Pipelines still face hurdles after B.C. vote
CALGARY - Oil pipelines to the West Coast may have a better chance of being built with the Liberals hanging on to power in British Columbia than had the New Democrats won Tuesday's election.
But a better chance is still likely a slim one.
The Liberals have taken a somewhat softer line on the Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain expansion proposals than the NDP, but that doesn't amount to a "green light" for either project, said Warren Mabee, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University.
"It's not as though it's just a slam dunk. It's not as though this means that it's a done deal, everybody can sit back and relax," he said.
The New Democrats under Adrian Dix came out against Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain, full stop.
But Premier Christy Clark — whose Liberals won a majority government despite polls that predicted an NDP victory — has laid out five conditions under which her government would allow oil pipelines to be built.
Firstly, the projects have to make it through the regulatory review process. The second and third conditions have to do with spill prevention and response — on land and on water. The fourth pertains to First Nations consultation. And the fifth, arguably most contentious, one has to do with B.C. reaping some of the economic benefits of the pipeline.
On the final condition, Clark has argued the economic boost B.C. would get from the pipelines themselves does not equate to the environmental risks the province would take on.
In the months since a "frosty" — in Clark's words — meeting in Calgary to discuss the matter with Alberta Premier Alison Redford last fall, the question over whether Alberta ought fork over some of the oil revenues to B.C. remains unresolved.
The B.C. government has 17 days to submit its final arguments to the regulatory panel weighing Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) $6-billion Northern Gateway proposal, which would ship 550,000 barrels of oilsands crude to the northern port of Kitimat, B.C.
Kinder Morgan plans to file a regulatory application later this year for its plan to nearly triple the capacity of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline form Alberta to the B.C. Lower Mainland.
"I would be surprised at this point if the B.C. Liberals decided in favour of Enbridge, given everything they've said, given all the evidence that was presented during the hearings and given the staunch opposition of First Nations and local governments," said Eric Swanson, campaign director at the Dogwood Initiative, an anti-pipeline group.
Even if Clark's conditions are satisfied and her government does throw her support behind pipelines, there are other obstacles standing in the way.
Many First Nations groups along the route remain staunchly opposed, as do many B.C. municipal governments.
"It's never been only the provincial government making the decision. They've always been an important actor," Swanson said.
"We're hopeful still that today's government of British Columbia will stand up for our rivers and our coast."