Northern Gateway is a game changer for us all

Janet Holder, executive vice president for Enbridge, made these remarks to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 24, 2012.

Right now stories about opposition to Northern Gateway and Enbridge are in the media every day and I’m going to tell you, they’re uncomfortable and they’re sometimes frustrating but they’re also important, because we respect everyone’s right to a fair say.

Why? Because a fact-based public discussion about Northern Gateway is necessary to ensure that Canada gets it right. That’s how we come to a consensus in Canada, through debate, discussion and conversation. Ultimately, Enbridge doesn’t own this issue and neither do those who are opposed. Canadians do.

What we want is for Canadians to be confident that once a decision is made about the project that no stone was left unturned and no concern left unanswered.

Northern Gateway is a massive project – the largest private infrastructure project in the history of British Columbia.

Factor in the oft-cited Exxon Valdez oil spill, the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico and our own major pipeline leak in Marshall, Michigan in 2010 and it’s understandable why there is heightened scrutiny of our project.

We also know that the project is a lightning rod for controversy because of its connection to the Alberta oil sands. Some opponents of the project, from  both inside and outside Canada, are seeking to stop the pipeline as a way to stop or slow oil sands development.

Similarly, we understand the concerns from First Nations and Métis communities – some near the proposed right of way and others from different regions in Canada.

So the controversy is not a surprise to us. As challenging as it is for us, we know it’s a good thing, because it provides an opportunity for people across Canada to get involved in the discussion, to weigh the pros and cons about the project and to better assess Enbridge’s approach to doing business, creating shared value in the community and being a good neighbour. The key, of course, is that the discussion needs to be based in fact.

Support is growing. The latest data, an Ipsos poll of 1000 BC residents conducted in December and released early this month, shows that nearly 50 per cent of British Columbians are in favour, about 32 per cent are opposed to the project and about 20 per cent still undecided.

The percentage of those in favour of the project jumps to 55 per cent in Northern BC, where pipeline is proposed to run.

This is a far cry from the majority opposition that activists claim in BC. It shows that most British Columbians are open minded and willing to listen – and most importantly that the more people know about what we’re proposing, and the decade of engineering and environmental study we’ve put into Northern Gateway, the more likely they are to support it.

Put simply, support for the project and diversifying our oil markets is gaining traction, in BC, Alberta and across Canada.

I think the reason the level of support is growing is two-fold. One is that the strategic case for the project is so strong. As the global economy continues to teeter, diversifying our crude oil market with Northern Gateway gives Canada an opportunity to help protect itself from the worst of the economic headwinds.

The Canadian energy industry is subject to some of the most well-respected regulatory oversight in the world. I don’t think there’s any country that is better prepared and equipped to thoroughly and systematically examine a proposal like Northern Gateway and come to a decision that is balanced, prudent and takes all perspectives into account.

And our energy trade is the cornerstone of Canada’s economy. In 2010 Canada’s single largest export was crude oil; we exported $50 billion worth of it.

There’s just one catch. Nearly all of Canada’s crude oil exports, about 99 per cent, go to only one customer: the United States. Our most valuable export commodity, and only one market. That’s not good business. Every day that passes that we’re not able to access tidewater and the world energy market is a lost opportunity.

Northern Gateway will change all that, at a single stroke diversifying Canada’s energy markets and significantly boosting the impact of our nation’s most important economic engine.

Janet Holder is an executive vice president for Enbridge. The above remarks, edited for length,  were made to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 24, 2012.