Citizen Action Monitor

Alberta premier Notley’s threatened court action over BC’s bitumen ban is “ill-fated,” says Prof

Notley’s case is based on “questionable claims and assumptions.” There is another way, but who’s listening?

No 2157 Posted by fw, February 5, 2018

“Premier Rachel Notley is clearly frustrated by British Columbia’s new obstacles to the expansion of pipeline capacity for transporting Alberta’s diluted bitumen to the coast and on to markets in Asia. She is threatening to take B.C. to court and calling upon the federal government to step in to police the completion of the pipeline expansion. In short, the Alberta government seeks to turn this conflict into a constitutional crisis, while arguing that the entire country—B.C. included—has an interest in letting the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion project go ahead. Her framing of the situation, however, is based on a set of questionable claims and assumptions. She frames it as a conflict between, on the one hand, a rogue and lawless B.C. government acting under pressure from the BC Greens, and, on the other hand, the sensible, law-abiding governments of the rest of Canada which put the interests of jobs and prosperity first.”Laurie Adkin

Laurie Adkin is a professor of political science at the University of Alberta. In her opinion piece for the National Observer, Adkin finds premier Notley’s account of the dispute between Alberta and BC’s NDP governments does not hold up to critical scrutiny. Moreover, as Prof. Adkin point out:

“Even if Alberta ‘wins’ this battle, it will soon meet irresistible forces of global change. Divestment from heavy crude oil production is accelerating and global warming has made rapid decarbonization of our economies imperative.”

The alternative, Adkin says, is for both sides to recognize that the problem is Canada’s, not just Alberta’s or BC’s. And the only solution is for Canada to join a global effort to “reduce its GHG emissions rapidly and deeply.” As she says, “We are all in this together.”

Below is a repost of Adkin’s National Observer’s opinion piece, along with my added subheadings and text highlighting. Alternatively, click on the following linked title to read the piece on the publisher’s website.

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Rachel Notley’s war cry against B.C. is an ill-fated strategy by Laurie Adkin, National Observer, February 5, 2018

Frustrated Alberta NDP premier Notley threatens to take B.C.’s NDP government to court over bitumen ban

Premier Rachel Notley is clearly frustrated by British Columbia’s new obstacles to the expansion of pipeline capacity for transporting Alberta’s diluted bitumen to the coast and on to markets in Asia.

She is threatening to take B.C. to court and calling upon the federal government to step in to police the completion of the pipeline expansion. In short, the Alberta government seeks to turn this conflict into a constitutional crisis, while arguing that the entire country—B.C. included—has an interest in letting the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion project go ahead.

Notley’s account based on “questionable claims and assumptions”

Her framing of the situation, however, is based on a set of questionable claims and assumptions. She frames it as a conflict between, on the one hand, a rogue and lawless B.C. government acting under pressure from the BC Greens, and, on the other hand, the sensible, law-abiding governments of the rest of Canada which put the interests of jobs and prosperity first.

B.C. draft regulations reflect legitimate concerns over bitumen spills 

The B.C. government’s draft regulations address spill response times, geographic response plans, and restitution to local communities in the event of spills of diluted bitumen on land or in coastal waters, and include a plan to appoint a scientific advisory panel.

Notley worried about job threat “to millions” and potential loss of investor confidence

Notley has blasted the proposals as “political game-playing,” “a whim,” “a threat to millions” of jobs in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada. She says these are actions that will diminish investors’ confidence in the predictability of their returns on investment in Canada.

Independent scientists not on board

Notley questions B.C.’s jurisdictional authority

The premier further questions the B.C. government’s jurisdictional authority to bring forward new environmental regulations on a project that has undergone National Energy Board review and received federal cabinet approval.

Even if all the claims of the Alberta government were true, they would be missing an unavoidable reality that calls for an entirely different approach to the current conflict.

Independent scientists question safety assurances given by pipeline proponents and federal government

While proponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion claim that all the science has been done, and assurances have been given to the federal government that any spills can and will be cleaned up (or compensated for) in a satisfactory manner, such claims have not been accepted by independent scientists.

Others raise concern about secrecy surrounding information underpinning cabinet approval

Also, concerns have been raised by regulators in both BC and Washington State about the secrecy of the information upon which the federal cabinet’s approval was based. There are real environmental risks attached to spills of crude oil, emulsified bitumen, and diluted bitumen, and past spills have cast doubt on the ability of existing methods to remediate contaminated sites (Exxon Valdez, anyone?).

Cost of bitumen spill affecting B.C. fisheries are as significant as costs to Alberta over delays to bitumen shipments to Asia  

Moreover, the costs of a major spill affecting coastal British Columbia – considering the importance of fisheries and tourism to that province’s economy —are no less significant than the costs to Alberta of foregone revenue from increased bitumen exports to China.

Ironically, Alberta governments failed to protect their citizens from environmental liabilities 

Many would view the B.C. government’s desire to ascertain the feasibility and costs of remediating such spills as prudent. Alberta governments have been content to allow the environmental liabilities of oil and gas extraction to build up over decades without an adequate system in place to ensure that Alberta citizens will not be saddled with the clean-up costs; other governments may well take another approach.

The Parkland Institute’s estimates of the low and high carbon liability of the five firms that control the majority of oilsands production, compared against its estimate of the GDP of the province of Alberta, home to the oilsands. Parkland Institute data; Infogram graphic by National Observer

Whole communities could lose their livelihoods

In contrast, B.C. is acting to protect its citizens from toxic contamination

And while Alberta’s government wants to protect jobs associated with bitumen extraction, B.C.’s government wants to protect the jobs associated with fisheries and tourism. Whole communities could lose their livelihoods for a very long time due to toxic contamination of coastal and other areas.

Federal government is overriding opposition to pipeline by B.C.’s coastal Indigenous communities 

Few are more aware of this than the Indigenous communities located in proximity to the pipeline route and on the coast, and if we are to speak of constitutional issues, this should include those raised by the federal government’s decision to override the opposition to the Trans Mountain project on the part of multiple First Nations.

Energy economists question Alberta’s claim that Asian buyers of bitumen will pay more

Then there is the claim that Alberta’s bitumen will command higher prices in China or in other Asian markets than it does in the United States—the claim that underpins the Alberta government’s campaign to get the pipeline expansion completed. Here again there is substantial disagreement on the part of energy economists about whether this is a realistic expectation.

Evidently, the company owning and operating the pipeline will make money, but should the government of Alberta view the tanker route to China as the pathway to greater royalty revenue?

Catastrophic oil tanker spill near China coast did not help Notley’s case

Even if the price differential turns out to be significant for some years, will the benefits of this revenue outweigh the serious (possibly irremediable) environmental risks associated with increased tanker traffic in the Juan de Fuca Strait and indeed along the entire oceanic route taken by these ships? Have we not just witnessed a catastrophic oil tanker accident near the coast of China?

Environmentalists raise concerns about risks to Orca whales and other marine life

Environmentalists have been trying hard to bring to the public’s attention the endangered status of orca whales and other marine life. Even without an oil spill, the orcas suffer mortality from the existing tanker traffic. While the federal government has jurisdiction over inter-provincial transportation, it also has responsibility for species at risk and protection of oceans and waterways from pollution.

If Alberta ‘wins’ local battle, it will lose to global changes

Building this pipeline runs counter to achieving a post-carbon global economy

Finally, we must ask about the implications of the tripling of the flow of diluted bitumen from the oilsands to the terminal in Burnaby for Canada’s obligation to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. As environmentalists have argued, building more infrastructure for the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels runs counter to the goal of accelerating a transition to a post-carbon global economy.

No evidence to support claim that we can grow our economy on the back of tar sands and reduce carbon emissions

The repeated assertions by some provincial governments, the federal government, and many business associations that we can somehow have our cake (produce and export more oil) and eat it, too (reduce our greenhouse gas emissions) is unconvincing. No technological wizardry can negate the impact of a 50 per cent increase in oilsands production between 2016 and 2026.

Alberta’s strategy of attacking B.C. government is ill-fated

This reality does, indeed, present a very large problem for the government of Alberta, because so much employment in this province is directly or indirectly dependent on oil and gas extraction—not to mention provincial government revenue, which has nose-dived since oil prices fell in 2014. But sounding the war cry against the government of B.C.—which is, after all, only trying to protect the interests of its own citizens—is an ill-fated strategy to solve Alberta’s revenue and employment problems.

Rapid decarbonization of Canada’s economy must take precedence over increased petrodollar pipe-dreams

Even if Alberta “wins” this battle, it will soon meet irresistible forces of global change. Divestment from heavy crude oil production is accelerating and global warming has made rapid decarbonization of our economies imperative.

The alternative – reduce GHG emissions rapidly and deeply

So what is the alternative? Alberta’s problem is all of Canada’s problem. Canada needs to reduce its GHG emissions rapidly and deeply, if we are to do our fair share to stave off the worst scenarios of global warming. We must do this, because it is simply unethical to shift this burden onto future generations and onto people elsewhere in the world who have fewer means to make this transition and who will suffer far more from the consequences of failure. We are all in this together.

Let the transition from fossil fuels to carbon-free energy sources begin

Rather than having the provinces at one another’s throats, vying for favouritism with Ottawa over who should bear the costs of phasing out fossil fuel production and investing in new energy systems and transportation and production infrastructures, all governments need to work together to create a transition plan that shares costs and compensates for regionally uneven employment and revenue effects.

There is another way —

Alberta cannot be expected to make this transition overnight and without assistance. British Columbia cannot be expected to put its peoples’ livelihoods and environment at greater risk to accommodate increased bitumen export. There is another way, and if we want to be a country built on solidarity, mutual aid, and ecological sustainability, this is the path we must take.

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