I have submitted an application to comment at a hearing of the National Energy Board (Canada’s national energy regulator). The hearing is about the proposal to greatly expand Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Vancouver and will transport diluted bitumen to export markets in Asia. Once completed, the pipeline will carry more dilbit than either the better known Northern Gateway or the Keystone XL projects, some 890,000 barrels per day. In my opinion, the Northern Gateway project will probably get bogged down for years in court challenges from aboriginal groups and Kinder Morgan’s project is more likely to start construction first.
This was written on behalf of the Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council Society, of which I am the President. I have no illusions that this submission, which is just an application to be considered as a commenter, will be accepted. The terms of reference of the review panel have been narrowed to the extent that comments on the upstream and downstream environmental consequences of the project are deemed inadmissible. This is so arbitrary and obviously prejudicial that many people expect that the laws underlying these restrictions will be struck down by Canada’s courts. Challenges are already underway on the Northern Gateway review process. The NEB writes:
The Board does not intend to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.
As if the bitumen could be transported, without first being produced. As if the bitumen would be transported, if it were never to be consumed. It is like arguing that there’s no harm in falling off a cliff, just so long as you don’t hit the ground.
References, links and more details can be found in my post Pipelines cause climate change, let’s talk about it. Here’s what I wrote to the NEB.
The Salt Spring Island Climate Action Council Society is a not-for-profit association of individual volunteers who are dedicated to developing, maintaining and monitoring a Climate Action Plan for our community. The members of the society are committed to finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a local level to play our part in meeting emissions reductions targets committed to by Federal and Provincial Governments. We therefore take a keen interest in the direct environmental consequences of major industrial projects that are being proposed in our area.
The proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is conceived to facilitate the transportation of bitumen produced in Alberta to international markets. We consider, consistent with the Canadian Environmental Act, 2012, that any change “that may be caused to the environment and that is directly linked or necessarily incidental to[…]the project” needs to be considered as part of any NEB review and—because upstream and downstream activities are physically and economically integral to, and inseparable from, the transportation project—increased emissions from these processes must be counted as the direct effects of expanded bitumen transportation infrastructure.
Increased emissions of greenhouse gases are therefore a direct consequence of the Trans Mountain expansion. These emissions will result in irreversible changes to our local climate, acidification of the ocean waters around our island and rising sea levels. A rapidly changing climate will lead to changes in the biodiversity of Salt Spring Island and a likely increase in extreme weather events, which will increase the risk of fire, flood and threats to the island’s water supplies.
Reports by Federal Government agencies forecast that Canada will fail to meet its own emissions targets over coming decades. Despite the successful efforts of many communities and provinces to reduce emissions, overall national emissions will rise, almost entirely due to emissions related to the extraction of bitumen in Alberta. Organizations like ours are doing their best to reduce emissions, but expanding the production of bitumen makes a mockery of these efforts: as if we were bailing out an open boat with ladles, only to see the boat flooded repeatedly by the bow waves from passing tankers.
The environmental consequences of the proposed Trans Mountain expansion are direct, ineluctable and local. They are also severe and irreversible. If the project goes ahead, our volunteer efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—our contribution to meeting Federal and Provincial emissions targets—will be pointless.
You may have noticed that I did not refer to the risk of oil spills on land or sea. This is not because I do not consider spills to be a major threat, they certainly are, especially for dilbit spills in water. However, many other commenters and intervenors, such as the Islands Trust Council and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation will be making that case more effectively than I ever could. In any case, it would be impossible for me to make an honest submission about the project consequences without mentioning climate change. Bringing up that taboo subject would get the entire submission disqualified. It is certainly very wrong that the government censors those of who consider climate change to be relevant to approving this project, but it is even more wrong if we self-censor just because the government tells us to be silent.
You can read the full submission here. I will provide updates as I get them.
I am told that so far there have been 1500 submissions. The deadline for submissions is February 12th, 2014. We will see how many people get to speak, we already know how many the review panel will listen to.
UPDATE April 2nd, 2014
To my great surprise, my application to comment was accepted.