The Northern Gateway brief: unhappy political options and geopolitical assessment

I spent much of last week in Alberta which, as anyone who has traveled across Canada knows, is a very different place from BC. While there, it became increasingly clear that talking about the oil sands in general, and the northern gateway pipeline in particular, was verboten. I spent my week in a Fawlty Towers episode: whatever I did… I couldn’t mention the war pipeline.

In Alberta, it seems an article of faith that the pipeline is going to be built. It was interesting contrast since, in British Columbia, it is virtually accepted that the Northern Gateway pipelineis not going to be built (and there is equally great opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline). At some point these two realities are going to clash. And that makes for interesting questions.

This post is not designed to be a definitive piece on the subject. I’m not an energy expert and don’t claim to understand this issue as well as others. However, I’ve not read anything like this to date and thought it might be interesting to outline a short intelligence brief for those curious about where things may be headed. Based on conversations I’ve had with people in the natural resource sector, government, environmental groups and first nations this is an effort to explore what I think are the likely scenarios and choices for our government, as well as what it may mean for foreign governments with an interest in the outcome.

Some assumptions

If, as you begin to read this piece you are saying – err… what does David mean by the pipeline, I suggest a brief scan of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, which will run across Northern British Columbia and allow oil from Alberta’s oil sands to be exported from the west coast port of Kitimat. While I won’t talk about them as much, a reader will benefit from being aware of the proposed Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion and Keystone Pipeline. However, knowing about them is not a strict requirement.

In case anyone takes the time to read what I suspect will be a lengthy post… yes, I, like a large and growing number of BC residents, have deep reservations about the pipeline. My interest here however is less about whether the pipeline will happen – although I dive into that – and more about what I think that means for the choices of various players, which I think is quite interesting.

The New National Energy Policy: why the pipeline (probably) won’t happen

I confess, sitting in British Columbia, it is very hard to imagine the pipeline being built. The fact is, most British Columbians – 60% – are opposed to the project, and that number has been growing, not shrinking. Each day, the project becomes more tarnished and unpopular.

At this point, a massive negative backlash against any political party set on ramming the project through British a very real possibility. It is hard to imagine the current government could have handled the communications around this project in a more inept manner. Environmental Minister Joe Oliver’s rant statement effectively labeling anyone opposed or concerned as a radical did more damage than any environmentalist campaign could have imagined. Those concerned about, but open to discussing the pipeline, felt attacked and grew suspicious that they would have no voice. As the polls reveal – they have turned sharply against the project.

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