BC government's sneaky non-rejection of Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline

Environmentalists across the country rejoiced at the news that the BC government formally opposed the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. But reading the 99-page submission, it becomes clear that the door for the controversial oil sands pipeline remains wide open. 

(Page 2 of 4)

It rigorously tears apart – sometimes with scathing irony or blunt confrontation – the tissue of half-baked generalities that Enbridge has been flaunting boldly before the general public as advertisements, and before the Joint Review Panel as presentations, ever since the JRP was first established on December 4, 2009.

The primary target for the BC Government report is the prevention and mitigation of spills, both on land and at sea.

There, for all to see, is the shaky, speculative and at times utterly implausible world of Enbridge’s planning, a magical realm where hardly anything ever goes wrong, and if it does, “world-class” solutions are put into place in a trice.

Nothing could be further from the truth, as this submission lays bare.

In Section 32, Page 9: “Because of the potential for spills, and their impact, Northern Gateway has committed to develop a comprehensive spill response capability. Indeed, Northern Gateway has stated that it intends to have a "world-class response capability" for the Project…the Province submits that it has failed to do so.”

Section 33, Page 10: “Northern Gateway asserts … that doing nothing is a possible response to a spill.”

Inconsistency over diluted bitumen: does it float or sink?

On the issue of whether diluted bitumen or “dilbit” will sink (and become unrecoverable and a long-term hazard) or not, the report displays Enbridge’s inconsistency – almost as if the corporation were playing a guessing game (which it probably is). It starts out like this: “….in certain conditions diluted bitumen…can sink. This occurred in the case of Enbridge’s spill in Michigan.”(Section 42, Page 11).

Then the submission describes how Enbridge went to work:
“Some evidence it presented suggests that dilbit may sink when it enters the water….other evidence suggests that it will only sink if it combines with sediment.”(Section 43, Page 12).

After citing 3 examples of Enbridge saying it will sink, the government report notes that at least two of its witnesses claimed that that “dilbit cannot sink, as this would be contrary to an ‘immutable fact of physics’”. (Section 44, Page 12). One Enbridge witness then says that “fine grain sediments” will make the dilbit sink, while another says “finer sediments reduce the potential for oil to sink.” (Section 45, Page 13). Another Enbridge witness says faster water movement and more turbulence will cause dilbit to be caught up in sediments, and another says “oil sinking is unlikely to occur in areas with fast currents”. (Section 46, Page 13).

Feeling a bit dizzy and confused?

Well, Christopher Jones and Elisabeth Graff, the lawyers who wrote the BC government submission, certainly did. They concluded: “These [uncertainties], taken together, suggest that, at least as of today, Northern Gateway is not yet prepared to deal with sunken oil in the event there were a spill of dilbit into a British Columbia watercourse.” (Section 58, Page 17)


Then there’s the “say a lot of nothing” problem.

“Northern Gateway was also asked by Mr. Overstall about a potential spill into the Sutherland River. … Mr. Taylor's answer, while lengthy, merely recited the general approach that would be taken to respond to a spill in this location. He did not respond to Mr. Overstall's question, however.” (Section 71, Page 22)

Remember that line, quoted above, about a possible response to a spill being “doing nothing”?

In one of the most delicious bursts of irony in the entire document, the government’s lawyers note that: “…it is not at all clear what Northern Gateway means by ‘response’ [to a spill] when doing nothing is a possible response to a spill…If doing nothing or monitoring constitute responses, it goes without saying that Northern Gateway could ‘respond’ to each spill.”

I would have loved to see the expression on the face of the CEO of Enbridge when he read that. .


The BC government lawyers twist the knife and add: “Whether this is an effective response is a different question entirely. Exactly what Northern Gateway means by responding to a spill remains unclear, as is the effectiveness of that response.” (Section 75, Page 23)


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