It’s Enviro-Mama Thursday here at Strocel.com, and today I’m thinking about oil pipelines, politics and the planet.
There’s an ongoing public debate happening in my backyard over the Northern Gateway project. The project, which is being operated by Enbridge, aims to build an oil pipeline from the oil sands in Northern Alberta to the coast in Northern British Columbia, where it can be shipped to Asia and elsewhere. On one side, you have the Canadian government and the oil industry who are arguing that we need this in order to open new markets. On the other side, you have environmental, First Nations and other groups who feel that the risk isn’t worth the reward.
Here in British Columbia, there’s a lot of airtime devoted to discussing the project. Many people are publicly opposing it, others feel it’s necessary, and most people probably don’t really know one way or the other. When a report was released earlier this month lambasting the way Enbridge handled a spill in the US, it only upped the ante. The idea that the company that totally botched one spill would be building a pipeline through some of the world’s most pristine wilderness raises some pretty legitimate concerns.
Earlier this week British Columbia Premier Christy Clark added more fuel to the fire by imposing conditions that Northern Gateway must meet in order for the province to consider allowing construction to happen. There are five, and they include successful completion of the environmental review process, world-leading land and water oil spill prevention and response, addressing First Nations concerns, and money. The money appears to be the big issue and the primary sticking point, at least for now.
Premier Christy Clark
I honestly have mixed feelings about this project, just as I have mixed feelings about oil and gas in general. On the one hand, I drive a car and use petroleum products in my daily life. It would be hypocritical of me to say that we shouldn’t extract and ship oil. As well, I understand why Canada, as a country, wants to reach out to developing markets. On the other hand, I see that there are a some serious concerns that need to be addressed around Northern Gateway. And what’s more, we need to be investing in alternatives to burning fossil fuels, rather than just increasing capacity so that we can burn more.
I think that last bit is the crux of things for me. I believe that our reliance on petroleum is causing us a whole lot of problems, including pollution and climate change. It concerns me when my federal government is labelling those who hold environmental concerns about a new pipeline as “radicals”. Can we end our reliance on oil tomorrow? No. Do we need to consider the financial needs of our nation? Yes. Does it make sense to have a thoughtful, in-depth conversation, where all viewpoints are represented? I say it does. Does it make sense to invest some of our money into researching the next thing, instead of maintaining the status quo? Once more, I say it does.
In part, anytime that a new pipeline is built and more oil is extracted, it’s being done for us. It’s being done to fuel our cars, generate our electricity, and produce our plastic products. If we want to change things, we need to take a look at ourselves. And yet, we need strong leadership as well. We need governments who are forward-thinking. We need to ask ourselves what the outcome of our actions will be. And we need to think about more than money.
Last summer hundreds of people – including many celebrities – were arrested at protests in Washington, DC against the proposed Keystone Pipeline. In January, Obama nixed that project. We don’t really roll that way in Canada. Large protests aren’t really our thing, and celebrities don’t tend to get involved in political causes. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make our voices heard. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask serious questions and expect serious answers. And it doesn’t mean that we can’t make changes in our personal lives to benefit the planet.
What will happen with Northern Gateway? I don’t honestly know. Because of the way the Canadian government works, I expect it will probably be built eventually, Christy Clark’s conditions notwithstanding. Regardless of what happens here, though, I hope that we take this discussion to heart, and that we consider changing our course. We can’t just keep doing the same thing, and expect to get different results.