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.


Things to do before you build a pipeline across British Columbia

  1. These sorts of “Lessons Learned” should be helpful for the next pipeline proposal to the west coast from Alberta (to Prince Rupert or twinning of Kinder Morgan to Burnaby). Tough to see the Enbridge proposal as currently configured going foreward.

    In additional to insurance, or mitigating risk through increasing the Factor of Safety at the design phase (the normal approach) as Enbridge has recently undertaken (at a reported incremental cost of $500 million), another approach would be substantive fines for spillage (It seems to me the BP Gulf Coast blowout faced $1,000 per barrel US Fed fine).

    • There’s an interesting story about the nature of the LLP that will be operating the Northern Gateway Pipeline here: Financial Post link

      • Thank you for the link. It seems that Enbridge is quite adept at risk assessment when it comes to protecting its financial assets. How good are we, as a country at doing the same for our ecological assets?

      • Robyn Allan, the individual noted in the story, it should be noted, was appointed ICBC chief under the previous NDP gov’t of Glen Clark. And she has only receently embraced opposition to the NG pipeline coincident with the current NDP opposition gaining in the polls in B.C. Feathering the nest?

        In fact, her analysis of the economics of the proposed Northern Gateway project was submitted under a different intervenor as she had failed to meet the deadline to register as an intervenor herself.

        I’ve read/heard some of her economic arguments elsewhere, and have come to conclude many of her points reflect more upon her inexperience with this industry.

        If Enbridge is underinsured, make carrying more insurance a condition of any approval, as noted elsewhere.

        • I want assurances that Enbridge is technically capable of cleaning up a dilbit spill, as well as financially capable. The financial capability is easy to assess, by looking at the costs of Enbridges other major and minor spills and adjusting for probable spill sizes in BC. I’m sure the insurance companies are good enough at calculating their risk to do this and make a profit. The technical capability, less so. As anyone following the Kalamazoo spill knows, the dilbit separated upon contact with water, into diluent (gas condensate) which floats (and is relatively easy to clean) and bitumen, which sinks to the river bed. Dealing with the bitumen on the river bed of a fast-flowing river will require fast action (to prevent downstream contamination) and technological capabilities that I’m not sure any pipeline company possesses.

  2. So what’s the Master Plan here…..crossed fingers? prayers? good luck charms?

    If this is the first anybody’s thought about it, the project is already DOA.

  3. I hope the BC NDP gets it. And the people of BC. She is saying YES.

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