Executives at Enbridge Inc. hope to rouse B.C. public opinion on the Northern Gateway pipeline with a new campaign that emphasizes environmental preservation over the economic benefits.
A series of TV advertisements featuring images of jumping fish, flowing rivers, lush West Coast forests and one of its British Columbia-raised executives will hit the province's airwaves next week.
The proposed $6.5-billion pipeline project would move 525,000 barrels a day of crude from Alberta to the coast. The western terminus of the project would be Kitimat, B.C., where the oil would be loaded on to tankers to sail through the Douglas Channel. Supporters of the project say Northern Gateway would help Canadian oil producers diversify their markets beyond the United States.
But the company faces a difficult road to construct and operate the proposed pipeline. Many First Nations and a well-organized cadre environmental organizations are staunchly opposed to the project, and polls have suggested that British Columbians are more likely than other Canadians to be opposed to pipelines and tankers that would move bitumen to Asian markets.
Enbridge's new ad campaign underscores the need for it to reverse that negative sentiment. Without a stronger level of public support, Northern Gateway is less likely to gain regulatory approval.
Opponents of the pipeline began criticizing the marketing campaign on Tuesday, even before it was fully launched, arguing the ads promote a contrived message and noting the name of the pipeline's lead proponent – Enbridge – is so tarnished it isn't even mentioned in the TV spots.
"It really is interesting that they have decided that Enbridge is not saleable in British Columbia," said Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of First Nations.
"Enbridge will say we're going to build a better pipeline than we've ever built before. But that doesn't give us any comfort out on the coast, because there are still tanker accidents," he said.
However, the Enbridge ads emphasize expanded marine safety measures for the project and the company's commitment to meeting the five conditions for the pipeline – which include environmental requirements and some type of revenue-sharing scheme – as laid out by B.C.'s Liberal government.
The ad campaign has already begun on radio and in print. The campaign will, to a certain extent, extend into Alberta and Ontario, although the company is still deciding whether to run the TV spots outside of B.C. The budget for the newest push is not being released, but even before its launch, Enbridge had spent $5-million on Northern Gateway ads.
The face of this fall's campaign is Janet Holder, the Prince George-born-and-raised executive who leads the Northern Gateway project. Ms. Holder has moved back to her hometown to be closer to the action. Since a federally-appointed joint review panel wrapped up its hearings on the project in June, she has been touring B.C. to meet with communities interested in the project, whether they're directly affected or not.
As for the ads, Ms. Holder said there's no deliberate attempt to avoid the name Enbridge. The name Northern Gateway is more accurate, she said, as it reflects the consortium involved in the project, which includes oil sands funding partners and First Nations that have equity in the project. She said the purpose of the ads is to make sure British Columbians – who tend to be less familiar with the oil industry than Albertans – join in the discussion about the project.
"Opposition to anything has often resulted in great outcomes," Ms. Holder said in an interview Tuesday.
"We drive better cars today because of the environmental movement … We have better furnaces in our houses because of environmentalists wanting to minimize the use of energy," she said. "We all have a bit of an environmentalist in us. And the more we engage with people to understand their concerns, the better the outcomes are."
The federal review panel is vetting the Northern Gateway application and is scheduled to issue a decision by the end of this year. But the debate is far from over. The federal cabinet will respond to the decision from the review panel next summer.