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Monique Keiran: Biggest pipeline battles are still ahead

Enbridge first proposed Kitimat as the West Coast terminus of its Northern Gateway pipeline a decade ago. The company has been defending the choice ever since. For much of the ensuing time, attention has focused tightly on that project.

Enbridge first proposed Kitimat as the West Coast terminus of its Northern Gateway pipeline a decade ago. The company has been defending the choice ever since.

For much of the ensuing time, attention has focused tightly on that project. 

Oh, sure, the deliberations and demonstrations about the Keystone XL pipeline project in the U.S. were noted, but, until recently, B.C. has concentrated on the Northern Gateway proposal.

Enbridge’s pointedness of purpose continued despite protests in Victoria and at National Energy Board hearings around the province by First Nations, environmentalists, anti-oilsandists, anti-pipelinists and anti-Enbridgists. It continues despite opposition from Kitimat’s residents. It continues in the face of multiple court challenges against the project.

While we awaited the National Energy Board’s ruling on the project, a possible Plan B emerged. The option involves piping the same diluted bitumen from the same oilsands sources in Alberta to the marine terminal at Prince Rupert.

Enbridge’s choice of Kitimat had been based on cost and risk. To Enbridge, that more-southerly route represents about 300 fewer treacherous, mountainous, high-risk kilometres, compared to a Prince Rupert route. Furthermore, once the diluted bitumen is loaded from the pipeline into tankers at sea’s edge, the company’s responsibility and liability for its safe transport scale back. Shipping companies shoulder much of the responsibility for moving the product through the narrow passages and tricky windings of often-fogbound Douglas Passage.

In contrast, Prince Rupert provides much more direct access to the open Pacific.

However, whether at Rupert or at Kitimat, the north coast is notorious for nasty weather. The region frequently experiences gales, towering waves, and fog and snow that limit visibility for shipping. The weather swirls up the inlets, dropping snow and rain on the mountains.

This leads to avalanches, rockslides, and treacherous high-water spring melts.

Directly or indirectly, weather would affect the safety of both marine and inland transportation of heavy oil along either route.

Both routes also pass through lands under the legal and moral shadow of unresolved land claims. Although some First Nations have signed on, many others along both routes have vowed to keep any Enbridge pipeline from crossing their lands.

But the public’s focus has broadened. It now also encompasses Kinder Morgan.

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would twin Kinder Morgan’s existing heavy-oil pipeline through central B.C. to Burrard Inlet. The company is rerouting the pipeline through Lower Mainland communities and neighbourhoods, and across the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area and Burnaby Mountain Park.

The City of Burnaby, which publicly opposes the project, is appealing the NEB order, working through legal channels and formal, approved processes.

Other pipeline opponents drew on B.C.’s decades-long history of civil protest. Blockades were set up on Burnaby Mountain in November. Kinder Morgan filed lawsuits. The police moved in, cordoned off no-go zones, and arrested anyone not authorized to work within them. The courts subsequently let the protesters go without charges.

When Kinder Morgan’s request for an extended court injunction against protesters was denied last week, and the company pulled its equipment and people off the mountain after obtaining only one of two complete geophysical drill cores, the protesters claimed a victory.

The series of events would have cost Kinder Morgan a great deal — of money, public goodwill and social licence. We’re still waiting to hear how much it cost Burnaby police and the local courts.

Yet the Burnaby Mountain demonstrations, along with last year’s protests against the Northern Gateway proposal, are mere preludes to larger fights.

In 2012, Premier Christy Clark laid out five conditions that must be met before the B.C. government approves heavy-oil pipelines through the province.

Each project must successfully pass environmental review. World-leading marine and inland oil-spill prevention and response systems must be put in place. First Nations people must benefit, and their treaty rights must be respected.

As well, B.C. must enjoy a fair share of each pipeline’s fiscal and economic benefits to offset the pipeline’s risks to the province.

Perhaps Clark should have stipulated a sixth condition: that costs to the province of pipeline-related civil protests — and the associated costs to municipalities, police forces and courts — also be covered.

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