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Highlights from the Joint Review Panel Technical Hearings on Economics

The technical hearings on economic issues raised by the Northern Gateway pipeline recently concluded in Edmonton. In these quasi-judicial hearings, Enbridge and intervenors (labour organizations, First Nations, environmental NGOs and the provinces of BC and Alberta) presented expert testimony and cross examined the experts of other parties. The Northwest Institute summarized the 15 days of hearings. Here are some highlights.

Cross examination of Enbridge Experts

Labour: refine the dilbit in Canada and create jobs

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) questioned the export of raw dilbit (diluted bitumen, the tar sands’ crude oil) rather than refining it in Canada. Enbridge responded that markets aren’t looking for refined oil. They are looking for feedstock for their own refineries. No one could make money doing it, according to Enbridge, so there would be no benefit to Canada. Ninety percent of the claimed benefit to Canada is the “price uplift” that Enbridge claims will raise the selling price for all Canadian oil producers.

In later questioning, the AFL asked an expert for the Government of Alberta about the $8 per barrel “discount” for tar sands crude. The Alberta expert explained that tar sands crude fetches its highest price in the limited number of refineries capable of refining it for optimal value. When those refiners reach capacity, the price for tar sands crude drops $8. The $8 discount would be avoided by the Northern Gateway during its first year. Any pipeline (Northern Gateway, Keystone, Trans Mountain) would have the same “up lift” but, after the first few years, more heavy crude than refining capacity will trigger the discount and things will be back to where they are. Still, the Alberta expert concurred with Enbridge that, in his government’s view, building upgraders in Alberta would not be commercially viable.

BC: an underinsured pipeline

The Province of BC questioned Enbridge about its insurance coverage. Enbridge stated that it was looking at exposure of $60 million for the cleanup cost of a spill once every 250 years. BC noted that works out to $280 million for a 20,000 barrel spill. That’s the size of the spill in Kalamazoo which has already cost more than $767 million. BC also questioned whether the proposed separate corporate structure for the pipeline was intended to limit the liability of the corporate giant. Enbridge denied this. It stated that it would not consider a commitment to guarantee 100% of the clean up.

eNGO Coalition: National benefit from a pipeline that is half foreign owned?

A coalition of environmental NGOs (Forest Ethics Advocacy, Living Oceans ad Raincoast Conservation Foundation) established that Enbridge has ten potential funding participants who may each acquire a 4.9% interest and suggested that foreign ownership of the pipeline would impact the purported national benefit. Enbridge responded that the corporate structure would be modified for Enbridge to retain a controlling interest.  

Later, the Coastal First Nations noted that, given 47% foreign ownership of Canada’s oil and gas industry, that same percentage of the asserted $17 billion of benefit to private interest presumably would leave the country. 

Chris Peters: Externalized cost of greenhouse gas emissions

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