The one topic that is sure to stir controversy in 2012 is the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.
The project combines the politically sensitive subjects of environment and economy. It is the kind of project that does not lend itself to compromise: if environmental arguments prevail the project will not proceed, and if economic arguments prevail, it will be at the expense of the environment.
The debate is essentially an emotional one as neither the economic nor the environmental argument can be supported by indisputable facts. Enbridge cannot guarantee that their proposed pipeline will never fail, nor can those who fear just such a spill guarantee that one will inevitably occur.
The same holds true for the economic argument. There will likely be a blip in local employment during the construction phase, but unlike major construction projects such as mills or hydro dams, pipeline construction projects are not local, they are transitory.
In an open letter, Enbridge Inc. has invited British Columbians to participate in the public hearings to be held on their project, “to engage in the conversation based on informed, knowledge-based opinions.”
This is a challenging invitation as the meaning of the word “opinion” is “a belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.”
People concerned about the environmental risk associated with the project may want to refer to the October 10, 2006, Rainbow Pipe Line Company Ltd. crude oil spill near Slave Lake, and to the 11 follow-up actions the company committed to in the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board Investigation Report of May 9, 2007.
Less than five years later, on April 29, 2011, Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board reported the largest crude oil spill in 36 years – from a Rainbow Pipe Line Company Ltd. facility near Little Buffalo.
The reports about the Rainbow Pipe Line spills are not opinions; they are informed, knowledge-based facts. Rainbow is not the only pipeline company to have experienced spills. The source of the July 2010 crude oil spill near Kalamazoo, Michigan, was an Enbridge pipeline. That too is an informed, knowledge-based fact.
Such facts notwithstanding, a concern about a possible future spill from the proposed pipeline in this region can only be a conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated by positive knowledge or proof.
How does one submit positive proof of a crude oil spill into the Skeena River to the public hearings before such a spill has occurred?
Supporters of the project will have a much easier time to present arguments substantiated by positive knowledge and proof to the National Energy Board hearings.
Supporters may refer to the Prime Minister’s year-end interview with CTV where he assured Lisa LaFlamme that he was “very serious about selling our oil off this continent,” leaving no doubt about his commitment to sell oil from Alberta’s bitumen deposits to China.
What is a citizen to do in a situation of this kind? The National Energy Board will be holding hearings, but to what end? All indications are that the Prime Minister’s mind is made up: Alberta crude will be sold to China.
Can the National Energy Board overrule the Prime Minister? Those who set out to challenge the Prime Minister’s powers have had little success.
The government was compelled to abandon plans for a national securities regulator after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the matter to be within provincial constitutional powers.
But, in other controversial and contested issues where the Prime Minister’s mind was made up, those who did not share the Prime Minister’s “opinion” had little success.
Andre Carrel is a retired public sector administrator living in Terrace, BC.
For those interested in the National Energy Board’s Northern Gateway Pipeline public hearings, the Terrace session takes place at the Sportsplex tomorrow (January 12). The session begins at 1 p.m.