The Quebec government contends the economic impact of reversing the flow of Enbridge’s 9B oil pipeline cannot be overlooked as it moves to support the controversial project.
Quebec Minister of the Environment Yves-François Blanchet said a final decision won’t be made until after a National Assembly committee completes its hearings, but indicated he was leaning in favour of the project.
“I hope the positive aspects of this project can outweigh the negative ones, because there are 4,000 jobs related to this,” Mr. Blanchet said.
“If this wasn’t an economic issue, we wouldn’t even be discussing it.”
In the wake of serious concerns over a potential oil spill, Enbridge Pipeline Inc. has promised the enforcement of tough safety measures, transparency and open dialogue in making its case in Quebec for reversing the flow of Alberta crude on the pipeline to eastern markets.
During committee hearings on Tuesday, company officials argued it was wrong to presume that the transportation of heavy crude would cause premature erosion of the pipeline.
Enbridge officials also argued that it was “erroneous” to conclude that Alberta crude from the oil sands presented a greater threat to the environment than lighter crude.
The company explained in detail the measures undertaken to ensure the safe transportation of Alberta crude to Quebec refineries.
The arguments were aimed at appeasing the public and the committee members’ apprehensions over the potential for an environmental disaster similar to the one that occurred in 2010 in Michigan when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured at the Marshall pump station, spilling an estimated one million (U.S.) gallons of oil into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River.
“This incident made us into a better company,” Eric Prud’Homme, Enbridge manager of public affairs in Eastern Canada told the committee.
“We are no longer in 2010 … We’ve have learned the lessons from the Marshall incident.”
The Parti Québécois government appeared impressed with the reassurances offered by the company.
Mr. Blanchet said that while safety remained a priority, the government could not overlook the need to protect the jobs in the province that are directly linked to the petroleum industry.
Similar arguments were made by Enbridge in a presentation aimed at convincing Quebeckers of the economic benefits related to pipeline that the company argued will ensure the survival of the province’s two remaining oil refineries.
The Liberal opposition proposed that a permanent watchdog committee be set up to ensure that all safety precautions were taken by the company.
However, when committee members requested that Enbridge table all of its recent inspection reports, company officials appeared reluctant to comply.
According to Québec Solidaire MNA Amir Khadir, this was proof that the company could not be trusted as he criticized the Environment Minister’s “complacency” toward Enbridge.
“How can Quebeckers have confidence in their Minister of the Environment when he repeats the same economic arguments used by the company to justify the need to proceed with this project,” asked Mr. Khadir.
The committee is expected to table a report soon after hearings conclude next week.
Meanwhile, the National Energy Board, which held public hearings on the project this fall, was expected to release its decision early next year.