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Things to do before you build a pipeline across British Columbia


 

Harry Swain, a former deputy minister, explains what the federal government needs to make the Northern Gateway pipeline an acceptable proposition.

For starters, we need a serious oil spill response capacity on the West Coast. The Coast Guard currently has no capable ships, and no trained crews, for dealing with even a modest spill. The closest response capacity is many hours from the Douglas Channel. The Coast Guard needs a base in the region, a dozen small ships and a few bigger ones, new regulations, new response doctrine, new training manuals, and a lot of at-sea practice before the first tanker sails the channel.

One will also need quite a number of new licensed pilots. These take almost as long to train as neurosurgeons, so it’s time to get started. For a federal government whose only relevant action so far is moving the sole West Coast oil spill response facility to Quebec, there is a lot to do.

Meanwhile, the Globe editorial board pans Christy Clark’s proposal, but offers an alternative.

If Ms. Clark’s worries are genuine, but not so great as to be prohibitive should the project pass environmental reviews, a more defensible condition would be insisting upon some form of insurance to help cover costs in the case of an accident. That could involve an iron-clad commitment from the federal and Alberta governments (along with Enbridge, the company that would build the pipeline) to ensure that B.C. did not absorb any cleanup costs, or even the establishment of a fund to cover those costs in the event they’re ever incurred.


 

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