Pipeliners increase flow of BS
By Briony Penn, December 2012
The Canadian Heavy Oil Association hopes a “factspill” will persuade British Columbians to support their pipelines.
Ian Anderson, CEO of Kinder Morgan, recently confessed at the annual fall business conference of the Canadian Heavy Oil Association in Calgary that “what I have come to understand is that consultation means something very different from handing out a bunch of baseball caps and nice dinners.” Dubbed by the Calgary Herald as a new breed of oilman with “hard-won wisdom,” Anderson admitted that those in the oil patch have misjudged and mischaracterized British Columbian’s opposition to their pipelines and tankers.
Distinguishing himself from previous “handing-out-baseball-cap” pipeline promoters, Anderson told his audience that he’s “a listener” who is setting aside two years and 20 percent of his time for consultations about his company’s upgrade of the Trans Mountain pipeline that runs 1150 kilometres from Edmonton to Burnaby. Anderson told his colleagues: “What this industry needs is certainty, and certainty means: Not when will I get a ‘yes,’ but when will I get an answer?”
Unfortunately, it’s still not really clear that he understands what the question is—or who he is asking. If the question is: “‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the upgrading of the pipeline?”, the people of British Columbia have already given their answer. Yet his company has just begun a heavy promotional tour, hitting Victoria the first week of December, leading one to believe that Anderson still thinks the question is: “How much will it take for British Columbians to say yes?” Which suggests a continuing failure to accept BC’s informed opposition to the Albertan proposition of ramping up tar sand production, exporting bitumen through our mountains and waters, and exacerbating climate change.
In Alberta, where ball caps still seem to work, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain upgrades are already underway. In what was once Canada’s most famous hotspot for wildlife—Jasper National Park—at a prominent viewpoint where the Snaring River meets the Athabaska, there is a conspicuous, recently cleared swath straight through a valley in which mountain caribou populations are close to extirpation—thanks in part to so many industrial corridors, including the pipeline. This corridor is the Anchor Loop expansion phase that is part of the upgrade of the original pipeline built back in the 1950s. Back then, the pipeline was a source of national pride. It was conceived by the Government of Canada under an act of parliament as a way of providing reliable light oil supplies to local refineries along the way, ending up in Burnaby and Washington State. It originally carried 150,000 barrels a day of mixed oil products, which were mostly consumed domestically. Only the odd tanker came into Burnaby to export oil products.
But then international markets for bitumen exploded. And, in 2005, the company passed from Canadian hands to the huge Texas company, Kinder Morgan. And that is when the troubles started and Ian Anderson’s public relations file began to grow.
In 2006, Kinder Morgan expanded the Jasper Anchor Loop section, increasing the company’s capacity to 300,000 barrels a day.
A year later, a pipeline ruptured and dumped 250,000 litres of crude oil over Burnaby homes and into Burrard Inlet. Twenty-one charges were eventually laid against the company after $15 million dollars was spent in cleanup costs.
In 2009, another 200,000 litres leaked from the Burnaby Mountain storage facility.
This year, another 110,000 litres leaked from the Sumas pumping station into a containment area, sending local residents inside to escape the fumes. Hurricane Sandy triggered a 38,000-litre fuel spill from Kinder Morgan containers into the waterway around New York.
This spring, Kinder Morgan announced their plans to expand their capacity to 750,000 barrels per day. All of the increased capacity is for transporting bitumen, diluted with a toxic cocktail of chemicals. This in turn will expand the tanker traffic 13-fold, with up to 25 tankers a month plying BC coastal waters.
According to their most recent quarterly report, Kinder Morgan has “confirmed binding commercial support for their proposed expansion.” The ten companies that “have signed firm contracts in support of the expansion” include Nexen Inc, the latest media lightning rod. Even the Conservative party seems unconvinced that the $15.1 billion takeover bid by China’s state-owned CNOOC is in Canada’s interest.
Kinder Morgan’s troubles continued June 29, when they filed an application seeking National Energy Board (NEB) approval of what they call the toll methodology. The application sets out the financial case for the project, establishing tolls and operating terms over a 20-year period.
Hearings into the toll application by Kinder Morgan are to start in February 2013, and a decision is anticipated by May 2013. Various submissions were sent to the NEB, including from Burnaby-Douglas MP Kennedy Stewart, First Nations, the City of Vancouver, City of Burnaby, and Corporation of Delta, all raising important questions—including why the toll application is in advance of the main application to NEB to build and operate the facilities (expected in late 2013). Only the latter triggers the full public review. Local governments are, with good reason, pointing out that approving the first application that establishes market “certainty” should be rolled into the larger public hearing since financial certainty necessarily has to include public support of the project. Legal challenges, whether by First Nations, local governments or port authorities, could tie up the process for years. Twice Kinder Morgan’s lawyers have asked the NEB to disallow these submissions, claiming that only commercial parties should be able to participate in the toll application process, and effectively shutting BC residents out of the process.
Unsurprisingly, this has only intensified the scrutiny of the detractors. And detractors, according to the most recent poll, represent almost two out of every three British Columbians.
It is this statistic that caused the members of the Heavy Oil group back in Calgary, who typically come together to share knowledge on new technologies and economics, to move into a new frontier, as evidenced by their speakers and topics. CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge gave the kick-off keynote address on “Exploring the National Mood through Key Social and Political Issues.” Kinder Morgan CEO Anderson was the keynote speaker the second day, amongst panelists of sympathetic newspaper people, Enbridge VPs, and a new face from British Columbia: Brian Falconer of Raincoast Conservation Foundation and an intervenor on marine safety in the Enbridge pipeline process.
I asked Falconer why he was invited to participate in the Heavy Oil Conference. He said: “To dispel the myth that the opposition to pipelines was made up of a few bands of First Nations and uninformed British Columbians stirred up by American socialist billionaires set on damaging the Canadian oil industry—and to explain why it wasn’t going to go away.”
Falconer’s half-hour speech covered, amongst other things, the lack of credibility in Enbridge reports. He cited many examples of marine safety elements, from the smoothing of data on storm events to Enbridge statements like “fog on the coast generally only lasts for a few hours at a time,” which prompted outbursts of laughter in coastal communities during public presentations. Falconer finished with a suggestion that Canadians have Pat Daniels, ex-CEO of Enbridge, and Joe Oliver, minister of natural resources, to thank for a national conversation about energy and the speed of resource exploitation—and who benefits—within the larger context of climate change. British Columbians are leading that discussion, and Falconer told the group that, “All the Northern Gateway process did was insult people and solidify their opposition to it.”
That perception is being reflected in the rising opposition to all pipelines. In late October, the Council of Canadians kicked off a No Pipelines No Tankers campaign, a six-city tour from Fort McMurray to Burnaby—the start and end of Trans Mountain. The tour raised awareness not only about the Kinder Morgan and Northern Gateway pipelines, but also the TransPacific Trails pipeline proposal to transport fracked unconventional natural gas. The Council of Canadians states that the pipelines “increase the unsustainable expansion in the tar sands and fracking for shale gas; undermine local communities’ right to say ‘no;’ cause damage by crossing hundreds of salmon-bearing rivers and streams, forests, mountains and landslide-prone lands where spills could spell ecological disaster and affect the livelihoods of those living nearby; and increase tanker traffic and the risk of a spill in BC’s ecologically sensitive coastal waters.”
The Council of Canadians is educating the public about the pipelines to get ahead of Kinder Morgan’s own public relations process. Kinder Morgan will visit Victoria, Saanich and Nanaimo the first week of December (see below). I asked Kinder Morgan what information they will be presenting, but got no response from their PR apparatus (strange for a company that has $100 billion dollars in assets). Falconer, fresh from rubbing shoulders with the Heavy Oil Conference goers, told me there is still no deep understanding of BC opposition. “Their world view is all around solving engineering problems and financing, and they still believe the opposition is fuelled by ignorant people.”
The speech by the business editor for the Calgary Herald, Deborah Yedlin, at the Heavy Oil Conference illustrated this. She started out by saying, “We can really change the image of the oilsands by promoting it as nature’s oilspill and what we are doing is cleaning up nature’s oilspill.” Yedlin suggested that all British Columbians needed was a “factspill” and that the emotion—or in her view, “intimidation” stirred up by radicals—would be adjusted by “the facts.”
This old narrative, according to Falconer, is being shaken up, however, and Anderson is smarter than his predecessors. “I think Anderson is starting to realize that British Columbians are not uninformed; they are opposed. I told them you can’t do a ‘factspill’ on us—our world view conflicts with your world view.”
Yet that won’t stop them from trying. Kinder Morgan’s first public information session in Vancouver in mid-November seemed to bear that out. News reports indicated that green-jacketed Kinder Morgan and Trans Mountain staff virtually outnumbered the 88 citizens who signed in. Some of the latter expressed frustration with the format, which did seem somewhat of a “factspill,” rather than an open forum for discussion. Still, one spokesperson for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project told reporters it was also an opportunity to hear concerns and incorporate them into the design and application for the project.
Despite Anderson’s claim to be committed to more genuine consultation, it’s not clear that he or any of his colleagues in the oil patch understand British Columbians’ deep opposition to exposing their land, rivers and sea to the risks posed by oil pipelines and tankers and our even broader concerns. Many of us are sensing that we are on the verge of environmental collapse and that any one of these major projects could put us over the edge. Gerald Amos, past chief councillor of the Kitimaat Village Council, at the end of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline between the tar sands and the coast, articulates the crucial point around consultation: “The big issue for communities—one that really hasn’t been grappled with yet—is the cumulative impact of what we call progress.”
Whether it’s Jasper grappling with the cumulative impacts of man-made corridors on wildlife populations; or Kitimaat with the rising toll of logging, mining, hydro projects and the eight proposed liquefied natural gas plants; or Victoria facing another 300 oil tankers in our waters each year to service the expanded Kinder Morgan depot, the big issue for British Columbians is not just the next big project planned, but the sum total of where we are going as a nation with our energy needs, our distribution, and the rate of exploitation.
Anderson’s speech suggested that he believes it’s a waste of time trying to educate British Columbians about the importance of the pipeline to national security, that we’re simply concerned about our own backyard. In reality, though, it’s Anderson who doesn’t understand the big picture.
We get it that we are moving perilously close to the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Or, more aptly, in the case of the Rockies, the mountain caribou’s back. And on the coast, the southern resident orca’s (another species at risk) back. Environmental collapse cannot be addressed with such solutions as one discussed by the Heavy Oil club: saving caribou in the tar sands by fencing them into compounds to “mitigate” their decline.
“Cumulative impact” is the scientific term for what we intuitively sense is happening to our environment. While assessing such impacts is central to environmental assessments—and true national security—in jurisdictions around the planet, Canada’s policy on such matters, unfortunately, has regressed back to the 1950s.
However, with all polls indicating little support for any pipelines, Kinder Morgan and Anderson will still have to “grapple” with the cumulative impact of the oil industry because, for the majority of us now, pipelines form the metaphorical and physical line in the sand over which we will fight for a national debate on energy, climate, environment, national security, and Canada’s place in the world.
Kinder Morgan’s public information sessions are on December 5 at the Cedar Hill Rec Centre Art 1 Room, drop-in from 5-8 pm; and December 6 at the Juan de Fuca Rec Centre Fieldhouse lower area, drop-in from 5-8 pm.
Briony Penn, PhD is a naturalist, journalist, artist and award-winning environmental educator.