Pitting the economy against the environment has always seemed to me to be a false dichotomy.
For example, here in British Columbia, we have an economy that relies both on the province's natural resources and its natural beauty, and to not care for the environment from which we draw those resources, seems a short term fools game.
Though right now in B.C., a person is either for the economy or for the environment, and neither the two shall meet. Again, it is a fools game. And the game is playing out most ridiculously when it comes to the debate over the development of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline that would run from Alberta to an offshore shipping facility in the small northern town of Kitimat, BC.
In the provincial election that is underway, there are two parties (B.C. Liberals and B.C. Conservatives) that are being framed as "pro-business" for their support of the pipeline, while the two parties questioning the construction of the gateway pipeline (Green Party and the N.D.P.) are framed as "anti-business."
In the game of politics, it is always easier to convince the electorate that issues are in stark contrast, as it makes for great talking points for the candidates. However, when you look at the facts (which tend to be overlooked in political debate) and consider how the economy and the environment rely on one another, I would suggest that supporting the construction of the Enbridge Gateway pipeline is in fact "anti-business" for British Columbia.
So here's the facts as best I can find them:
What BC Gets with the New Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline
According to Enbridge, the construction phase of the pipeline will create about 3,000 short term construction jobs and long term about 560 jobs – these predicted numbers of course need to be taken with a grain of salt given the source, but for arguments sake let's say they turn out to be accurate. The tax revenues to B.C. would be about $1.3 billion over 30 years (roughly $40 million a year). As far as new cash into the economy from spending on capital equipment and goods and services, Enbridge estimates about $830 million in one-time spending.
While these numbers are impressive, especially for the Northern region of the province, BC also gets something else with the Gateway pipeline in the form of huge economic risk.
With the Gateway pipeline, BC can expect to see 225 oil supertankers on our coastal waters each year, handling an estimated 500,000 barrels of oil a day. While oil tankers are safer than they once were, with that much oil and that many tankers on our unpredictable and often remote coast, it is not a matter of whether we will see a major oil spill, but a matter of when. All the technology in the world cannot save for human error and this has been shown time and time again on the coasts of almost every major oil exporter from Venezuela to Saudi Arabia. Oil spills are also permanent, and no end of clean up can get all the oil.
This is not even mentioning the inevitable inland spills that occur from oil pipeline bursts, with Enbridge being one of the more notorious companies on this front responsible for a massive rupture in Michigan into the Kalamazoo river in 2010, among others.
So What is At Risk to B.C.'s Economy?
Sport Fishing Industry
According to a report by the BC government done a few years ago on the economic profile of saltwater angling in BC, the province sees $550 million in angler expenditures, $120 million in wages and benefits paid and 3,590 full time jobs per year. Home to the King Salmon, much of the sport fishing tourism and angling jobs are very near the coastal waters of Kitimat, where the Enbridge pipeline would end and oil tankers would fill up on crude. And anyone who has been up that way knows that there is just as much amazing fishing for these massive fish inland on the the Skeena River, which just so happens to flow out to the ocean up the coast only a relatively short distance from Kitimat and near the northern oil tanker shipping route.
B.C.'s Seafood Industry
In 2011, according to a report by the BC government, more than 100 species of fish, shellfish and marine plants were harvested with, "… an estimated wholesale value of $1.4 billion." Now don't get me started on fish farms (if you want to know where I stand just watch this), but I am assuming fish farmers can't be too happy with the prospect of 225 oil tankers and millions of gallons of oil being pumped off the west coast. According to the BC Seafood Alliance, the seafood industry provides 11,000 full time jobs on our coast.
Whale Watching and Eco-Tourism
Globally, the whale watching industry topped $2 billion in 2009, and at that time was projected to add $400 million and 5,700 jobs to the global economy. You don't need stats to know that whale watching is big in BC, and whales and oil don't get along to well in the same water. Eco-tourism as a whole is a massive and growing industry. According to BC's Wilderness Tourism Association, "the wilderness tourism sector also represents 26,000 direct full-time jobs and some 40,000 jobs in total," and contributes about $1.5 billion annually to B.C.'s economy. To be fair, not all eco-tourism in B.C. is on the coast, but a heck a lot of it is and I am sure kayakers will not appreciate the wake of a oil super-tanker.
I could go on, but I think you get my point. The jobs and revenue our coastal waters already provide are vast and growing, and (for the most part) are sustainable. And these figures are based on real life – they are proven jobs and money our province gets right now, which makes them much more valuable than the theoretical estimates by an energy company that is trying very hard to display its project in the best light possible.
So considering all of this, and the economic risks our province will face with a pipeline burst or an ocean oil spill that history has proven to be inevitable, who in this B.C. election is "anti-business"? Those against the Northern Gateway pipeline or those in favour?
Image Credit: Enbridge Tanker Safety Video, screen shot.