Protest the pipelines

Originally published in the Gulf Islands Driftwood on November 13th, 2013.

The version of the article below is fully referenced.

Faced with the prospect of hundreds of oil tankers every year passing through the waters off the Gulf Islands as a result of Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of their pipeline, concerned Salt Spring Islanders plan to rally at Centennial Park at 12:30 on Saturday November 16th as part of a nationwide protest “Defend Our Communities, Defend Our Climate”

A major oil spill in the waters of the Salish Sea would be unthinkable, with devastating and persistent effects on the coastlines and the marine wildlife that make the Gulf Islands a special place for residents and visitors alike. But just as bad will be the effects on the planet’s climate.

The recently released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[1] underlines the fact that most of the world’s fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground[2] if dangerous climate change is to be avoided. The planned pipeline projects from Alberta to BC’s coast will provide infrastructure that will ensure increased production of bitumen for decades to come. However, the climate consequences of this expansion will endure for millennia.

The size of these projects is staggering. The Kinder Morgan pipeline alone will allow 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen to flow daily through BC’s mountains and seaways. In terms of the greenhouse gas emissions, the end use of these products will generate an extra 78 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year[3]. These numbers are larger than BC’s entire emissions from all sectors. The emissions in Alberta resulting from the production of the bitumen will be about 13 million tons per year in 2017, when the pipeline is slated to start operation. This is far bigger than any projected reductions in BC’s emissions on that timeline. And, remember, these numbers are for just one project; there are two planned pipelines through BC, as well as  the Keystone XL project in the USA and a pipeline to Eastern Canada.

Premier Christy Clark has set five conditions for the approval of the pipelines[4]. No mention is made of climate change. The Federal Government has passed legislation in its C-38 omnibus bill that will prevent interveners at future hearings on pipelines citing climate change, only direct and local effects can be mentioned[5]. (This law is being challenged on constitutional grounds by ForestEthics Advocacy.[6]) None of this is surprising; the only practical way to significantly reduce emissions from oil sands projects is not to do them. The only way for pipeline promoters to deal with concerns about climate change is not to listen.

A recent report from Environment Canada[7] shows that our country will miss its 2020 emissions targets and that the main reason for this are the projected increases in emissions from Alberta’s oil sands operations. Indeed, the emission increases in Alberta more than undo future progress that will be made by all the other provinces combined.

At present, Alberta charges only a very small carbon tax, a maximum of $1.80 per ton on its bitumen operations.[8] In contrast, BC charges $30 per ton on all combusted emissions throughout the economy, including the fossil fuel sector. BC’s efforts have been praised by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development as a “textbook example” of good environmental policy[9]. Not charging a carbon tax gives producers and consumers of fossil fuels a free ride at the expense of future generations and an unfair economic advantage over jurisdictions that do place a price on carbon. The hard-won small steps achieved to date by BC and other provinces will be more than undone by the expansion of the oil sands.

Constructing the pipelines against public opinion will be a slap in the face for Canadians who care about the future health of our planet. If you agree that this is an outrage, please come to Centennial Park on Saturday.

Andy Skuce is a retired oil industry geoscientist, a contributor to the website Skeptical Science and President of the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council Society.

[3] Andy Skuce, Pipelines cause climate change, let’s talk about it

[4] BC Liberal party, Putting BC First

[5] Simon Fraser University Energy Economist Mark Jaccard, It’s the climate, not the oil spill

[8] Pembina Institute, How carbon pricing currently works in Alberta