There is a strong case to be made that Adrian Dix, the British Columbia NDP Leader, forfeited his wide lead in the provincial election last spring thanks to his outright rejection of the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan Inc.’s Trans Mountain pipeline. The moral of the story is not that the voters of B.C. are overwhelmingly in favour of the project, but rather that they wanted to remain open-minded. Quite rightly, they did not want to prejudge.
Kinder Morgan has now filed its application, and it is up to the National Energy Board to balance economic opportunity with serious environmental concerns.
With oil and gas production in Western Canada rapidly expanding, and with this country’s long-time customer, the United States, approaching something like energy self-sufficiency, a large and growing volume of energy must be exported overseas. There is nowhere else for these petroleum products to go. At the same time, the highest environmental standards must be applied.
The expanded Trans Mountain pipeline would use an existing route, in contrast to the more controversial Northern Gateway project in northern in B.C., but it would terminate in the highly populated Lower Mainland, at Burnaby. The number of tankers passing through Burrard Inlet to the Pacific would rise from about five a month to about one a day.
The first principle to be respected? Polluter pays. Earlier this month, the Tanker Safety Expert Panel submitted its report to the federal government on oil-spill response. The panel endorses the polluter-pay principle; it says that the maximum present charge to the polluter, a mere $161-million, should be abolished, and Canadian taxpayers should not be on the hook at all. Lisa Raitt, the Minister of Transport, received the report favourably, and so did Joe Oliver, the Minister of Natural Resources.
The NEB is accountable to Parliament through the minister of natural resources. On the Northern Gateway project, Mr. Oliver sometimes sounded more like an advocate than a regulator. It would be wise if ministers in the Harper government were to keep quiet. The Canadian government regulates pipelines; it doesn’t build them. There must be an independent review, and the appearance of independence, too.
On the whole, the transport of energy by pipeline is better than by railway or trucks, but the NEB has the duty to balance and, if possible, reconcile Canada’s oil economy with Canada’s environment. Memo to Ottawa: Let it do its job.