Obstacles will delay or even kill Northern Gateway pipeline: ex-Senator Carney

Edmonton Journal
November 24, 2011

EDMONTON - The $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline linking Alberta’s vast oilsands wealth to Asian markets via a northern B.C. port won’t likely meet its 2017 target to begin shipments – if it gets off the ground at all, retired B.C. Conservative Senator Pat Carney said Thursday.

Carney, who held both the energy and trade portfolios under the Tory government of Brian Mulroney in the 1980s, said Enbridge Inc.’s megaproject faces challenges relating to economics, environmental concerns, well-organized protests backed by Hollywood stars, and aboriginal land claims issues.

But the principal problem, she said, is that First Nations along the pipeline route are the ones that stand to benefit economically, while aboriginals along the coast should expect no major economic benefit but face potentially the greatest risk if there’s a significant spill.

“The communities that benefit are not the communities that will pay” if there is a major oil spill on the B.C. coast, Carney, 76, told The Journal on Thursday.

“That is the overriding key for me.”

The National Energy Board begins hearings in January in northern B.C., and the company now projects it can complete the project by 2017 if the NEB panel approves the project.

Carney worked for 11 years in the Canadian north as an economic consultant on pipeline projects, including four years with the Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline project that was first proposed in the early 1970s and remains in limbo as its backers seek federal aid for the $16.2 billion megaproject.

Carney, who sat in the Harper caucus until her retirement from the Senate in early 2008, also said the outspoken political support for the Northern Gateway project by the Alberta oilpatch and the Harper government is “highly overrated” when weighed against numerous obstacles.

“You can’t just bulldoze your way from the oilsands to the coast,” said Carney, who as energy minister dismantled the controversial National Energy Program after Mulroney took power in 1984.

“I can certainly say that if it’s built at all, it’ll be on a much longer time frame than they contemplate.”

Numerous media reports have suggested the dozens of First Nations in northern B.C. are overwhelmingly opposed to the project, though Enbridge has indicated that a “significant” number are in negotiations and are interested in the package of economic benefits on offer.

However, among the strongest opponents are First Nations along the coast where tanker traffic will pass by en route to and from the port in Kitimat, where oil tankers will dock to load the bitumen flowing from the 1,177-kilometre pipeline from Bruderheim, Alberta.

Enbridge spokesman Paul Stanway acknowledged that First Nations with land or title claims on or close to the pipeline route – about 36 of the 52 the company is trying to engage with – are being offered the strongest benefit package.

The company is negotiating the payment of taxes to First Nations depending on where their land is located, and all 36 are being offered attractive loans to buy an equity stake in the pipeline.

The remaining 16, which don’t have land close to the pipeline route or port, are being offered both individual and collective benefits related to construction and operation of Northern Gateway, according to Stanway.

“It’s true that there are considerable benefits to First Nations along the pipeline route, which is as it should be,” he said.

“But we are also talking to a number of coastal First Nations about benefits related to the marine operations associated with Northern Gateway.”

While acknowledging that the project faces hurdles, he said opponents should consider the benefits.

“Northern Gateway is a potential game-changer in a lot of ways, including about $1 billion in benefits for Aboriginal communities,” he said.

“But it’s also the key to Canadians getting full value for the country’s most important export – potentially adding $270 billion to Canada’s GDP over the next 30 years.”

Carney, asked for her personal view of Northern Gateway, noted that B.C.’s coast is “one of the world’s great industrial waterways (where) an awful lot of fuel and oil moves up and down this coast without any incidents.

“So the evidence would say that in risk management terms, it’s safe,” said the resident of Saturna Island, located between B.C.’s Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.

“But my gut instinct is, I don’t like it.”

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