The Shotgun Blog
Friday, October 12, 2012
Canada's Pipeline Insurgency Should Refine Its Friends
It’s a newly-buff pipeline industry that's stepping into the lion's den at the final hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline which will last through October into November.
Project proponent Enbridge served notice that the days of being a punching bag for eco-nuts is over. The company is coming on all aggressive, demanding that the Canadian front groups against the pipeline reveal their funding from American sources, whose ultimate goal is to shut down Canada's oil industry regardless of the damage it does to the country's economy and future prospects. It looks like a bruising month ahead.
But while the big battles are being fought in the public spotlight, there's a homegrown insurgency that's nipping at the heels of the pipelines that's gone pretty much unnoticed outside of Alberta.
It's a broad coalition of ranchers and farmers who have pipelines criss-crossing their land and who have become very disillusioned with their "partners" in land stewardship. They fluctuate between being very scared of the power of the pipeline industry and being very angry at getting pushed around.
They say they're not against oil pipelines, but while they talk the talk, they walk the other side of the street. There appears to be pretty much zero degrees of separation between them and their cheerleaders like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.
And that's a shame because they have a point. Several, in fact.
There have been 3 newsmaking pipeline spills in Alberta this year which have shaken the public's trust in the oil industry:
* 800,000 litres of oil leaked into muskeg in May
* 475,000 litres of light sour crude leaked out of an unused pipeline into the Red Deer River in early June. The river is the drinking water source for many communities.
* 230,000 litres of heavy crude leaked from Enbridge's Athabasca pipeline later in June.
Landowners are scared for two reasons. First, is having all that gooey oil spilled on your land, contaminating your crops and your cows, and second, is the legitimate concern that changes to the National Energy Board Act this year might have made the cost of clean up of spills on abandoned lines the responsibility of the landowner. It's not clear if federal law trumps provincial law and nobody wants the expense of a court case to figure it out.
Other changes to the NEB Act force a farmer to get the pipeline owner's permission to cross a line with any vehicle. The landowners see that as losing control of their own property, backed up by extremely heavy fines if they fail to get that permission.
But how much of that fear is legitimate and how much is paranoia fed by their fellow travelers?
The Alberta government says the number of "incidents" involving pipelines has declined 27 percent in the four years from 2007 to 2011. And "incidents" includes everything from spills to simple contact with a pipeline. Sounds like progress, right?
Landowner associations don't care. They don't trust anything this or any government says. And that's a recipe for trouble.
Right now, the domestic landowners associations are a nuisance to the pipeline industry. But because they have some legitimate concerns the industry has to listen and talk to them.
However if they continue to cast their lot with the U.S. funded eco-nuts, they will cross an invisible line and go from nuisance to enemies of the industry.
Enbridge is flexing its muscles to deal with its American enemies. It knows that the Harper government intends to break the reliance on the U.S. as the sole customer for Canadian oil. A pipeline to the Pacific is inevitable. Oil is the future of Canada, not moo-moo cows or flowing fields of grain.
Once that war is won, the industry will turn to the homegrown insurgents. It can be as magnanimous victors, or as avenging magistrates.
The landowners associations should consider moving a few degrees closer to Kevin Bacon and a few degrees farther from Suzuki and friends.
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