Enbridge officials say the chance of an oil spill on the water is far from inevitable, the record of new pipelines is clean and, contrary to public perception, not all First Nations are opposed to the project.
Those were some of the points to come out of a 90-minute interview with Paul Stanway, manager of Northern Gateway Communications, Andrew Popko, vice-president of aboriginal and community benefits, and Ray Doering, manager of engineering.
They also expressed frustration that Northern Gateway was being singled out by opponents who appeared to be ignoring like proposals.
On the question of consultation and relations with First Nations along the proposed pipeline route, Popko said they had met with 50 First Nations and the first to sign agreements had been in BC.
“We’ve got chiefs and councils that have signed …and have decided to continue working with Enbridge and looking at the training opportunities, the business opportunities and the long term jobs.”
Enbridge had even fielded requests from First Nations to re-route the pipeline to go through reserve land.
Stanway noted they were about to file an update with the Joint Review Panel regarding aboriginal consultation the company had done to date. “It’s about 500 pages,” he added.
And while the benefits package being offered First Nations had been “theoretical” until now, the legal document that enshrined those benefits was also due to be out in the very near future.
Sentinel: Given the level and intensity of the protest in Prince Rupert (during the North Central Local Government Association conference), do you think you are ever going to turn those people around?
“Some of them, not everybody,” Stanway responded.
Pointing out you were never going to get 100 per cent support for anything, he thought Northern Gateway would get “substantial support”.
Saying it was an ongoing process, Stanway added, “We are in negotiations and you can expect that people aren’t going to lay all their cards on the table until we get to the final point.”
Popko noted that First Nations had long asked when corporate Canada was going to “step up to the plate” and share revenue on developments on their lands.
“I challenge anybody…to give me one other oil company or gas company or pipeline company that is offering 10 per cent (equity) and financing for it.”
On the benefit versus risk issue, Popko said he had met with Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen and showed him all the benefits.
His point to Cullen had been, “You keep saying there are no jobs with this project – that’s wrong.” He had pointed out to the MP that there would be 67 jobs at the terminal and all the jobs connected to the tug boats would raise that number to about 200.
What about opponents argument that a spill, be it on land or sea, is inevitable?
Doering said that on the marine side Enbridge had commissioned an independent risk analysis by a company that does this kind of work for shipping around the world.
That company had looked at the safety mea
sures Enbridge was proposing, the conditions of the Douglas Channel and the improvements that had taken place in shipping since the Exxon Valdez spill that everyone uses as a bench mark, and had concluded that the chance of a spill on the scale of Exxon Valdez was one in 15,000 years.
“What that really means is it is not inevitable, it’s likely never going to occur as long as you are diligent about doing all your inspections and maintaining all your safety practices.”
As for the land side, he said the company had hired top geo-technical specialists to assess conditions along the route.
“That’s the area that you really need to focus on, the natural hazards whether it is seismic issues or slides or erosion,” he explained.
Then, where a hazard exists, steps can be taken to either change the route or make design changes to make sure the pipeline is safe.
All that work is “where the risk is addressed and eliminated,” he added.
Noting the National Energy Board tracked all pipelines, Doering said their statistics showed that there had not been a pipeline rupture – defined as a leak of more than 10 barrels – on any pipeline built in the last 35 years in Canada.
“That demonstrates the rigour, the material standards, the quality of the steel, the quality of the coatings, the quality of the inspection practices, the installation practices and how dramatically they’ve improved.”
Conceding there had been leaks in Alberta and Michigan, Ray pointed out those were in older pipelines.
“If the allegations by people like Nathan (Cullen) is that Enbridge and the pipeline industry in general is just a bunch of yahoos who just want to throw in a pipeline and to hell with it and they’ll run it unsafely, that’s just bad business,” added Stanway.
“Why would anyone do that?”
And he pointed out Enbridge spent about $150 million a year across North America “ensuring the integrity and safety” of its pipeline systems.
Stanway said it came down to what was the standard and if that was giving a guarantee that there would be no accident ever, “that’s an unreasonable standard.”
He pointed out with the recent spill in Alberta, the line was “in very good shape” but the spill was caused by a maintenance crew failing to pack the soil properly after the job was done.
“It’s human error,” he said.
Sentinel: And that’s exactly what opponents say, no matter how good the setup, human error can lead to a spill.
Stanway responded that is why Enbridge cannot say there will never be an accident. But it could say that after doing this job for 60 years, it is a successful Canadian company that should be an icon.
And he recalled that when he first started work for Enbridge, he saw that the spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan was an emotional thing for its people “right up to the top level…(CEO) Pat Daniel.
Emphasizing is was a traumatic event for the company, Stanway added, “I was impressed by that.”
Sentinel: For all the logic you lay out, isn’t the problem that the photo of one oil-soaked sea otter outweighs all of it?
“Absolutely,” said Stanway. “But you can’t counter the emotional, there’s nothing that Enbridge could say to counter that.”
However, the work of the Joint Review Panel – which they supported – was to make a decision not based on emotion. “At the end of the day we’re pretty hopeful we’ll get approval.”
Popko said one was knowing that there are tankers coming into Kitimat regularly carrying condensate and not tethered to tugs, but that’s apparently okay while Enbridge’s proposal, which will see up to $150 million spent on marine safety while providing good paying jobs, was not.
Another is the Kinder Morgan plan to expand its pipeline into Burnaby, one “which doesn’t seem to attract any adverse attention at all,” Stanway noted.
And the expansion Kinder Morgan plans will bring bigger tankers into Vancouver in a “much, much tighter anchorage that Kitimat.”
Doering added that after a lot of investigation, Enbridge had concluded that Kitimat was probably the safest place to build a terminal.
“The channel is safe, it’s wide, it’s deep and it’s protected.”
He also pointed out that in the wake of that decision six years ago, the various LNG proponents had obviously come to the same conclusion.
“I think a lot of these arguments that are made are very convenient for the opponents of the pipeline,” said Stanway. “they are against development period.”
Therefore, regardless of how safe the Northern Gateway pipeline would be, “nothing we say will satisfy their demands.”
While he agreed that accusation could only be levied against a small percentage of opponents, he added, “that’s also where the money comes from.
Stanway explained those anti-development groups had been very successful in getting money from several large US foundations “and they are incredibly well funded”.
As a result, they had full-time organizers working on these issues all the time, groups like Dogwood Initiative, Forest Ethics and Tides.
“It’s not about the safety of the pipeline, they don’t want the pipeline period.”