Two years ago, the B.C. government put a price on environmental risk, saying that the $6.7-billion it can expect to earn from the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is too little.
A “fair share” of the economic benefits was among the five conditions Premier Christy Clark said would need to be met before her province approves new heavy oil pipelines.
With the federal government expected to approve the Enbridge project in the next few weeks, Ms. Clark is upbeat about the progress that has been made toward meeting her terms.
And there has been headway – in the sense that Alberta, Ottawa and industry are not snickering at Ms. Clark’s demands any more.
Yet not a single one of the five conditions has been met.
Nor is there much prospect that B.C. will ever agree that the Northern Gateway proposal has cleared the bar.
Last week, Ottawa announced new environmental regulations for prevention and cleanup of oil spills, which the Premier sees as a direct response to her demands.
She said the rest of Canada is finally starting to grasp British Columbia’s “unique” environmental concerns about serving as a conduit for Alberta oil.
But she was vague when asked if the changes satisfy her terms.
Here is an unofficial progress report on the five conditions.
1. Joint Review Panel approval
The panel established by the federal and provincial environment ministries has recommended approval of the environmental certificate for Northern Gateway, with more than 200 conditions. The final step is federal cabinet approval, expected by mid-June. At that point, B.C. can say one condition has been met.
2. Marine protection
B.C. bureaucrats are meeting with federal transport officials to work out whether changes outlined last week make Canada a “world leader” in marine spill prevention, preparedness and response. Ms. Clark said the plan to strengthen oil spill compensation funds is a big step, but cuts to Coast Guard services in B.C. remain a sore spot, and the proposal to use chemical dispersants in the event of a marine spill will be contentious.
3. On-land protection and spill prevention
B.C. wants world-leading standards for an oil spill on land. Ottawa’s new regulations will increase the number of oil and gas pipeline inspections by 50 per cent and require all major pipeline companies to keep $1-billion on hand to deal with potential oil spills. But the province went out of its way to attack Enbridge over its inadequate response to a pipeline rupture four years ago in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Northern Gateway would cross 669 fish-bearing rivers in B.C. – will a few more annual inspections safeguard against another incident like the one in the Kalamazoo?
4. Aboriginal engagement, participation and accommodation
Ottawa is expected to respond any day now to a report issued in December by special envoy Doug Eyford on how to bring the aboriginal community onside for resource development. First Nations leaders received the report warmly, but even full implementation might not alter the almost unanimous opposition to Northern Gateway. A string of court challenges awaits the project in the Federal Court of Appeal. B.C. is unlikely to check off this box until those cases are concluded.
5. Improved fiscal benefits to British Columbia
Northern Gateway is expected to add $81-billion to government coffers, and B.C. is currently in line for an 8-per-cent share. But Ms. Clark says her province should get a share that is commensurate with the risks it would bear – a majority stake. Alberta is adamant that it would not share its royalties, and so far, no one else has opened up their chequebook.
Ms. Clark would like to be able to say that her five conditions have generated a serious response, but she can afford to be indifferent to the fate of Northern Gateway. Pushing this project through would only threaten the Premier’s ambitions to develop B.C.’s natural gas reserves into a liquefied natural gas industry. First Nations leaders have already served notice that their co-operation on LNG is a fragile truce. It would be better for Ms. Clark if the Enbridge proposal collapses before it is tested against her five conditions.