Premier Alison Redford’s biggest problem with Alberta’s leaky pipeline file isn’t really the breach that recently dripped 450,000 or so litres of light crude into the Gleniffer Reservoir, just upstream from the city of Red Deer.
For all the news that’s been generated in the past few days, and for all that its timing and location were far from ideal for the well-heeled folks who would like to build pipeline mega-projects hither and yon from Alberta, this particular leak will soon be forgotten.
The bitter fact is Alberta is crisscrossed with petroleum pipeline infrastructure – some of it pretty old – and somewhere it is leaking nasty stuff pretty much all the time.
As former Edmonton Journal managing editor Stephen Hume, now a semi-retired author in British Columbia where he grew up, warned British Columbians in the Vancouver Sun: “When enthusiasts for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project rush to hype the safety of pipeline technology and denounce doubters as part of some sinister conspiracy while scoffing at questions about risk as public hysteria, take it all with several pounds of salt.”
Now, Mr. Hume will no doubt be dissed and dismissed as a wrecker, a bully and a left-winger by the industry’s “Ethic Oil” shills – he is none of those things, of course, but that’s the fate that awaits pretty much anyone who talks back to these well-financed and well-connected propagandists.
But you can be confident he speaks the truth when he says, “oil spills, explosions, fires and toxic pollution as a consequence of ruptures are anything but exceptional. They still happen on an almost daily basis.”
But nowadays, if the leaks are noticed at all, there’s only a brief hit in the news, and then the story goes away.
In Alberta, too many people – and it must be acknowledged that includes many working people – are making too much money from oil for that to be very likely to change. About the best we can hope for here is that a decent monitoring system can be put in place to keep track of problems and nip them in the bud.
No, the biggest problem for Alberta, no matter which direction the new pipelines the government would like to build are pointed, is what happens in the jurisdictions the line needs to pass through.
And this is a particular problem for the Redford Government’s enthusiasm for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, also beloved by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, because it runs through British Columbia, which has, to be blunt about it, very little to gain from the idea.
The pipeline industry that is pushing this project just doesn’t have much in the way of economic benefits for British Columbians it can promise to deliver. For if the pipeline is built, once the dust from the construction project has settled, there will be very few jobs and negligible economic spin-offs west of the Alberta border. What’s more, British Columbians of all political stripes know it.
This explains the obvious ambivalence of B.C. Premier Christy Clark, notwithstanding the presence in her inner circle of a well-known former Enbridge lobbyist, when she talks about the Northern Gateway proposal. In a recent CBC interview, she described it as “a balance of risk and benefit,” and then couldn’t think of any benefits. “…It would create almost no jobs in British Columbia,” she accurately observed.
On one hand, the deep-pocketed folks who finance her party’s campaigns are determined to see the pipeline built. It’s certain they’ve let her know that if her misnamed Liberal Party fails to deliver, there’s a so-called Conservative Party waiting in the provincial wings.
On the other hand, she also knows darned well the people of B.C. aren’t persuaded of the merits of the plan. With an election looming, and lagging far behind the NDP in the polls, it doesn’t take a PhD in political science to see that’s a problem for Ms. Clark.
Repeating the mantra that the polls were wrong about Ms. Redford isn’t likely to help her much either – unless some British Columbia New Democrat decides to start musing about the future inhabitants of the Lake of Fire.
And what, pray, can Ms. Redford do to persuade Ms. Clark to take a chance on the politically radioactive Enbridge proposal, at least before May 14, 2013, the fixed-election date the B.C. premier is pretty much locked into?
Even after the election, even if Ms. Clark’s B.C. Liberals manage to eke out an unexpected victory, the political circumstance of any party advocating a project that’s a no-win proposition for the province’s voters is likely to be a precarious one.
Which means Ms. Redford and her Alberta Progressive Conservatives are likely to continue have a frustrating time making their pipeline dreams come true, even though they totally dominate the political landscape of this province.
Unless, that is, there was something in Mr. Harper’s Bill C-38 making opposing the Enbridge Pipeline a criminal offence. Too bad that doesn’t sound like a joke any more in Mr. Harper’s Canada!
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.