Oilsands pipeline: First Nations say Enbridge lacked due diligence
During an interview with Paul Stanway, spokesperson for Enbridge and former communications director in the office of Alberta’s Premier Ed Stelmach, I asked his view on the 2011 International Energy Agency report. That report states that any fossil fuel infrastructure built in the next five years will create irreversible climate change. With new infrastructure, the world “will lose forever” the chance to prevent the two degree increase in temperature that is a catastrophe for us all.
Stanway responded, “I’m not familiar with that report.”
He agreed that the world has to reduce its reliance on fossil fuel to save the planet, and admitted to having grandchildren himself. But he believes in a different time frame for change. “It’s quite clear that in a couple decades energy delivery will change,” he told me.
Unfortunately, according to the IEA report, a couple of decades later will be too late.
It’s hard to fathom that the Enbridge spokesman is unaware of a report regarding fossil fuel infrastructure that splashed across global headlines. It's also hard to believe going forward with fossil fuel infrastructure in the face of the blunt warning pointed toward such projects.
Lack of due diligence?
The theme of lack of due diligence and/or misrepresentation by Enbridge recurs among members of northern First Nations when speaking about Enbridge. Members the Haisla, the Gitxsan, the Wet’suwet’en and the Haida gave no credence to Stanway’s claim that “more than 20 groups who in recent weeks have fully executed and endorsed equity participation agreements deals with Enbridge."
Their disbelief appears to arise from two factors. First, there's the matter of the individual from the Gitxsan Treaty Society who operated outside of the customary Gitxsan governance to sign a deal with Enbridge that Stanway claimed was on behalf of the First Nation.
If any other agreements exist, the First Nation members I spoke with expect that they are along similar lines, what they described as both exploitive and divisive. But none of the First Nations members I spoke with had heard of any of these agreements.
In the view of Gitxsan Chief Yvonne Lattie, there is small chance that the agreements could be the result of an informed community process. “If it’s anything like what [Stanway] pulled off with the Gitxsan, its more back room deals with people who are sitting in the offices and getting the benefits from them,” Chief Lattie said. “The people of the communities probably have no knowledge of these agreements he’s talking about.”
Gerald Amos of the Haisla First Nation has heard nothing of the agreements.
“I’ve done a lot of traveling and a lot of talking to our neighbours. I haven’t run into too many people in any of the affected communities that think Enbridge is a good thing. I think there was a sentiment at one time that this was a done deal and we should just get what we can,” he told me, “but that idea has taken a big hit lately. Enbridge needs to come clean and tell us, who are these twenty groups that you’re talking about? I simply don’t believe it.”
Dianne Shanoss, the Executive Director of the Gitanmaax Band Council and member of the Gitxsan First Nation said, “I haven’t heard of any other agreements. We got a lot of backlash from other First Nations about the Gitxsan Treaty Society’s deal with Enbridge. I have no idea what they’re talking about.”
Lucy Gagnon, Manager of the Wet’suwet’en Moricetown Band Office, calls Stanway’s claim "tactics."
“I think they’re being strategic in how they’re going after people,” she said. “But they can’t produce those names. I’d be strung up at the cross if I entered into an agreement without talking to my band council or my community members.”
Arnold Nagy, a member of the Haida Nation who now lives in Prince Rupert told me, “Enbridge tried to say that they were engaged with the Haida. There’s no way. The groups that they were talking about have no ties to the Haida First Nation. They’re just groups that are on Haida Gwaii. I don’t believe any of it. If [Stanway] did have agreements, he’d be putting them out on the table.”
Cecil Paul, an 82-year-elder of the Haisla First Nation and residential school survivor, said he felt compassion for those exploited by Enbridge’s tactics.
“I believe [Paul Stanway] talked with 20 people, but who did he talk to? Was it a residential school victim that the government brainwashed to think like a non native, someone who was born in and lived in urban society all his life? Never walked the banks of the peaceful river or along the quiet ocean? [Stanway] asks this person what he thinks of Enbridge and gives him money? He’d go for it. I feel compassion if that’s the case. I don’t condemn my people. But I will talk softly to them so they can understand about our garden that Enbridge is taking.”
An oil company's “Benefit to Canada” claims
"Singlehandedly, [Northern Gateway] would add about $270 billion to the Canadian gross domestic product," claimed Stanway, prior to the initial JRP hearing at Kitimat. "You can buy a lot of hospitals and schools with that kind of money." It’s hard to say what the figure means.
First, over how many years would this amount accrue? The pipeline's life is probably 30 years. According to the IEA report, that infrastructure must be abandoned well before the full claimed benefit could accrue to prevent temperatures from sky rocketing up six degrees.
Second, how much economic damage needs to be subtracted from this amount for fair accounting? That damage should include the increased risk of costly weather related disasters – estimates of global damage from the 8.5 billion tons of tar sands oil that the pipeline would carry range from $28 billion to over $400 billion depending on a range of economists’ estimates of social damage per ton of carbon (from $6 to $95 per ton, with a mean of $42 per ton). Damages should also include the permanent loss of coastal fisheries, a source of livelihood for thousands of years in the past and, with reasonable care, thousands of years into the future.
Third, how would the GDP increase be distributed? The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers states 90 per cent of the economic benefit of the tar sands remain in Alberta. That means the tar sands contribute 0.2% to the GDP of the rest of Canada -- too small to even see on a pie chart. The benefit of the pipeline outside of Alberta is an order of magnitude smaller, and yet British Columbia would bear the most severe risks.
Finally, the $270 billion appears to include an increase in output from the tar sands that the Northern Gateway Pipeline would enable. If so, this means that the increased CO2 impacts of the pipeline must be attributed directly to Enbridge.
Enbridge cannot claim credit for the economic benefit of the pipeline while avoiding responsibility for the increase in emissions of unlocking those fossil fuels. Those emissions will easily erase the efforts of the rest of Canada to reduce emissions.
Back to the grandchildren, it’s a nice idea that economic benefits from Enbridge might build schools for them to attend. But will it also deprive them of the environmental and economic stability necessary to take advantage of such opportunities?