BC, Alberta governments press ahead on plans for tar sands pipelines and exports

Last summer, the then-unelected premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, hit the ‘pause’ button on promotion efforts for the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline across northern British Columbia. She said that ‘five conditions’ had to be met in order for the project to proceed. The premier postured as a critic of the Alberta and federal governments and said she was ‘standing up for British Columbians’ to gain a bigger share of revenues from the project. 

Three of the conditions to be met were oxymoronic notions of ‘environmental protection’ from the consequences of pipeline breaks or ocean tanker accidents, while a fourth said that “legal requirements” regarding First Nations consent must be met. The only one of the five conditions for Northern Gateway that really counted for Clark and her party was the one seeking a greater share of revenue for provincial government coffers and for the BC companies that will partner with Enbridge Inc. in the project. 

Clark rode to electoral victory in May of this year due in part to illusory and reckless claims that fossil fuel projects will provide a prosperous future that British Columbians cannot afford to turn down. The Northern Gateway pause and the five-conditions ruse were needed so that the pipeline would not become an issue in the election and because the BC, Alberta and federal governments, along with the oil industry, needed to fashion new strategies in the face of the ‘wall of opposition’ that the proposed pipeline is facing in the BC north, particularly from First Nations.

Clark received praise from some quarters in the environmental movement for her five conditions, with some even claiming that the premier was ‘opposed’ to Northern Gateway. The NDP leadership contributed to the misunderstanding, and to its surprise electoral defeat, with its overall equivocating over the environmentally destructive Alberta tar sands and its ‘positive’ election campaign precluding critical examination of fossil fuel projects. That included Clark’s proposed, parallel vast expansion of natural gas fracking in the BC northeast (which the NDP supports). 

NDP leader Adrian Dix was actually pilloried by many in his own party and its trade union base for coming out mid-campaign in opposition to the other proposed tar sands pipeline in BC—Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain line.
Some of Clark’s critics may have been lulled by the talk of the five conditions. But meanwhile, Enbridge is flooding BC with pro-pipeline advertising, and Clark and her government have been working furiously behind the scenes with the Alberta and federal governments to realize the project. The details and contours of that effort are slowly being revealed.
The BC and Alberta governments have created a ‘working group’ to rejig and adjust the ‘five conditions’.

A ‘terms of reference’ document was released on Oct 15 and is to be further elaborated and finalized by the end of the year. One of its provisions, incredibly, consists of a threat that if tar sands pipelines are defeated by public and environmental concerns, then the toxic product will be moved by rail instead. “If pipelines are not developed, rail will step into the void to deliver bitumen to the West Coast,” says the ten page document.

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