Battle lines drawn over Northern Gateway

Battle lines are being drawn over the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would see Alberta oil shipped to Kitimat.

After years of relative quiet,  B.C. seems set to once again become the front line in the battle between high-profile environmental campaigners and economic development proponents.

The battle lines are being drawn over the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would see Alberta oil shipped to Kitimat and then taken by tanker to Asian customers. It would offer another outlet for Alberta oil producers, who are already seething over delays to the Keystone pipeline which would take additional oil to the U.S.

That particular project has gotten caught up in U.S. presidential politics, and has been put on hold by President Barack Obama, likely until after this November’s election.

While most people in this part of B.C. are unfamiliar with the territory the Northern Gateway pipeline will traverse, they will be increasingly drawn into this battle, and their opinions will be crucial to the eventual outcome.

It’s also worth noting that if the pipeline isn’t built, it is quite likely that more oil will be shipped via existing pipelines to oil terminals in Burnaby and Port Moody.

Premier Christy Clark, who has been busy trying to push a jobs agenda, has been noticeably silent on this pipeline. She is waiting to watch how public opinion swings, because it will be crucial to her re-election efforts. She has taken a page from the Obama playbook.

Fort Langley-Aldergrove MLA Rich Coleman, the province’s energy minister, has also been quiet on whether the pipeline should go ahead.

At the moment, the matter of whether the pipeline should be built is in the hands of a Joint Review Panel of the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. It begins a series of hearings into the proposal this week.

More than 4,000 people have signed up to speak and make presentations on the proposal — a huge number for any project. This points out the level of interest there is in the pipeline project.

First Nations groups in northern B.C. have been almost unanimously opposed to the pipeline, and their opinion counts for a great deal. For starters, they live in the area that the pipeline will traverse, if indeed it is ever built. In addition, they have to be consulted over projects in their traditional territories.

There has been tepid support from some residents of the area, but thus far there has been little in the way of a large show of support.

It seems to me that this pipeline offers little in the way of long-term economic benefit to B.C. It is of benefit to Alberta and to the country as a whole, as this will provide additional markets for a most valuable product — one that will only become more valuable as time goes on.

However, if a new pipeline to B.C. is the best way to move the oil to market, there needs to be ironclad environmental guarantees and far more money on the table for both First Nations in the area and for the province as a whole.

B.C. gets only a small amount of benefit from this project. The biggest impact will be in creating construction jobs, and then a few people will be hired to maintain and monitor the pipeline. There will also be a few jobs at the marine terminal.

It’s time for us to pay more attention to this proposal.

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