At a press conference in British Columbia (BC) Canada's Natural Resources Minister John Oliver and Transport Minister Denis Lebel announced
that the government will expand its National Aerial Surveillance Program and appoint an expert panel to advise the government on best practices for tanker safety. The program also includes increased inspection of tanker, not only Canadian but also foreign vessels.
"While our current tanker safety system has served us well for many years, it is essential that we strengthen it to meet future needs, as the transportation of Canadian exports is expected to grow and create many high-quality jobs in Canada," Lebel said in a statement.
"As a trading nation, Canada depends on marine shipping for economic growth, jobs and long-term prosperity. There will be no pipeline development without rigorous environmental protection measures and the tanker safety initiatives we are announcing today are an important aspect of our plan for Responsible Resource Development."
Today the federal government is to announce a policy "related to further enhancing engagement with Aboriginal peoples in the development of energy infrastructure."
Canada's federal and Alberta government have made oilsands development a top priority. The argument is that the oilsands production would be beneficial to Canada and provide enough tax dollars, an estimate $42 billion, to fund healthcare or defense. Take your pick. To support the development of the oilsands, bringing the product to market is essential. Currently approximately 450,000 barrels a day of Alberta crude are exported to the US.
The plan to expand oilsands requires two pipelines currently in the review process, the Keystone XL in the US requires a presidential permit and the Northern Gateway Pipeline, which is currently rejected by the people of BC and its government.
BC's Premier Christy Clark has listed five requirements prior to giving the go ahead for the pipeline. These included completion of the environmental review process, First Nations accommodation, a greater share of the revenues generated from the project and improved marine and land spill response. The Harper government's announcement has moved toward fulfilling one of those requirements, but is it enough?
Enbridge, the company responsible for building the pipeline from Alberta to Kitimat, BC over the past year has come under fire from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), particularly over a spill in Michigan. Naturally oil spills are a major concern, not only in the coastal waters but also along the path of the pipeline, which crosses pristine wilderness and across land owned by First Nations.
Part of yesterday's announcement can also be seen as an effort by the federal government to convince American businessmen and lawmakers that Canada is environmentally responsible. While the project may become more attractive to the people of BC, especially in view of a refinery in the offing at Kitimat that would add value to the bitumen, it is not likely to be tackled by Christy Clark ahead of a difficult election. She has enough to handle already.
The Tsleil-Waututh Nation
says it is not convinced that the new surveillance policy is adequate to protect the region from an oil spill, which it says is inevitable to occur if the pipeline is approved. The project would bring more than 400 tankers annually through the through Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea.
"Ultimately the best way to safeguard Canada's seas and skies is to say no to new pipelines," says Carleen Thomas, elected Councillor, Tsleil-Waututh Nation. "It's time for the Harper government to stop talking about pipelines to the West Coast like they are inevitable and start listening to what the people of B.C. are saying. British Columbians do not want new pipelines and increased tanker traffic on our coast."
It is clear that the Harper government is not convincing environmental groups or First Nations that its so called increased tanker safety and surveillance is adequate to reduce the risks of oil spills along the pristine BC coast, nor limiting the spills along the route of the pipeline. The question now becomes, whether or not economic benefits can outweigh environmental concerns.
This was the same argument the Alberta and federal government used in the US, but in the end it boils down to climate change and environmental concerns. There will be a major public relations push both in BC and the US to advance the two pipelines. It is unlikely to convince the most adamant opponents.
Premier Alison Redford is back in New York this week, continuing to push the Keystone XL pipeline. She is not likely to travel to Vancouver or Victoria to sell Northern Gateway.