Eighteen months into expensive hearings across the far north of British Columbia, views on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline between proponents and opponents remain as far apart as ever.
On the second day of final arguments here, oil producers pleaded for approval of the pipeline to permit them to access new markets, while members of local communities deplored their greed and questioned their audacity for putting their environment at risk.
Several dozen people converged this week on this northern B.C. mining town near the pipeline’s end point for a final say on the project before a joint review panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency starts its final deliberations. The panel, chaired by Sheila Leggett, is to deliver a recommendation to the federal cabinet by the end of the year on whether Northern Gateway is in the public interest.
With many in the town openly hostile to the project and tired of the publicity it has brought to the area, Keith Bergner, lawyer for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), said oil producers welcome the debate and do not take issue with those who are taking part in it, just with their arguments.
He said Canada’s oil companies are increasingly concerned about delays affecting plans to expand Western Canada’s crude oil pipeline capacity and recommended approval of Northern Gateway.
Producers disagree with opponents’ claims the oil pipeline between Alberta and the British Columbia coast is not needed, he said.
“Current pipeline capacity is not sufficient,” he said, pointing to evidence that space on Canadian crude oil pipelines is so tight it’s frequently rationed, resulting in producers being unable to bring their supplies to market and to the discounting of Canadian crude.
The industry association also shot down views that Canada should build more refining and upgrading capacity at home, rather than pipe bitumen for processing abroad.
CAPP is concerned about the “protectionism and market restriction” arguments voiced in the Northern Gateway review, which is similar to arguments of opponents of other export pipelines, including Keystone XL from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf, Mr. Bergner said.
Expectations that oil that is not exported will result in the construction of new upgraders and refineries in Canada miss a key point, he said.
“This application before you is not about a choice between upgrading and refining on one hand, and exports on the other,” he told the hearing.
“This is about a pipeline designed to reach new markets. And once it’s in place, pipelines can be used to ship a wide variety of petroleum products. That has been the experience all across Canada. And there is no reason to treat this pipeline any differently.”
He said market demand should determine whether additional oil processing in Canada makes sense.
Bernette Ho, a lawyer representing Cenovus Energy Inc., INPEX Canada Ltd., Nexen Inc., Suncor Energy Inc., and Total SA, said producers have already spent $140-million in support of the project to date and are committed to entering into final shipping agreements.
Arguments that there is insufficient commercial support for the project misconstrue the evidence, she said.
Northern Gateway is seen by the oil community as a critical piece of infrastructure for the industry in Canada, she said.
Ian Morrison, representing the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, said many of the opponents have little or no experience with pipelines, terminals or dealing with large hydrocarbon transportation companies.
But Edmonton does, as it has the largest concentration of petrochemical and pipeline activities it the country. In its experience, the hydrocarbon industry operates in a responsible fashion “and trusts Enbridge to do what they say.”
“In Edmonton, we have lived with Enbridge for over 50 years and we trust them as a good corporate partner.”
But Mr. Morrison acknowledged that benefits will not be distributed equally and called for timely compensation to make up for any negative consequences.
Source: Financial Post