by David Suzuki
• The battle lines are drawn and Northern BC’s pristine wilderness is the latest front. With hearings underway into the proposed $5.5-billion, dual 1,172-kilometre Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project to transport bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat and imported condensate to dilute it from the coast back to Alberta, the fossil fuel industry and its supporters have stepped up the rhetoric. Environmentalists and people in towns, rural areas and First Nations communities in BC have lined up in opposition.
It’s not just about potential damage from an oil spill… The larger issues are about our continued reliance on polluting fossil fuels and the economic impact of rapidly exploiting and selling our resources and resource industries.
It’s about Canada’s national interest. With lax royalty structures and massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, not to mention foreign ownership of tar sands operations and lobbying by foreign companies, Canadians are not enjoying the real benefits of our oil industry. In fact, increasing reliance on the tar sands is hurting other sectors of the economy, manufacturing in particular.
Thanks to the government’s support of the fossil fuel industry, ours is a petro dollar that rises and falls with the price of oil. The high price of oil has increased our dollar’s value and that has hurt the more labour-intensive manufacturing sector, which relies on exports. Not only have hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs been lost over the past few years, but Canada has also been missing out on opportunities to join the boom in production of renewable-energy technology.
Industry adherents have come up with many arguments supporting the Northern Gateway project. Some have more holes than an oilfield. Take the jobs argument. Even Enbridge admits that most would be in short-term construction work. Only about 35 to 40 long-term jobs would be created at the Kitimat marine terminal.
Most economic benefits from increased tar sands production would go to the companies and their shareholders, including firms from the US, Korea and China. In fact, state-owned PetroChina, which already operates in the tar sands, has just bought 100 percent of the MacKay River project.
The “ethical oil” argument is so absurd as to be hardly worth mentioning, but it’s one the government has latched on to. Oil can’t be ethical or unethical. People, and by extension the companies they own and operate or the governments they represent, can behave in ethical or unethical ways, but a product can’t.
The Northern Gateway project and much of the recent and pending tar sands expansion will help companies owned by the government of China dig up the bitumen and send it there for refining and use. The ethical oil folks admit China is a police state, so why do they support selling them our industry and resources? The anti-American conspiracy theories are even more absurd. Saying that opposition to the Northern Gateway is a plot by US funding agencies to protect America’s access to Canadian oil is just idiotic.
The only real argument for Northern Gateway is that it will increase profits for the oil industry and hand over more of our resources and the associated profits and jobs to China. The arguments against it are so numerous we’ve barely touched them here.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org