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Memo to the NDP: Trans Mountain is Bigger, Riskier than Northern Gateway

Tom Mulcair should support both Enbridge and Kinder Morgan's Pacific pipeline proposals, or the NDP leader should oppose them both. To favour one and not the other is simply incoherent.

Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain fulfill exactly the same purpose — except the latter would carry larger volumes of diluted bitumen, with a wider range of risks.

In a year-end interview with Postmedia journalist Peter O'Neil, Mulcair chose to attack the review process for such projects, rather than evaluate what the two companies are proposing.

O'Neil writes: "Mulcair said he’s not going to oppose the Kinder Morgan project, which submitted its National Energy Board application last week. He said the NDP recognizes the importance of getting Canadian oil and gas to the B.C. and Atlantic coasts to avoid dependence on the U.S. market."

It's unclear how that squares with Mulcair's vehement rejection of the Enbridge proposal.

Size matters

Enbridge has applied to pump 525,000 barrels of unrefined bitumen every day — over the Rockies, past BC communities and onto supertankers bound for China. In a news conference last week, Tom Mulcair called that idea "madness" and "a non-starter." But Kinder Morgan's double pipeline would do the same, carrying 890,000 barrels a day.

If Northern Gateway would export refinery jobs, Trans Mountain will export them faster.

If Northern Gateway would increase Canada's carbon emissions, Trans Mountain will increase them faster.

If Northern Gateway would transfer Canada's strategic energy reserves to a foreign superpower, Trans Mountain will do it faster.

And if Northern Gateway would inflate Canada's currency, killing manufacturing jobs in Ontario, Trans Mountain will make this 'Dutch disease' worse.

Northern Gateway would cross the Fraser watershed, home to quite likely the planet's largest remaining population of salmon. Trans Mountain crosses the same system closer to the ocean, where more fish come through.

Northern Gateway is opposed by 130 First Nations that have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration. This Indigenous legislation also covers the new Trans Mountain line.

Enbridge has a history of pipeline spills. So does Kinder Morgan. At least Enbridge is Canadian-owned. Kinder Morgan is from Texas. And Kinder Morgan's project carries risks for Canadian constituents even beyond what Enbridge is proposing.

More to lose

Northern Gateway would end in Kitimat, filling 220 oil tankers a year. Trans Mountain would load 408 tankers — more than one per day — in the heart of Metro Vancouver. A tanker accident in the Douglas Channel would hurt fisheries, wildlife, tourism, BC taxpayers and First Nations communities. A tanker accident in Burrard Inlet would do all that and worse.

Nowhere else in the world is diluted bitumen shipped from an urban harbour surrounded by two million people. A large spill would be a public health hazard, with repercussions for existing industries, real estate values, and the city's international brand.

Unlike Kitimat, Vancouver sits on top of an active subduction zone and seismologists suggest the city is overdue for a magnitude 9 earthquake — with a possible accompanying tsunami.

In 1994 a 6.7-scale earthquake in Los Angeles ripped a pipeline apart at the seams, spilling 200,000 gallons of oil into the Santa Clara river and surrounding waterways. That was a 10-inch diameter pipe. Kinder Morgan's existing pipeline measures 24 inches, carrying more than five times the volume. The company plans to add a 36-inch pipe, which is 13 times the capacity of the pipeline that burst in L.A.

There are other considerations in a crowded city. Given the widespread health impacts and economic disruption that would result, oil tankers in the Vancouver harbour also constitute a potential target for terrorism.

This is not a made-up scenario. In 2002 the double-hulled oil tanker Limburg was rammed by a small boat packed with explosives, spilling 90,000 barrels' worth of crude into the Gulf of Aden. In 2010 an Al Qaeda-linked group claimed responsibility for a similar attack on the Japanese tanker M Star, which thankfully failed.

Over the decades to come, who might be motivated to target oil exports from Vancouver? Perhaps religious extremists with funders in oil-rich Gulf states. Or enemies seeking to dent China's energy supply. Or a doomsday cult, or misguided eco-militants, or just a self-radicalized individual with access to a motorboat. A low-probability event, to be sure — but all terrorist attacks are.

Political fallout

After evaluating the risks versus potential rewards, Vancouver City Council voted unanimously last week to oppose the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion. Mulcair's provincial counterpart, BC NDP leader Adrian Dix, did the same before the last provincial election in April.

Peter O'Neil writes: "Mulcair is not going to get caught making the same mistake as Dix did when he announced in mid-campaign that a provincial NDP government would oppose the $5.4 billion Kinder Morgan pipeline project to the B.C. coast even before it went to regulatory review."

There is a persistent story in BC that Dix lost because of his stance on Kinder Morgan. I think that's more of a convenient excuse, fuelled in part by the people responsible for his otherwise lacklustre campaign — many of whom are back working for Mulcair.

Polling by Justason Market Intelligence in the wake of Dix's Earth Day announcement showed a clear bump for the NDP as a result, drawing new admirers from the Liberals (5%), Greens (4%) and undecided voters (16%). Evidently it was not enough on its own to prop up the collapsing campaign, but the numbers suggest it was a help, not a hindrance.

Since then, local opposition to the Kinder Morgan proposal has only strengthened. If the federal NDP supports the Trans Mountain expansion, the party's Vancouver-area MPs will have until the next election to explain that logic to constituents.

Editor's note: Following the publication of this article, Postmedia reporter Peter O'Neil edited the online version of his story, which the NDP complained was misleading. O'Neil's article now says Mulcair will not be "ruling out support for the Kinder Morgan project in advance of its assessment by the National Energy Board." See Kai and O'Neil's twitter interaction below:

Image Credit: North West Coast Energy News

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Threats to our environment are often hidden from public view.
So we’ve embarked on a little experiment at The Narwhal: letting our investigative journalists loose to file as many freedom of information requests as their hearts desire.

They’ve filed more than 300 requests this year — and unearthed a veritable mountain of government documents to share with readers across Canada.

But the reality is this kind of digging takes lots of time and no small amount of money.

As many newsrooms cut staff, The Narwhal has doubled down on hiring reporters to do hard-hitting journalism — and we do it all as an independent, non-profit news organization that doesn’t run any advertising.

Will you join the growing chorus of readers who have stepped up to hold the powerful accountable?

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