month later, more oil pollution was spotted so the Canadian Coast Guard used a remotely operated underwater vehicle which located the Zalinski.
New pollution was reported in the channel in October 2003 by a commercial airline pilot and at this time the Coast Guard suspected that the source of the upwelling of oil was an old wreck.
In 2003 and 2004, the Canadian Coast Guard contracted divers to patch the vessel to prevent the leak of oil.
The Coast Guard says it regularly monitored the site with the help of Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program. Local First Nations Groups also monitored the wreck site.
More oil was spotted in April 2012, and at that time, contract divers patched the Zalinski with an epoxy that hardens underwater.
The Coast Guard says new dive footage has shown that metal rivets that hold the hull’s plates are corroding and that the hull is buckling.
as the state of the vessel deteriorates, the Coast Guard has determined that to prevent any harm to the environment, a significant operation should be undertaken to remove the oil from the vessel. The Canadian Coast Guard will be the on-scene commander for the duration of the operation, directing the recovery and the removal of marine pollutants from the vessel and actively monitoring the operation.
The Canadian Coast Guard has also engaged the province of British Columbia and local First Nations groups to solicit their feedback on the operation. On July 26, 2013, Public Works and Government Services Canada posted two requests for proposal seeking a third-party to conduct the oil removal operation and oil spill response services to assist in the case that any oil leaks from the vessel as the operation progresses.
It is expected that the operation will begin in September 2013 and will conclude in December 2013. The Coast Guard says because the Grenville Channel is so narrow, some restrictions on vessel traffic in the Inland Passage will be needed.
The Grenville Channel is a narrow fjord-like waterway with significant tidal fluctuations and currents up to three knots. The shoreline is rocky and steep with little shoreline vegetation.
The Grenville Channel sees commercial fishing vessels, ferries, cruise ships, and pleasure craft transiting its waters on a regular basis, with increased frequency in the summer months. These waters, naturally shielded from stronger offshore winds and weather conditions, are the preferred route of many cruise ships.
The more mild sailing conditions and the stunning natural beauty of the area make the Grenville channel one of the scenic highlights of many marine travellers on Canada’s West Coast.
When the story of the Stephen Harper government is told, historians will say that the week of March 17 to 23, 2013, is remembered, not for the release of a lacklustre federal budget, but for day after day of political blunders that undermined Harper’s goal of making a Canada what the Conservatives call a resource superpower.
It was a week where spin overcame substance and spun out of control.
The Conservative government’s aim was, apparently, to increase support for the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project with a spin campaign aimed at moving the middle ground in British Columbia from anti-project to pro-project and at the same time launching a divide and conquer strategy aimed at BC and Alberta First Nations.
It all backfired. If on Monday, March 17, 2013, the troubled and controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway project was on the sick list, by Friday, March 23, the Enbridge pipeline and tanker scheme was added to the Do Not Resuscitate list, all thanks to political arrogance, blindfolded spin and bureaucratic incompetence. The standard boogeymen for conservative media in Canada (who always add the same sentence to their stories on the Northern Gateway) “First Nations and environmentalists who oppose the project” had nothing to do with it.
Stephen Harper has tight control of his party and the government, and in this case the billion bucks stop at the Prime Minister’s Office. He has only himself to blame.
All of this happened on the northern coast of British Columbia, far out of range of the radar of the national media and the Ottawa pundit class (most of whom, it must be admitted, were locked up in an old railway station in the nation’s capital, trying interpret Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s spreadsheets).
The story begins early on that Monday morning, at my home base in Kitimat, BC, the proposed terminal for Northern Gateway, when a news release pops into my e-mail box, advising that Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver would be in nearby Terrace early on Tuesday morning for an announcement and photo op.
I started making calls, trying to find out if anyone in Kitimat knew about Oliver’s visit to Terrace and if the minister planned to come to Kitimat.
Visitors to Kitimat
I made those calls because in the past two years, Kitimat has seen a parade of visitors checking out the town and the port’s industrial and transportation potential. The visitors range from members of the BC provincial Liberal cabinet to the staff of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver to top executives of some of the world’s major transnational corporations (and not just in the energy sector). Most of these visits, which usually include meetings with the District of Kitimat Council and District senior staff as well as separate meetings with the Council of the Haisla Nation, are usually considered confidential. There are no photo ops or news conferences. If the news of a visit is made public, (not all are), those visits are usually noted, after the fact, by Mayor Joanne Monaghan at the next public council meeting.
It was quickly clear from my calls that no one in an official capacity in Kitimat knew that, by the next morning, Oliver would be Terrace, 60 kilometres up Highway 37. No meetings in Kitimat, on or off the record, were scheduled with the Minister of Natural Resources who has been talking about Kitimat ever since he was appointed to the Harper cabinet.
I was skeptical about that afternoon’s announcement/photo op in Vancouver by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Oliver about the “world class” tanker monitoring.
After all, there had been Canadian Coast Guard cutbacks on the northwest coast even before Stephen Harper got his majority government. The inadequacy of oil spill response on the British Columbia coast had been condemned both by former Auditor General Sheila Fraser and in the United States Senate. The government stubbornly closed and dismantled the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It’s proposing that ocean traffic control for the Port of Vancouver be done remotely from Victoria, with fixed cameras dotted around the harbour. Leaving controllers in Vancouver would, of course, be the best solution, but they must be sacrificed (along with any ship that get’s into trouble in the future, on the altar of a balanced budget).
The part of the announcement that said there would be increased air surveillance is nothing more than a joke (or spin intended just for the Conservative base in Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Toronto suburbs,that is not anyone familiar with BC coastal waters). Currently the Transport Canada surveillance aircraft are used on the coasts to look for vessels that are illegally dumping bilge or oil off shore. As CBC’s Paul Hunter reported in 2010, Transport Canada aircraft were used after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to map where the oil was going after it erupted from the Deepwater Horizon.
Given the stormy weather on the west coast (when Coast Guard radio frequently warns of “hurricane force winds”) it is highly unlikely that the surveillance aircraft would even be flying in the conditions that could cause a major tanker disaster. Aerial surveillance, even in good weather, will never prevent a tanker disaster caused by human error.
I got my first chance to look at the Transport Canada website in late afternoon and that’s when a seemingly innocuous section made me sit up and say “what is going on?” (I actually said something much stronger).
Public port designations: More ports will be designated for traffic control measures, starting with Kitimat.
(Transport Canada actually spelled the name wrong—it has since been fixed—as you can see in this screen grab).
Kitimat has been one of the few private ports in Canada since the Alcan smelter was built and the town founded 60 years ago (the 60th anniversary of the incorporation of the District of Kitimat is March 31, 2013).
The reasons for the designation of Kitimat as a private port go back to a complicated deal between the province of British Columbia and Alcan in the late 1940s as the two were negotiating about electrical power, the aluminum smelter, the building of the town and the harbour.
For 60 years, Alcan, later Rio Tinto Alcan, built, paid for and operated the port as a private sector venture. For a time, additional docks were also operated by Eurocan and Methanex. After Eurocan closed its Kitimat operation that dock was purchased by the parent company Rio Tinto. The Methanex dock was purchased by Royal Dutch Shell last year for its proposed LNG operation.
The announcement that Kitimat was to become a public port was also something that the national media would not recognize as significant unless they are familiar with the history of the port. That history is known only to current and former residents of Kitimat and managers at Rio Tinto Alcan.
The port announcement came so much out of left field; so to speak, that I had doubts it was accurate. In other words, I couldn’t believe it. I went to Monday evening’s meeting of District of Kitimat Council and at the break between the open and in-camera sessions, I asked council members if they had heard about Kitimat being redesignated a public port. The members of the district council were as surprised as I had been.
Back from the council meeting, I checked the Transport Canada news release and backgrounders. I also checked the online version of Bill C-57, the enabling act for the changes announced earlier that day. There was no mention of Kitimat in Bill C-57.
Tuesday morning I drove to Terrace for Joe Oliver’s 9 am photo op and the announcement at Northwest Community College (NWCC) that the government had appointed Douglas Eyford as a special envoy to First Nations for energy projects, an attempt on the surface to try and get First Nations onside for the pipeline projects, an appointment seen by some First Nations leaders as an attempt by the Harper government to divide and conquer.
As an on site reporter, I got to ask Oliver two questions before the news conference went to the national media on the phones.
In answer to my first question, Oliver confirmed that the federal government had decided to make Kitimat a public port, saying in his first sentence: “What the purpose is to make sure that the absolute highest standards of marine safety apply in the port of Kitimat.” He then returned to message track saying, “we have as I announced yesterday and I had spoken about before at the port of Vancouver we have an extremely robust marine safety regime in place but we want to make sure that as resource development continues and as technology improves, we are at the world class level. As I also mentioned there has never been off the coast of British Columbia a major tanker spill and we want to keep that perfect record.”
For my second question, I asked Oliver if he planned to visit Kitimat.
He replied. “Not in this particular visit, I have to get back [to Ottawa] There’s a budget coming and I have to be in the House for that but I certainly expect to be going up there.”
The question may not have registered with the national media on the conference call. For the local reporters and leaders in the room at Waap Galts’ap, the long house at Terrace’s Northwest Community College, everyone knew that Kitimat had been snubbed.
Back in Kitimat, I sent an e-mail to Colleen Nyce, the local spokesperson for Rio Tinto Alcan noting that Joe Oliver had confirmed that the federal government intended to make the RTA-run port a public port. I asked if RTA had been consulted and if the company had any comment.
Nyce replied that she was not aware of the announcement and promised to “look into this on our end.” I am now told by sources that it is believed that my inquiry to Nyce was the first time Rio Tinto Alcan, one of Canada’s biggest resource companies, had heard that the federal government was taking over its port.
The next day, Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan told local TV news on CFTK the Kitimat community was never consulted about the decision and she added that she still hadn’t been able to get anyone with the federal government to tell her more about the plan.
Who pays for the navigation aids?
Meanwhile, new questions were being raised in Kitimat about two other parts of the Monday announcement.
New and modified aids to navigation: The CCG will ensure that a system of aids to navigation comprised of buoys, lights and other devices to warn of obstructions and to mark the location of preferred shipping routes is installed and maintained. Modern navigation system: The CCG will develop options for enhancing Canada’s current navigation system (e.g. aids to navigation, hydrographic charts, etc) by fall 2013 for government consideration.
Since its first public meeting in Kitimat, in documents filed with the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel, in public statements and advertising, Enbridge has been saying for at least the past four years that the company would pay for all the needed upgrades to aids to navigation on Douglas Channel, Wright Sound and other areas for its tanker traffic. It is estimated that those navigation upgrades would cost millions of dollars.
Now days before a federal budget that Jim Flaherty had already telegraphed as emphasizing restraint, it appeared that the Harper government, in its desperation to get approval for energy exports, was going to take over funding for the navigation upgrades from the private sector and hand the bill to the Canadian taxpayer.
RTA not consulted
On Thursday morning, I received an e-mail from Colleen Nyce with a Rio Tinto Alcan statement, noting:
This announcement was not discussed with Rio Tinto Alcan in advance. We are endeavoring to have meetings with the federal government to gain clarity on this announcement as it specifically relates to our operations in Kitimat.
On Friday morning, Mayor Monaghan told Andrew Kurjata on CBC’s Daybreak North that she had had at that time no response to phone calls and e-mails asking for clarification of the announcement. Monaghan also told CBC that Kitimat’s development officer Rose Klukas had tried to “get an audience with minister and had been unable to.” (One reason may be that Oliver’s staff was busy. They ordered NWCC staff to rearrange the usual layout of the chairs at Waap Galts’ap, the long house, to get a better background for the TV cameras for Oliver’s statement).
Monaghan told Kurjata, “I feel like it’s a slap in the face because we’re always being told that we’re the instrument for the whole world right now because Kitimat is supposed to be the capital of the economy right now. So I thought we’d have a little more clout by now and they’d at least tell us they were going to do this. There was absolutely no consultation whatsoever.”
By Friday afternoon, five days after the announcement, Transport Canada officials finally returned the calls from Mayor Monaghan and Rose Klukas promising to consult Kitimat officials in the future.
Monaghan said that Transport Canada told her that it would take at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation.
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
There are a tiny handful of people in Kitimat openly in favour of the Northern Gateway project. A significant minority are on the fence and some perhaps leaning toward acceptance of the project. There is strong opposition and many with a wait and see attitude. (Those in favour will usually only speak on background, and then when you talk to them most of those “in favour” have lists of conditions. If BC Premier Christy Clark has five conditions, many of these people have a dozen or more).
Oliver was speaking in Terrace, 60 kilometres from Kitimat. It is about a 40 to 45 minute drive to Kitimat over a beautiful stretch of highway, with views of lakes, rivers and mountains.
Scenic Highway 37 is the route to the main location not only for the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline but three liquefied natural gas projects, not to mention David Black’s proposed refinery half way between Terrace and Kitimat.
Why wouldn’t Kitimat be a must stop on the schedule for the Minister of Natural Resources? In Terrace, Oliver declared that Kitimat was to become a public port, run by the federal government. Although technically that would be the responsibility of Denis Lebel, the Minister of Transport, one has to wonder why the Minister of Natural Resources would not want to see the port that is supposedly vital to Canada’s economy? You have to ask why he didn’t want to meet the representatives of the Haisla Nation, the staff and council of the District of Kitimat and local business leaders?
Oliver has been going across Canada, the United States and to foreign countries promoting pipelines and tanker traffic, pipelines that would terminate at Kitimat and tankers that would send either bitumen or liquefied natural gas to customers in Asia.
Yet the Minister of Natural Resources is too important, too busy to take a few hours out of his schedule, while he is in the region, to actually visit the town he has been talking about for years.
He told me that he had to be in Ottawa for the budget. Really? The budget is always the finance minister’s show and tell (with a little help from whomever the Prime Minister is at the time). On budget day, Oliver would have been nothing more than a background extra whenever the television cameras “dipped in” on the House of Commons, between stories from reporters and experts who had been in the budget lockup.
According to the time code on my video camera, Oliver’s news conference wrapped at 9:50 a.m., which certainly gave the minister and his staff plenty of time to drive to Kitimat, meet with the representatives of the District, the Haisla Nation and the Chamber of Commerce and still get to Vancouver for a late flight back to Ontario.
On Tuesday, Joe Oliver’s snub pulled the political rug out from under the Northern Gateway supporters and fence sitters in Kitimat. Oliver’s snub showed those few people in Kitimat that if they do go out on a limb to support the Northern Gateway project, the Conservatives would saw off that limb so it can be used as a good background prop for a photo op.
Prince Rupert, Terrace and Smithers councils have all voted against the Northern Gateway project. Kitimat Council, despite some clear divisions, has maintained a position of absolute neutrality. Kitimat Council will continue to be officially neutral until after the Joint Review report, but this week you could hear the air slowly leaking out of the neutrality balloon.
Oliver may still believe, as he has frequently said, that the only people who oppose Northern Gateway are dangerous radicals paid by foreign foundations.
What he did on Tuesday was to make the opposition to Northern Gateway in Kitimat into an even more solid majority across the political spectrum.
Blunder No 2. Rio Tinto Alcan
It doesn’t do much for the credibility of a minister of natural resources to thoroughly piss off, for no good reason, the world’s second largest mining and smelting conglomerate, Rio Tinto. But that’s just what Joe Oliver did this week.
I am not one to usually have much sympathy with rich, giant, transnational corporations.
But look at this way, over the past 60 years Alcan and now Rio Tinto Alcan have invested millions upon millions of dollars in building and maintaining the Kitimat smelter and the port of Kitimat. RTA is now completing the $3.3 billion Kitimat Modernization Project. Then without notice, or consultation, the Conservative government—the Conservative government—announces it is going to take over RTA’s port operations. What’s more, if what Transport Canada told Mayor Joanne Monaghan is correct, the federal government is going to start charging RTA fees to use the port it has built and operated for 60 years.
Too often RTA’s London headquarters acts like it is still the nineteenth century and the senior executives are like British colonialists dictating to the far reaches of the Empire on what do to do.
No matter what you think of RTA, it boggles the mind, whether you are right wing, left wing or mushy middle, that the federal government simply issues a press release–a press release– with not even a phone call, not even a visit (even to corporate headquarters) saying “Hey RTA, we’re taking over.”
There’s one thing that you can be sure of, Rio Tinto Alcan’s lobbyists are going to be earning their fees in the coming weeks.
(One more point, even if there wasn’t a single pipeline project planned for Kitimat you would think that the Minister of Natural Resources would want to see what is currently the largest and most expensive construction project in Canada, a project that comes under his area of political responsibility).
It took five days, from the time of the minister’s news conference on Monday until Friday afternoon, for officials in Transport Canada to return phone calls from Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Rose Klukas, to explain what was going to happen to the Port of Kitimat.
This week was yet another example of the decay of Canadian democracy under Stephen Harper. Executives from Tokyo to Houston to the City of London quickly return phone calls from the District of Kitimat, after all Kitimat is where the economic action is supposed to be. At the same time, the federal government doesn’t return those calls, it shows that something really is rotten in our state.
Blunder No 5. LNG
There are three liquefied natural gas projects slated for Kitimat harbour, the Chevron-Apache partnership in KM LNG, now under construction at Bish Cove; the Royal Dutch Shell project based on the old Methanex site and the barge based BC LNG partnership that will work out of North Cove.
None of these projects have had the final go ahead from the respective company board of directors. So has the federal government thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into these projects? Will making Kitimat a public port to promote Enbridge, help or hinder the LNG projects? Did the Ministry of Natural Resources even consider the LNG projects when they made the decision along with Transport Canada to take over the port?
And then there’s…..
Kitimat has a marina shortage, especially since RTA closed the Moon Bay Marina. The only one left, the MK Bay Marina, which is straining from overcapacity, is owned by the Kitimat-Stikine Regional District. That means there will be another level of government in any talks and decisions on the future of the Kitimat harbour. There are also the controversial raw log exports from nearby Minette Bay.
Although Transport Canada has promised “extensive public and stakeholder consultation,” one has to wonder how much input will be allowed for the residents of Kitimat and region, especially the guiding and tourism industries as well as recreational boaters. After all, the Harper government is determined to make Kitimat an export port for Alberta and the experience of the past couple of years has shown that people of northwest count for little in that process. Just look at the Northern Gateway Joint Review, which more and more people here say has no credibility.
Big blunder or more of the same?
I’ve listed five big blunders that are the result of the decision by the Harper government to turn Kitimat into a public port.
Are they really blunders or just more of the same policies we’ve seen from Stephen Harper since he became a majority prime minister?
This is a government that has muzzled scientific research and the exchange of scientific ideas. The minister who was in the northwest last week, who has demonized respect for the environment, is now squeezing the words “science” and “environment” anywhere into any message track or speech anyway he can.
That’s just the point. Joe Oliver’s fly-in, fly-out trip to Terrace was not supposed to have any substance. Changing the chairs at the Waap Galts’ap long house showed that it was more important to the Harper government to have some northwest coast wall art behind Joe Oliver for his photo op than it was to engage meaningfully with the northwest, including major corporations, First Nations and local civic and business leaders.
Joe Oliver’s visit to Terrace was an example of government by reality television. The decision to change the private port of Kitimat into a public port was another example of Harper’s government by decree without consulting a single stakeholder. The problem is, of course, that for decades to come, it will be everyone in northwest British Columbia who will be paying for those 30 second sound bites I recorded on Tuesday.
Epilogue: Alcan’s legacy for the socialist Prime Minister, Stephen Harper
If an NDP or Liberal government had done what Harper and Oliver did on Monday, every conservative MP, every conservative pundit, every conservative media outlet in Canada would be hoarse from screaming about the danger from the socialists to the Canadian economy.
That brings us to the legacy left by R. E. Powell who was president of Alcan in the 1940s and 50s as the company was building the Kitimat project.
As Global Mission, the company’s official history, relates, in 1951, Alcan signed an agreement with the British Columbia provincial government, that “called upon the company to risk a huge investment, without any government subsidy or financial backing and without any assured market for its product.”
According to the book, Powell sought to anticipate any future problems, given the tenor of the times, the possible or even likely nationalization of the smelter and the hydro-electric project.
So Powell insisted that the contract signed between Alcan and the province include preliminary clauses acknowledging that Alcan was paying for Kitimat without a single cent from the government:
Whereas the government is unwilling to provide and risk the very large amounts of money required to develop those water powers to produce power for which no market now exists or can be foreseen except through the construction of the facilities for the production of aluminum in the vicinity and….
Whereas the construction of the aluminum plant at or near the site of the said waterpower would accomplish without risk or to the GOVERNMENT the development power, the establishment of a permanent industry and the new of population and….
(Government in all caps in the original)
…the parties hereto agree as follows (the agreement, water licence and land permit)
Powell is quoted in the book as saying:
I asked the political leaders of BC if the government would develop the power and sell the energy to Alcan and they refused. We had to do it ourselves. Someday, perhaps, some politician will try to nationalize that power and grab it for the state. I will be dead and gone but some of you or your successors at Alcan may be here, and I hope the clauses in the agreement, approved by the solemn vote of the BC legislature, will give those future socialists good reason to pause and reflect.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the federal government had very little to do with the Kitimat project. With the declaration that Kitimat will be a public port, the federal government comes to the party 60 years late. But one has to wonder if the late Alcan president, R.E. Powell, ever considered that the “future socialists” he hoped would “pause and reflect” would be members of Canada’s Conservative party, Stephen Harper, Joe Oliver and Denis Lebel?
Five days after the announcement that the private port of Kitimat will become a public port under federal jurisdiction, Transport Canada is now promising to consult District of Kitimat officials as the Douglas Channel waterfront transitions to a public port.
Both Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan and Economic Development Officer Rose Klukas, after numerous calls and attempts over the past few days, finally spoke to different Transport Canada officials Friday.
According to the mayor, both were told that Kitimat will not become a public port for at least one year because the change from a private port to a public port requires a change in legislation. (Something Transport Canada may only just be realizing since Bill C-57, introduced Monday to cover all the changes for what the Harper government calls a “world-class” tanker policy makes no mention of Kitimat).
Transport Canada is now promising “extensive public and stakeholder consultation will occur before the legislation is changed,” the mayor was told.
On this Mayor Monaghan commented, “It seems to me that now they want to do consultation….sort of like closing the barn door after all of the cows got out!”
Transport Canada says that beause there are no federal lands in the Kitimat harbour, the amending legislation will only cover navigable waters in Kitimat.
Transport Canada will appoint a harbour master and the cost of that office will be “paid by offsetting fees charged to ships coming into the harbour.”
But it looks like the fees charged to incoming ships by the federal government could be causing a headache for Rio Tinto Alcan. Claudine Gagnon, an RTA spokesperson based in Shawnigan, Quebec, told Radio Canada, the French language network of the CBC, that the company is trying to assess the impact of the announcement on its operations in Kitimat. Among other things, the change in the port’s status could result in higher transportation costs for the company.
At this point, Transport Canada officials told the District is unlikely that there will be Port Authority in Kitimat like the one in Prince Rupert.
Asked about the port announcement during a post budget news conference on Thursday, Skeena Bulkley Valley MP and NDP House Leader Nathan Cullen said, “I’m as surprised as everybody in Kitimat is. I’ve been phoning around to local leaders to find out if anyone had been consulted or spoken to about this. And it’s a shock for everyone including people from Alcan.
“This doesn’t make any sense at all. The conversation around a public port is a good one and one we need to have and we’re open to the idea, but what a terrible start to the process, when a minister flies in from Ottawa, announces something, doesn’t tell any of the local government about it and then expects everyone to pop the champagne corks. You want to get this thing right. You want to make sure the public interests are met.
“There’s a real arrogant feeling, when a minister flies in from Toronto and says this is how it’s going to be and there’s no need to talk to anyone in the region about it.
Cullen was also asked about the provisions in the safe tankers announcement on Monday by Transport Minister Denis Lebel and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver that the federal government appears to be taking over responsibility for navigation aids on the British Columbia coast, something that until now, Enbridge Northern Gateway has said they will pay for.
“Suddenly taking costs away from a multi-billion dollar oil company, seems to be what this Conservative Canadian government wants to do. It’s so wrong, I can’t describe it any better than that,”Cullen said, “that we’re supposed to be picking up the tab for Enbridge’s project, while all the while running huge deficits and not getting the training support and cuts to health care programs that continue.”
The future of tankers sailing along the British Columbia coast, and the export of crude through BC could change drastically by the end of 2014.
By some time in 2014, the planned expansion of the Panama Canal will be complete, allowing more large ships, including tankers, to pass through the Canal and ply up and down the west coast.
It is also possible that British Columbia coastal ports could not only be used for export of bitumen from the Alberta oil sands and liquified natural gas from northeast BC, but also for oil shale crude found in the Bakken Shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, possibly later shale oil from Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The Keystone EIS surprisingly contains a number of scenarios in British Columbia, even though BC is thousands of kilometres from the proposed TransCanada pipeline from the bitumen sands to the refineries on the US Gulf Coast.
The State Department report had to give President Barack Obama all possible options and that it why the EIS report included what it calls “no action alternatives” –what would happen to the bitumen and oil if Obama rejects the Keystone pipeline. Assuming that the oil, whether bitumen or Bakken oil shale has to get to the Gulf refineries by other means, the EIS takes a close look at one case, via CN rail to Prince Rupert, from Prince Rupert by tanker down to the expanded Panama Canal, then through the Panama Canal to the oil ports of Texas and Louisiana.
Another possibility, although less detailed in the EIS, also considers scenarios where bitumen from the Alberta oilsands or shale crude from the Bakken formation was shipped to Vancouver via the Kinder Morgan pipeline system, to Kitimat via the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
The State Department rejected the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway options for detailed analysis because of the controversy over both projects.
The Keystone EIS was released by the State Department on Friday, March 1, 2013, and is seen as generally favouring TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline project. Despite the EIS report conclusions that the Keystone project would have little adverse impact, the final decision by President Obama will be largely political.
The Prince Rupert scenario
The State Department “Supplementary Enviromental Impact Statement” on the Prince Rupert and several other scenarios were undertaken
In developing alternative transport scenarios, efforts were made to focus on scenarios that would be practical (e.g., economically competitive), take advantage of existing infrastructure to the extent possible, used proven technologies, and are similar to transport options currently being utilized.
The State Department studied a scenario that would
Use of approximately 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometres) of existing rail lines from the proposed Lloydminster rail terminal complex to a new approximately 3,500-acre (1,400 hectare) rail terminal complex where the oil would be offloaded from the rail cars, with a short pipeline connection to the port at Prince Rupert.
That possible replacement for Keystone scenario calls for adding approximately 13 trains with 100 tanker car per day on the CN and Canadian Pacific rail lines between Lloydminster and Prince Rupert. (There is also a separate scenario for a rail route from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast. That scenario is not examined in this report)
That, of course, would be in addition to the already heavy rail traffic to Prince Rupert with grain and coal trains outbound and container trains inbound, as well as the VIA Skeena passenger train.
(David Black who is planning a possible refinery at Onion Flats, north of Kitimat, has said that if the Northern Gateway pipeline is stopped, the Kitimat refinery could be serviced by six trains per day, 120 cars in each direction.)
The railway to Prince Rupert is evaluated using the same criterion under US law that was used to evaluate the Keystone project, including affects on surface water, wetlands, the coast, wildlife, threatened and endangered species, fisheries, landuse, construction, green house gases and even sea level rise.
The EIS for Prince Rupert, however, dodges one of the key questions that is plaguing the Northern Gateway Joint Review panel. While it points out the possible dangers of an oil spill, the report does not go into any great detail,
The overall EIS view of the impact of a Prince Rupert project would likely bring protests from those who already oppose the Northern Gateway pipeline project.
the transport of the crude oil via tankers from Prince Rupert to the Gulf Coast area
refineries would not have any effects on geology, soils, groundwater, wetlands, vegetation, land use, socioeconomics, noise, or cultural resources, other than in the event of a spill.
The State Department scenario says there would be
one to two additional Suezmax tanker vessels per day (430 tankers per year) would travel between Prince Rupert and the Gulf Coast area refinery ports via the Panama Canal.
That, of course, could be in addition to any tankers from the Northern Gateway project, if it is approved, as well as tankers from the liquified natural gas projects at both Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
Expanded Panama Canal
The concept of the Suezmax tankers is critical to the west coast, even if none of the scenarios eventually happen.
The State Department report notes that the Panama Canal is now being expanded, and that beginning sometime in 2014, larger ships, including tankers, can go through the canal. The current size is Panamax (maximum size for the current Panama Canal) to Suezmax (the maximum size for the Suez Canal).
According to the State Department that means even if the even bigger Very Large Crude Carriers are not calling at west coast ports to take petroleum products to Asia, the Suezmax tankers might likely be calling in Vancouver at the terminal for the existing (and possibly expanded) Kinder Morgan pipeline.
Both Kinder Morgan and Port Metro Vancouver have said that the ships that call at the Kinder Morgan Westridge Terminal are Aframax tankers, and even they are not loaded to capacity, because of the relatively short draft in the Burnaby area of Vancouver harbour. Both Kinder Morgan and Port Metro Vancouver say that there are no current plans for larger tankers to call at Westridge.
So one question would be is the State Department report pure speculation or is there, perhaps, somewhere in the energy industry, a hope that one of Vancouver’s deeper draft ports could be the terminal for a pipeline?
Rails to Rupert
The Keystone EIS for the first time outlines the railway to Rupert senario, which has long been touted by some supporters as an alternative to the Northern Gateway project, but without the detailed analysis provided for Northern Gateway by both Enbridge and those opposed to the project. Although based largely on published documents and in some ways somewhat superficial (the State Department can’t find any cultural resources in Prince Rupert), the EIS largely parallels the concerns that are being debated by in Prince Rupert this month by the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel.