September 27, 2012
Kootenay activists planning local opposition to the Enbridge pipeline
––Nelson, BC February 23, 2012
Nearly 100 people came out to talk about local opposition to the Enbridge pipeline proposal in Nelson on Thursday, February 23rd.
After hearing more about the pipeline and the tanker traffic on the coast, people took time to come up with local activities to show opposition to the project.
West Kootenay EcoSociety coordinator David Reid led the crowd through a group exercise to come up with action ideas. Supporting the First Nations, t-shirts, shareholder activism and local pipeline parties all came up as ideas and several groups formed to pursue some of these actions.
Two guest speakers outlined issues with the pipeline. Local biologist Wayne McCrory has worked extensively on the bear populations on the coast and the Great Bear Rainforest. Local energy expert Dan Woynillowicz talked about the national economic future the pipeline and the tar sands are creating.
McCrory explained some of the basics of the pipeline project.
“We’re talking about a three-foot diameter pipeline that’s going to come all the way across the Rocky Mountains. 1100 kilometres to Kitimat and there’ll be another smaller pipeline beside it that takes back this condensate.”
The pipeline will cross hundreds of BC streams and rivers including many large salmon tributaries, he pointed out.
But McCrory focussed on possible impacts on the coastal environment and the new traffic in huge oil tankers, some over a kilometre long.
“Two hundred and twenty more tankers a year. Some of them nearly as long as these channels are wide.”
He explained how the Exxon Valdez oil spill had damaged over 1,000 kilometres of Alaskan coastline, damage which continues to this day.
“The Exxon Valdez oil spill had only one mild turn for the tankers to get from where they loaded the oil to the open sea. There’s one hundred kilometres of channels from Kitimat to the open sea and there are five sharp turns.”
McCrory also questioned whether Enbridge has any responsibility or liability for the bitumen once it is loaded on tankers.
Local energy expert Dan Woynillowicz who works for the Pembina Institute pointed out that the proposed pipeline is part of a growing concentration of the Canadian economy in the tar sands.
He raised concerns, as he put it, on “What that means for the sustainability of our economy over the longer term.”
Woynillowicz said that “that our current leadership in Canada may not recognize that the world is trending towards a lower carbon economy.”
He said the hazards of depending too much on the tar sands are already being felt. “We now have a currency whose value is correlated directly with the price of oil.” That means the value of our dollar goes through huge swings with the oil price. Woynillowicz explained how that makes investment difficult in manufacturing and other longer term and more stable industries in the country. “We are seeing a hollowing out of our manufacturing sector. Those jobs are not being replaced by jobs in the tar sands.”
Wayne McCrory focussed on how a tanker oil spill would seriously impact the rare, gene pool of the Kermode bear on small Gribbell Island, which is along the proposed tanker route from Kitimat. Recent genetic studies has shown that this island has over 45% white Kermode bears and is likely where the recessive gene for the white phase bear originated. He outlined how the incidence of white Kermodes varies from island to island and the mainland in the area, representing a version of Canada’s own Galapagos and evolution in the making. An oil spill along the Inside tanker route would devastate these small island bear populations, especially on Gribbell where clearcut logging and overfishing have resulted in diminished salmon runs. An oil spill would further decrease salmon for the bears as well as mussels and barnacles which the bears feed on in the intertidal zone, especially in years when the few small salmon runs on Gribbell are down. This will cause population declines and disruption of this fragile but globally significant gene pool.
Wayne McCrory also summed up a broader concern about exporting tar sands bitumen.
“We shouldn’t just think of the tar sands and the mountains the pipeline would go through, or the tanker traffic. We should think of the atmosphere, because it’s the atmosphere today that’s going to have the most devastating impacts with climate change in our lives,” said McCrory.
If you were Alberta’s oil industry, you would have hundreds of billions of dollars. Left over. The amazing amount of money for the oil corporations is explained in a great report called Misplaced Generosity (http://parklandinstitute.ca/research/summary/misplaced_generosity/) from the Parkland Institute. The report shows the oil industry has pumped itself hundreds of billions of dollars of excess profits over the last 10 to 14 years.
The report sums up: “Since the 1997 royalty changes, Alberta’s tar sands have produced between $97 billion and $167 billion in pre-tax profits for the largely foreign-owned companies operating there. And, because of the cost structure in the tar sands, approximately 80-90 per cent of those have been excess profits.”
“In all, between 1999 and 2008, Alberta’s traditional oil and natural gas industry enjoyed more than $121 billion in excess, unearned pre-tax profits-more than a quarter of which accrued in 2007 and 2008.”
Regan Boyd’s report does a great job of detailing how the province has failed to collect billions in excess rent from the oil industry over this time. But he doesn’t point out much about where the money goes, other than into corporate oil generally.
Some individual companies have rolled in absolutely windfall profits. This year Enbridge reports a 33% increase in revenue, to $5.3 billion. In 2010 Encana, the big natural gas company, had revenues of $8.8 billion, with $1.5 billion of that being profit. In 2006 when gas prices peaked, Encana made the Canadian corporate recording breaking profit of $6 billion (on revenue of about $18 billion!)
In 2010 Imperial Oil (Esso) made $3.88 billion in profits on revenues of $31 billion. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imperial_Oil). Imperial operates with about 5,000 employees. I hoped they paid them well, because that’s about $776,000 profit per employee!
That makes Imperial Oil worth just about as much as the entire government of Alberta which recently has been spending about $30 billion a year. It also makes Imperial worth more than three Nova Scotias, which spends about $9 billion a year.
The problems with all these billions, and there are hundreds of them, is that it starts to feel kind of meaningless. What’s a billion dollars? It’s hard to figure, it certainly would buy a lot of Chevrolets, wouldn’t it? In fact, if you had a billion dollars, you could make 999 of your closest friends millionaires…. plus yourself of course. That’s right, a billion is one thousand million dollars.
If you were even more generous (although it’s hard to talk about generosity here, in the context of Alberta’s massive generosity to the oil business) you could get a lot of people employed. If it costs $125,000 to create a $75,000 a year job – that’s a pretty good paying job – you could create 8,000 full time jobs for a year.
You could pay for about one third of Alberta’s post-secondary students, the operating budget for all the province’s universities, colleges, technical institutes and adult learning is $2.8 billion (Alberta Budget 2011-12).
You could pay the full operating costs for the cities of Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat (including all their employees) for a full year.
You could say, in a sense, that a billion is the new million. But it’s still a fantastically huge amount of money. Even on a national scale, the oil industry has grabbed on to a huge piece of wealth in Canada. How much? Well according to Regan Boyd’s numbers, it’s about $300 billion in the last dozen or so years. If we were to split that up between every one of us 30 million Canadians, it’s about $10,000 each. Unfortunately, that money is NOT being spread around like that. It’s going to the 1%, leaving little left for the other 99 per cent of us.
“The National Energy Board (NEB), the federal body tasked with overseeing the Enbridge hearing, issued a general directive one year ago designed to exclude input from prominent environmental groups critical of the astonishingly rapid expansion of the tar sands – an expansion that only stands to increase with the proposed pipeline. …
“The NEB justifies the exclusion – which denies some of Canada’s leading environmental scientists the right to talk about climate change, greenhouse gasses and Canada’s energy future throughout the hearing – rather crudely:
“…we do not consider that there is a sufficiently direct connection between the [Pipeline] Project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development, or other oil production activities, to warrant consideration of the environmental effects of such activities…Subject to consideration of cumulative effects…we will not consider the environmental effects of upstream hydrocarbon production projects or activities in our review.” [emphasis mine]
The Wilderness Committee has put out a release saying: “Kinder Morgan has confirmed there was an oil spill this morning at the Sumas Terminal and tank farm in Abbotsford, after residents phoned 911 and reported headaches and nausea from a heavy smell of gas in the air.”
This is near the end of the TransMountain pipeline which already has had several spills.