Counterpoint: Proposed pipeline a barrier or a benefit?
Opinion: Challenged to get a ‘Yes’ in the West
By Gerry Martin, Special to The Vancouver Sun July 3, 2013
Bernie Gairdner works in Fort Nelson First Nation as a consultant with the oil and gas industry. Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline has become a litmus test for B.C.’s new relationship with First Nations communities.
In a province so blessed with a skilled, well-educated workforce, a strong history of sustainable enterprise, and abundant energy resources, how do you get to “Yes” on questions of resource development projects in B.C.?
It’s a key challenge many of us are working on. And while the solution isn’t simple, at least part of the answer seems to be in starting some conversations about how we want our economy and our communities to look.
By now, many political analysts have said the recent B.C. election gave Premier Christy Clark a clear mandate for economic growth and the jobs and stronger communities that come with it. And yet, moving forward with large projects in B.C. continues to look daunting to companies that have to justify their investments to ever-watchful shareholders.
Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project is a perfect example. From increased construction and maintenance jobs, to added financial and technical services, to increased consumer spending, the benefits of building a pipeline to the West Coast and shipping our energy products to Asian markets are clear.
Who will gain? Most everyone gains, from the companies involved, to their shareholders and pension funds, to local and provincial governments in B.C., Alberta and across the entire country. Through capacity-building and access to economic opportunities, First Nations will benefit. In fact, if you accept that prosperity has to be created before it can be shared, then the potential economic and social benefits of a project like this are self-evident.
So, is there a problem? Yes. In a word, the problem is risk. Some British Columbians value their landscape so much that they can’t imagine allowing a pipeline to be built across it. But as more people learn of the 60 years of safe pipelining experience from Alberta to the B.C. coast, that objection is blunted.
But it doesn’t disappear. To make matters worse, many have expressed genuine concern over the recent and notable exception to Enbridge’s safety record — the pipeline breech at Marshall, Michigan, where in 2010 an estimated 843,444 gallons leaked, some of which reached the Kalamazoo River.
Thinking that a reasonable way to advance my own understanding of the project and the company would be to participate in discussions with local residents who were most affected, I visited the spill site with an Enbridge-sponsored delegation of British Columbians recently. We met with officials from the local health authority, municipal administrators, wildlife experts, company officials and just plain folks.
I want to be very clear — nobody should minimize the very serious situation that occurred in Marshall when the pipeline breeched.
But I can tell you with confidence that we heard from agencies, academics and local onlookers. And in every case, we were told the company performed in an exemplary way in the spill’s aftermath, exceeded expectations and worked tirelessly with others as it brought the river back to health.
Still, while many of us were impressed with the commitment shown by Enbridge in addressing the spill head-on, the fact is we have an opportunity to push even harder so that all pipelines including Northern Gateway are built to the highest environmental and safety standards imaginable.
In other words, while Enbridge performed well in reacting to the Michigan situation, we want to prevent a similar spill from occurring in B.C. And why not teach others around the world about building and operating pipelines safely? We have the knowledge, technology and ability to set a world-class standard for pipeline operation and spill prevention.
Will we satisfy the segment of the population that opposes development by saying that no risk is ever acceptable? Clearly we won’t. But we certainly should talk about these projects with a view to real exchanges of information.
To put it in some perspective, I’m a longtime Terrace resident and businessman and, like many of my neighbours, I genuinely love our beautiful outdoor spaces in this part of the world. But I also recognize that society — ours as well as others around the world — still requires oil to power so much of its industry, its health care, its transportation and indeed its very way of life. In fact, a great deal of our standard of living is derived from revenues from the oil and gas industry.
So there’s a need for some honest, open discussion. Projects such as Northern Gateway are so important to communities, to provinces, to the nation and to the government programs we all rely on. I hope people continue engaging in the discussion of projects like Northern Gateway, and continue urging it be built and operated right. Because that’s how we’ll get to “Yes.”
Terrace resident Gerry Martin has been chairman of the B.C. Progress Board, a member of the Premier’s Technology Council, a governor and chairman of the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and a director of the University of Northern BC Foundation. Most recently he’s served as a member of the B.C. Agenda for Shared Prosperity, a joint initiative of the B.C. Business Council and the B.C. Chamber of Commerce.