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Oil pipeline would bring boom for B.C.


Oil pipeline would bring boom for B.C.

Opinion: Necessity of fossil fuel supply — and economic benefits — outweighs fears raised by environmental protesters

Written by: Colin Kinsley, The Vancouver Sun, October 22 2012

I’ve always felt strongly that the merits of a project are best understood by looking past the headlines. It’s a position I’ve come to rely on in my many years working with B.C. communities and businesses.

As opponents of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline took part in their much-hyped demonstration on the lawn of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria on Monday, I urge those watching the coverage to take a step back and assess the pipeline proposal in a broader context than simply a noisy sit-in designed to co-opt the media.

In 2010, according to the International Energy Agency, 81 per cent of the world’s primary energy consumption came from fossil fuels. And the vast majority of our transportation runs on fossil fuels, whether it’s moving people or goods locally or around the world.

Some activists may advocate simply cutting off the fossil fuel supply overnight (no Northern Gateway project, no Kinder Morgan expansion, no tankers, no Keystone XL, no oilsands, no fracking); I say such prescriptions would only result in extreme human hardship given the lack of alternatives.

The fact is we need oil, and we’ll continue to need it for a long time into the future.

One hopes we’ll be able to develop technologies that will allow us to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels over time.

In the meantime, the oil has to be moved — safely and securely without a doubt — from where it has been lying for millions of years to where the market demands it. For that, there are only a limited number of alternatives: bitumen can be run through a pipeline, or shipped on rail cars, or loaded onto tanker trucks.

But compared to other modes of transport, pipelines have proven to be the safest means of transporting fuels and have the least number of accidental releases.

Instead of arguing for the use of expensive and inefficient electric vehicles or the use of biofuel that competes with our food-production, the objective from an environmental perspective would far better be to make sure oil is produced and transported in the most environmentally sustainable way currently possible.

I enter this discussion because I’m proud of the oil and gas sector, a sector that’s creating hundreds of jobs in communities like mine while also ensuring the environment is well protected.

It’s unfortunate that the environmental movement simply discounts the benefits of the oilsands and pipelines to British Columbia and the country as a whole while misinforming the public about the risks.

We should remember that this country has some of the toughest environmental laws in the world and that every square metre of disturbed land in the oilsands will be reclaimed to a boreal forest again in future — and in fact many thousands of hectares already have.

It’s estimated that the oilsands will contribute some $1.7 trillion to the Canadian economy over the next 25 years, helping to fund health care, education and social programs from coast to coast.

Unsurprisingly, the environmental movement never mentions the fact that Northern Gateway will be the largest investment of private capital in B.C. history and will bring huge economic benefits to this province, including long-term jobs, community development and projected tax revenues of $1.2 billion.

As for the Northern Gateway right-of-way being the cause of terrible environmental loss in pristine areas, as a former mayor of Prince George, I can state clearly that B.C.’s north and the northwest coast regions have a long history of industrial development including forestry, mining, electrical transmission and even other pipeline developments.

In fact, much development has occurred through history in the area proposed for the Northern Gateway, which will follow a route designed to minimize impacts on the area by taking advantage of already disturbed tracts of land. These already-disturbed tracts include forest service roads, harvested areas, electrical transmission routes and vehicle access routes.

In truth, very few segments of the proposed pipeline will require new rights-of-way through undisturbed forest.

And the Douglas Channel is no stranger to industrial marine traffic — including tankers carrying petrochemicals — it has a decades-long history as a safe, deepwater entrance to a port providing strategic advantages for accessing Asian markets.

Instead of marching on the Legislature in the hope of mass arrest, I say opponents ought to work to improve industry’s environmental performance. They ought to be more realistic in understanding that the world will continue to need oil for the foreseeable future, that simply banning pipelines won’t help improve our environment, and that working together with communities like mine, rather than engaging in confrontation, is the only way we can move this province toward a brighter future for all British Columbians.

Colin Kinsley is the former mayor of Prince George and current Chair of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Alliance, a grassroots coalition in support of the regulatory review process assessing Northern Gateway.

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