A joint British Columbia-Alberta government working group focused on getting Western Canadian oil and natural gas to Asian markets says progress on issues such as spill prevention, First Nations engagement and sharing the economic benefits will come this year or early next, according to a report prepared for Premiers Christy Clark and Alison Redford.
The document – marked as “strictly confidential” but released to reporters in B.C. and Alberta on Monday – speaks mostly in broad generalities about the work to date and provides little in the way of specific plans. But it does lay out some timelines for progress, guiding principles, plans for creating a “world-class” marine and terrestrial spill regime, and notes the two provinces need to enter into negotiations with Ottawa regarding the “financing” for the infrastructure improvements to highways, ports and airports needed to gain access to Asia-Pacific markets.
The report talks about developing “broad social acceptance” of projects by being more responsive to those with environmental concerns, using tools such as social media and addressing “misinformation” about natural resource sector growth. It reiterates that Alberta’s oil and gas royalties are not on the table for negotiation when it comes to getting economic benefits to British Columbians, but the B.C. government has the right to negotiate with industry.
“Ultimately, the work being done today will help us to fulfill our shared commitment to create jobs, stimulate long-term growth and to position Canada as a true energy superpower,” said the December report.
Public concern in B.C. over the safety and environmental risks of oil-sands pipelines – particularly spills on land or off the West Coast – prompted Ms. Clark in 2012 to lay out five conditions related to the environment, First Nations consultation and financial benefits in order to support oil-pipeline development in the province.
In November, 2013, Ms. Clark and Alberta’s Ms. Redford said their two provinces had reached a framework for an agreement to satisfy B.C.’s demands, and had established a joint working group to work out the details. In the December report from public servants in both provinces, the document said the benefits of the oil and gas industry extends to all Canadians but B.C. faces “risks” that Alberta does not.
Of particular concern to B.C. residents is the proposed 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline. If built, the Enbridge Inc. pipeline would bring oil-sands bitumen to Kitimat, B.C., from Bruderheim, Alta. In December, an independent body mandated by the federal Environment Minister and the National Energy Board – the joint review panel – gave a conditional green light to the project. That recommendation will inform a federal cabinet decision to come in the first half of this year as to whether to give final approval to the project.
However, it was only last May that the B.C. government formally rejected the proposed 525,000-barrel-a-day pipeline, telling the federal panel conducting hearings on the project that the company has failed to adequately explain how to deal with a major heavy oil spill on land or in coastal waters.