Speech to the Northern Gateway Environmental Panel

Written by Brian Revel on January 15th, 2013

Brian RevelToday I will be speaking before the Enbridge Northern Gateway Environmental Panel at the Sheraton Wall Hotel.

Below is the text of my 10-minute speech. Not much allowance for breathing but I’ll do my best to get it all in.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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We have all heard the fable of the Goose that Laid the Golden Egg. Welcome to Enbridge Northern Gateway project. Welcome to the conversation that decides whether Canada is going to sacrifice Canada’s pristine coastal rainforest and grasslands of its Interior Plateau to sell its oil to China.

Members of the Board, before I begin my substantive points, I’d like to start by talking about two gorillas that are here sitting in this room.

First, I have serious reservations regarding this consultative process: It feels like these hearings are being treated as a necessary evil to get the public out of the way so the government and business agenda can go ahead regardless. The sterility of these public hearings has alienated the people from the process. And that, I am sorry to say undermines your credibility and weakens your authority.

The second gorilla is the fact that the people of British Columbia, including aboriginal peoples, are sovereign. Irrespective of your decision, opposition to this project is widespread. Battle hardened War in the Woods activists are ready. And the general population, fresh from standing up to our own provincial government that ran roughshod over us by imposing the HST, is not shy to another fight to remind our government that it works for us. Not only are British Columbians sovereign on their territory, there is strong solidarity and cohesion amongst otherwise disparate groups. I would strongly suggest to this panel that it heed the implications behind these facts.

Enough of the gorillas.

The purpose of these public hearings is to take the public interest into account.

Public Interest is defined as what is in the interest of the population.

Lets start with the population’s environmental interest:

The Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of the Environment has said that Canadians need to make more of an effort to minimize Greenhouse Gas emissions. At best, Canadians will only be able to achieve this goal at the margin. What good is it for 30-sum-odd million Canadians to switch to energy-efficient light bulbs and take transit whenever they can when we’re about to sell literally billions of barrels of oil to the billion-strong China over whom we have no jurisdiction to regulate?

How about the population’s economic interest:

The Honourable Jim Flaherty, Minister of Finance and others including Mark Carney at the Bank of Canada and economists at the Conference Board of Canada have all stated that we need to improve our productivity and become more innovative. And herein lies another contradiction: building pipelines and sending unprocessed bitumen overseas is not innovative. It’s just more of the same hewing of wood, drawing of water and, may I add, sucking of oil, that we have always done.

More immediately, why are we even considering selling our oil to a foreign country when we are still importing oil from Venezuela and elsewhere? Why isn’t Canadian oil being sent across Canada first?

What makes equally little sense is that there are people here in Vancouver who unknowingly purchase gas at local gas stations that is refined at Cherry Point, Washington.

Further, this region is facing a similar debate over tankers ferrying jet fuel from Cherry Point. So I ask this to you, the face of the environmental conscience of the entire energy industrial complex this country: What kind of insanity might you be thinking about perpetuating here?

Then there is the population’s political interest:

I know that there are people who share grave reservations about trading with the United States. Regardless of their concerns, I don’t understand why our federal government is so intent on getting this deal done with the Chinese. Yes, the Americans are down right now, their economy is in tatters. But they won’t be down forever.

And given a choice of the two giants I’d rather invest in, I’d rather be feathering my bed with the Americans. For all their faults, American values are much closer to ours. Their government is much more transparent and much more democratic.

Now I’d like to take a quick look at the project and the company that proposes it:

I am very wary of Enbridge. It seems to me that it comes across as a shifty card dealer in a shady casino. Everything it has done thus far has been a public relations exercise aimed to placate the population.

After being called out for pretending the Douglas Channel was a simple fjord, Enbridge says it will have ships with the most modern navigation equipment.

Do the people at Enbridge realize that by just saying that they will have ships with the most modern navigation equipment they insult Canadians’ intelligence?

A couple of cases in point: One year ago the day before yesterday the Costa Concordia ran aground.

Also the day before yesterday, the final chapter in the sinking of BC Ferries’ Queen of the North opened with the trial of Navigation Officer Karl Lilgert. The ship was the pride of the fleet. Sailed by British Columbians every day of their long careers in their home waters, it still managed to run aground.

And most recently, on December 9th, the MV Cape Apricot, bulk carrier smashed through the docks here at the Robert’s Bank Coal Terminal.

Notably, it was the first such accident in 8,300 simple dockings over 42 years. An otherwise ‘excellent’ safety record. 42 years without a ‘single’ incident. Would that be good enough for Enbridge? Methinks that for Enbridge it would be.

Sadly, for the environment, one single navigation error, one tiny hiccup in a very elaborate and complex network of systems and interfaces between temperamental technology and human fallibility and we will have a disaster that will change the course of history on this coast forever. I am not convinced. In 42 years the chance of a marine disaster involving the Northern Gateway project is almost 100%.

Never mind the inevitable questions about environmental impact during the construction, what about the grossly negligent management of their extant pipelines? Between 2000 and 2010 alone, some 132,715 barrels of oil- about 1/2 the capacity of the Exxon Valdez- have leaked from Enbridge lines.

What about the federal government’s commitment to BC?

Meanwhile, just as these environmental challenges mount, the federal government has closed all of its western offices established to deal with oil spills that happen in federal jurisdictions. It’s showing its cards on the water too.

The Coast Guard is closing down its one and only station in Vancouver, reducing it to a summer-student project. In short, the presence and the relevance of the federal government to actually deal with any potential trouble has been cut- leaving British Columbians to fend for themselves- yet again- if something goes wrong.

To close

I sense these hearings are all a charade, no matter how well intentioned you as committee members may be. I fear for your reputations as I believe the Harper government is setting you up to be stooges. Sadly, even if you do recommend that this project not proceed, your recommendations will be swept aside and the project will go ahead as planned. To great detriment.

Our democratic process using public hearings will be discredited not just by the government but worse, by the population.

Our economy will be steered off-track because we will be ploughing our future into oil and pipelines rather than innovation and higher productivity.

Our environment will see significant destruction, one way or another, as there will be localized destruction to the coastal rain forests and high grasslands during its construction.

There will be leaks- inadvertent, accidental, one-in-a-million, but inevitable- leaks that will enter into our pristine watersheds and destroy salmon runs and hence entire eco-systems for generations to come.

We will see a further increase in greenhouse gasses. Even if Canadians stopped driving altogether, lived out the long cold winters sitting, shivering away in the dark- and even stopped raising cattle that fart in the fields, supplying bitumen to China is going to make the greenhouse gases that originate in Canada worse no matter what we do here in Canada.

And finally, British Columbians, sovereign on their land, do not want this project. Period.

And so as we look toward the abyss that follows your decision, I recall Aesop’s Fable, The Goose that laid the Golden Egg.

Keeping the moral of this fable in mind, you will know the risks associated with Enbridge Northern Gateway project far outweigh the potential benefits. I urge the panel to reject this proposal outright.

We do not inherit the Earth from our forefathers; rather we borrow it from our children.”

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Useful links:

I would like to thank the Westcoast Environmental Law Society for alerting people about the public hearings. This has been a very long and drawn out process where I had to register about this time last year to be able to speak. Because of their forethought, I have this opportunity to speak at the hearings. I only wish that the general public could attend as well, rather than be shut out of the process using closed-circuit television.

What can I say? Apart from the fact that our own government is trying to stifle dissent and conversation, there’s not much else to say. I just hope my efforts and the efforts of those others who are speaking to the panel don’t go ignored as well.


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