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 3 of 4)

Mr. Jones and Ms. Graff mercilessly expose Enbridge’s history of disastrously bad management of previous spills. They zero in on the worst of them all, the horrendous spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan on July 26, 2010. There, Enbridge employees watched pressure drop in a pipeline for 17 hours, responding to this drop by increasing flow rates in a feckless attempt to bring pressure back up, until people outside noted that a massive 843,000 gallon leak – compounded significantly by the employees’ unthinking behaviour – was the actual cause of the drop in pressure.


The following paragraph reveals the illusion that is Enbridge’s “world class” system.

“Concerns about Northern Gateway's inability to respond to a spill are magnified by Enbridge's conduct with respect to the spill which took place in Michigan. Northern Gateway concedes that, in that case, there were procedures in place that were not followed. Northern Gateway asserts that it now has in place a number of "golden rules", including that whenever there is a doubt with respect to whether the spill detection system has detected a leak, the pipeline must be shut down. However, Northern Gateway concedes that this rule was in place before the Michigan spill; it self-evidently was not followed. In fact, the rule under which Enbridge would shut down its pipeline system within 10 minutes of an abnormal occurrence which could be immediately analyzed was put into place following a spill in 1991. At that time, similar commitments were made indicating that procedures would change and that a spill of that nature wouldn't take place again.” (Section 82, Page 26). [First emphasis added]

The BC government minces no words in its conclusion: “Enbridge has not demonstrated an ability to learn from its mistakes in order to avoid spills. While Northern Gateway witnesses provided lengthy statements in cross-examination about the changes Enbridge has made to its corporate culture in an effort to reduce the potential for spills in the future, given its pattern of making similar commitments in the past, there are serious reasons for concern that the commitments it has made in this proceeding will be hollow.” (Section 91, Page 29)

The lawyers follows this up with a direct challenge to Enbridge’s constant repetition that all will be worked out satisfactorily once it is granted a permit to proceed:

“Although a spill of dilbit may not be likely in any particular location of the project at a particular time when considered in isolation, the possibility of a spill is very real, as Enbridge's track record demonstrates; the potential for devastating effects on watercourses is obvious; and there is serious reason to question NG's ability to respond effectively to a spill. Given these facts, in this particular case the Province submits that Northern Gateway should be able to show, in advance of certification, that it will be in a position, once operations commence, to live up to its spill response assertions. Northern Gateway has not done so. The Province submits that the JRP should, in making its recommendations, give this factor significant consideration.” (Section 114, Page 35) [emphasis added]

However in a gesture of legal legerdemain that has ironic implications for the BC government (more about that in a moment), the province’s team introduces a famous court case to bolster its request for Enbridge to “demonstrate the practicability of the mitigation measures it has proposed” (meaning: show us that what you say you’ll do will actually work!).

The provincial submission refers to the pivotal and unanimous 2001 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the case known as “Spraytech v. Hudson (Town)”, which allowed the little community of just over 5,000 citizens to eliminate pesticide spraying on lawns and gardens within the city limits, despite massive industry pressure.

The BC report quotes from this decision as follows: “ In order to achieve sustainable development, policies must be based on the precautionary principle. Environmental measures must anticipate, prevent and attack the causes of environmental degradation.”(Section 109, Page 35) [emphasis in original]

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