There are many metaphors we could use to describe Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, which is currently being reviewed by Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) Joint Review Panel.
“Sinking ship” springs immediately to mind. So does the proverbial cart-and-horse. As the hearings bring dozens of interveners from across the country—ranging from highly paid lawyers to volunteer community members—to question Enbridge about its proposed bitumen pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to the northwest coast, it’s clear the company doesn’t have many answers.
An Enbridge spokesperson chirped on CBC radio recently that they had “done our homework” in the 10-year lead up to the NEB hearings. The irony was unbelievable. What was happening inside the Prince George, BC hearing room told a completely different story: that Enbridge’s research is “very preliminary”; that it needs to do “more detailed engineering” and “develop a detailed response plan.”
Enbridge’s answer seems to be, quite simply, we don’t know yet. In other words, “trust us.” And it expects West Coast residents to be OK with that. In fact, at times Enbridge seems miffed at the little credit it gets for what has been done — where’s the love, BC?
The BC government’s eyebrows also appear to be raised over the wishy-washy responses offered by Enbridge’s so-called panel of experts on pipeline safety and spill response. For a group of experts, Enbridge’s panel had little to say.
“The detailed planning … is something that you and Enbridge will be doing in the next few years, is that correct?” Province of BC lawyer Christopher Jones asked the panel on Wednesday. “This is the question that British Columbians are concerned about in the absence of that planning — how is it that we are to be confident that Northern Gateway will effectively be able to respond to a spill?”
Indeed, the company offers little reassurance. It claims that it will finalize its emergency spill response plan six months prior to beginning operations, which is slated for 2015. Once completed, there is no formal public review process for the plan, which is ultimately approved by the National Energy Board.
Its plans for “more detailed engineering” extend not only to spill response, but also to pipeline construction, slope stability along the proposed route and the route itself. Even as the hearings are ongoing, the company is filing route changes for its pipeline.
Talk about shifting goalposts.
In fact, at times you kind of get the sense Enbridge’s experts are making it up as it goes along, elbowing and nodding to one another with a wink that says, “Yeah, plow the emergency response road into the pipeline in winter — let’s write that one down.”
The National Energy Board is being asked to evaluate the pipeline’s potential impacts on communities in northern British Columbia. Clearly, the greatest impacts revolve around an oil spill and Enbridge’s response to it. How can anyone gauge a spills impact without knowing how Enbridge plans to respond? What are we all doing here, anyway?
Enbridge is trying to squeeze its cart — one with quite the squeaky wheel — backwards through the goalposts that it shifts on whim, while all BC residents are faced with is the rear end of a horse.
Clearly, Enbridge is proposing a sinking ship.