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The Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitimat, B.C., in this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 photo.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
The Douglas Channel at dusk in Kitimat, B.C., in this Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012 photo.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck (Darryl Dyck/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

Don’t complain about more research on Northern Gateway Add to ...

The Green Party is wrong to object to federal government research into the winds, waves, currents and depths on the shipping route eastward from the end of the Northern Gateway Pipeline that is proposed by Enbridge Inc. Surely it is better to know more than to know less.

Andrew Weaver, a Green MLA in British Columbia who is a well-known scientist, and Elizabeth May, the federal Green Leader, complain that the federal government is paying for research that Enbridge Inc. should be doing.

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The waters and weather in the Douglas Channel and the Hecate Strait, off the coast of British Columbia, are undoubtedly difficult. The consequences of any spill of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands – sometimes called “dilbit” – as distinct from conventional crude, need to be better understood. It is quite possible that the damage would be irreparable.

Enbridge presented its research and its conclusions about the safety of the oil tankers that would travel from the end of the pipeline, to the joint review panel of the National Energy Board assessing the project. The panel has heard final arguments and is expected to report its findings to the government in December.

Regulatory board hearings such as the one on the Gateway pipeline are inevitably to some degree adversarial. Enbridge, needless to say, has an economic interest in the outcome. In the nature of things, the company is not a neutral party.

The “complementary measures project” commissioned by the government, as part of a wide-ranging tanker-safety project, could indeed complement the evidence presented to the panel by Enbridge and the other parties that took part in the hearing.

Mr. Weaver and Ms. May were quite right to point out a passage in a submission to the Treasury Board, saying, “Behaviour models specific to dilbit spills do not exist, and existing commercial models for conventional oil do not allow parameter-specific modifications.” That is all the more reason for research that can create just such models.

The scientists working on this project should not be assumed to be biased, merely because the federal government has hired them.

Whether or not the Northern Gateway pipeline is built, the export of Canadian oil and gas overseas has very important potential for the Canadian economy. Its risks, as well as its rewards, should be understood.

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