Editorial: Pipeline project faces a rocky road

Premier Christy Clark might have reached her destination on the “road to yes,” but Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project must still wend its way across a vast landscape of “no.” It will be a rocky, raucous journey.

Clark gave the B.C. government’s blessing to the project Wednesday after the province granted environmental approval to the pipeline expansion. The premier said all five conditions her government placed on the project had been met. That includes a deal that will see Kinder Morgan provide up to $1 billion over the next 20 years that would go toward a B.C. Clean Communities Program.

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Kinder Morgan plans to twin its existing pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, which would triple its capacity. About five tankers a month are loaded with petroleum at the company’s Westridge Marine Terminal; the expanded pipeline would increase that traffic to 34 a month.

The federal government gave its approval to the $6.8-billion project late last year after the National Energy Board recommended it go ahead if 157 conditions are met. B.C.’s approval comes with 37 more conditions, including consultation with aboriginal groups, the development of a species-at-risk plan, and another plan to monitor and mitigate the impact of the project on grizzly bears.

Since 2012, Clark has insisted that B.C. get a “fair share” of revenues from heavy-oil pipelines crossing the province, since B.C. is most at risk if something goes wrong. Kinder Morgan has agreed to pay the province a share of its revenues from the pipeline, from $25 million to $50 million a year, based on volume.

While that might be a deal-clincher for Clark, it has never been about the money for those who fiercely oppose the project. For environmentalists, First Nations, affected communities and others who are against the project, there has never been a dollar amount that would make them change their minds. They believe, with justification, that you cannot put a price tag on the coastal environment.

One of Clark’s conditions was “world-class” oil-spill response capacity, and she says the federal government’s $1.5-billion Ocean Protection Plan meets that condition.

That term “world-class” gets tossed around a lot. It shows up in a July 2016 Smithsonian magazine article by Andrew Nikiforuk entitled Why We Pretend to Clean Up Oil Spills.

“Part of the illusion has been created by ineffective technologies adopted and billed by industry as ‘world-class,’ ” writes Nikiforuk. “Ever since the 1970s, the oil and gas industry has trotted out four basic ways to deal with ocean spills: booms to contain the oil; skimmers to remove the oil; fire to burn the oil; and chemical dispersants, such as Corexit, to break the oil into smaller pieces. For small spills, these technologies can sometimes make a difference, but only in sheltered waters. None has ever been effective in containing large spills.”

Those opposed to the Kinder Morgan project are not likely to be comforted by promises of what will be done if a spill occurs. First Nations and other opponents to the project — and there are many — promise to launch legal challenges and to engage in protests.

Clark and NDP Leader John Horgan are already talking election talk in relation to Trans Mountain, and this will indeed be a major issue in the provincial election. Elections might not be a time to discuss major issues, though, so perhaps both sides in this battle should start explaining their positions clearly as soon as possible. There has been too much talking over each other.

Gear up for a year of discontent, because this is far from over.

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