(excerpt from Gwyn Morgan commentary)
The proposed Northern Gateway project has become a flashpoint for the growing debate about the safety of oil pipelines. Yet despite the arguments put forward by its proponents and opponents, many Canadians lack a broader perspective from which to measure the risks and rewards of what would be a vital oil-export conduit.
Enbridge Inc. says the advanced technology for its Northern Gateway pipeline would make it among the safest in the world. At tidewater in Kitimat, B.C., the crude would be transferred into tankers for shipment to Asian markets. Opponents are working to persuade wary British Columbians that a tanker disaster off the B.C. coast would be inevitable. But oil tanker safety has improved dramatically since the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989.
Every day, more than 2,000 tankers transport 60 million barrels to market. While global oil shipments have almost doubled since the 1980s, the number of significant spills has dropped from an average of nine a year in the 1980s to only two a year in 2010-13 , according to the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation.
After a dozen years of planning, consultation and regulatory hearings, Northern Gateway has received conditional approval from the federal government. Opponents are determined to stop it, but Canadians should consider the full financial impact of the project.
Energy exports contributed $64-billion to Canada’s balance of payments in 2013. And the four oil- and gas-producing provinces (Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador) are now the only contributors to the country’s equalization payments. In addition, the industry pays $20-billion a year in taxes and other levies. $55-billion flows to manufacturers and contractors, making the industry a major job creator, employing more than 500,000 people.
Given all this, you would think that the new infrastructure needed to export oil to Asia would garner support. Yet even if Enbridge convinces the National Energy Board that it has satisfied the board’s 209 conditions for final approval, there’s a very real chance that Gateway opponents will stop the pipeline. This would not only be an economic tragedy, but also a signal that Canadian resource companies can’t count on due process under the laws of the land.
(Source: Globe & Mail full commentary)