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Gregor Robertson’s Greenest City takes on the oil industry

Can Harper-backed Big Oil penetrate Mayor Gregor Robertson’s renowned “Greenest City”?

According to two of Canada’s major oil industry associations, getting past West Coast pipeline resistance may be difficult—but it's far from impossible.

“BC has absolutely unique challenges, and unique values that need to be respected. And anybody would say that,” said Philippe Reicher, VP of External Relations at the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA).

“But to say that it cannot be done…It can be done, but you have to do it right.”

Vancouver’s own David-and-Goliath battle against a major oil sands pipeline is ramping up this week, with motions being heard at both City Council and Parks Board to oppose the controversial Kinder Morgan expansion.

With support from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the federal cabinet, the industry plans to almost triple crude exports out of the Vancouver port. But if this year’s Earth Day rally was any indication of what’s to come, you can bet Vancouverites, led by “Greenest City” Mayor Gregor Robertson, won’t make it easy.

One insider told the Vancouver Observer that stakeholders in Alberta have had their doubts about pushing more pipeline through the hippie-infested coastal metropolis. Given the municipality’s aggressive green agenda—not to mention the strength of BC First Nations opposition—their concerns were likely warranted.

To get around this, Reicher said CEPA stresses the importance of a fair, inclusive consultation process for new projects. He explained that to be successful—particularly in British Columbia—pipeline proponents must open the dialogue with communities, Aboriginal groups, municipal leaders and the environmental community.

“You need to make sure that they can participate in the process, that they can provide input, and that their input is going to be looked at seriously,” said Reicher.

Blocking the West Coast gateway a “tremendous lost opportunity”: industry

In the eyes of the resource sector, major port cities like Vancouver have what some would call a “responsibility” to act as a gateway for Pacific trade. With oil producers eyeing all possible options for reaching lucrative Asian markets, Reicher said both the Enbridge pipeline and Kinder Morgan’s proposal are crucial to the industry’s growth.

“If those projects were not to go ahead, I think it would be a tremendous lost opportunity for Canada. I mean, if you look at how well Canada is poised and positioned—because of the natural resources we have—to be able to send those resources to markets that are really wanting them, and are wanting them at a very good value, it would be a real lost opportunity,” Reicher said.

Greg Stringham, VP of Oil Sands and Markets at the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), explained that these two major proposals aren’t the industry’s only hope for shipping to Asia. Some have suggested sending oil east through more established routes to India and China. Others have talked about the possibility of shipping crude via rail from Alberta to the coast, if pipelines fall through.

“There are lots of alternatives that people are looking at right now, but clearly these two alternatives [Enbridge and Kinder Morgan]—and other options that could potentially emerge on the West Coast—are the ones that we see as the most efficient and the most opportune opportunities to do that,” said Stringham.

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