Op-Ed: Economic benefits are debated as Enbridge hearings resume

Posted Sep 6, 2012 by Grace C. Visconti
The Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings resumed on Tuesday, September 4th as Calgary-based Enbridge and the Alberta Government prepare to convince Canadians that the 6 billion dollar pipeline is important to Canada’s economy.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway hearings resumed on Tuesday, September 4th as Calgary-based Enbridge and the Alberta Government prepare to convince Canadians that the 6 billion dollar pipeline is important to Canada economically despite the risk of environmental catastrophes. The 1,170 dual lines will cross sensitive ecosystem zones, subject to mudslides and avalanches. Monitoring these pipelines will be a huge challenge especially considering the number of leaks that have already occurred in Alberta and the US.
A three-member joint review panel mandated by the federal government will be part of the filtering process before the final decision. Ongoing presentations will be made to sway the decision-making in favor of or in opposition to installing the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. According to the pro side, a “strong Alberta” from an economic perspective means that Canada will be strong as well. However, the word “strong” has various meanings and interpretations to the oil industry, Government of Alberta, Government of Canada, environmentalists, and First Nations. Most of the opinions are unwavering.
Oilsands crude, one of the most toxic substances to transport, will be shipped to terminals at Kitimat, B.C. and loaded on supertankers enroute to China. This conflict has instigated a sparing match between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and B.C. Premier Christy Clark over profits and the cost of potential environmental accidents.
At the Edmonton hearings, design and safety of the pipeline, the toll and tariff structure along with the economic impact will be discussed while the more controversial aspects of this issue such as prevention of accidents and spills, avoiding contamination on the water, in particular the Fraser, Skeena, and Kitimat rivers, will be presented at the B.C. hearings in Prince Rupert.
Enbridge’s safety track record will be challenged considering the huge oil spill in Michigan, where 20,000 barrels of oil contaminated 50 kilometers of waterways, wetlands, and the Kalamazoo River. Inadequate staffing was one of the major criticisms of this spill along with a poor response time. The Northern Gateway pipeline will be even more difficult to monitor when it extends from Alberta through the rugged B.C. landscape to the coastline.
Although Prime Minister Harper insists the decision will be based on science not politics, this is questionable considering the Chinese state controlled giant China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) has offered to buy Nexen. This deal would be the “largest-ever overseas takeover by a Chinese company” as stated in this CBC article, China’s Nexen offer hard for Ottawa to refuse. Perhaps there is a close connection between the urgent push for Bill C38, the Nexen takeover, and the Northern Gateway pipeline.
The Harper government now has approximately 75 days to make a decision that will affect Alberta and Canada for years to come, especially since China’s thirst for oil and enviable wealth may have other repercussions, namely the complete ownership of Northern Alberta which has 80% of Alberta’s water. No wonder why the Government of Canada rammed Bill C38 through the legislature. Alberta and Canada may be left with not much in the end due to the buyout plan that may start with Nexen and continue with other companies. Is money worth the sell off of this abundant province rich with natural resources and considered one of the economic engines of Canada? What country will control Canada’s “economic engine” if it gets bought out by a foreign state controlled company?
If China gains control of the oilsands by buying up numerous companies, the “net benefit to Canada” as stated in this Financial Post article Gloves off in CNOOC-Nexen ‘net benefit’ debate, must be examined thoroughly by the federal government. Although foreigners already control two-thirds of the oilsands based on share ownership estimated by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, China will be a major contender in the future and that may change the number of foreign players down to a select few. As the almighty dollar remains at the core of our value system, we may wake up one day in the future wondering what happened to two of Canada’s vibrant pristine provinces – Alberta and British Columbia.
China's Nexen buy is Canada's elephant in the oil patch
Nexen deal sheds light on China's oilsands strategy
Gloves off in CNOOC-Nexen ‘net benefit’ debate