Pipelines aren't devil incarnate

It’s easy to be a pipeline opponent these days, especially in B.C.

The ham-fisted public relations approach by Enbridge, in attempting to sell its Northern Gateway proposal, has made it very easy to oppose oil pipelines. But opponents and all the rest of us need to consider some basic facts.

Pipelines are an economic and essential way to send large quantities of commodities like oil a long distance. The alternative means of getting oil to a refining or shipping point are rail or truck. Neither is any safer.

Northern Gateway is proposing a new pipeline along a new route. Enbridge failed to properly consult and make partnerships with native people who live all along its route. Given the lack of treaties in B.C. and court decisions over the past 30 years, that is all but fatal. Native groups will be able to either tie up the process in court for years, or give it an outright veto.

A refinery in Kitimat, proposed by Times owner David Black, would be far better than shipping oil overseas, but it makes more sense with a pipeline to deliver the oil.

The Trans Mountain oil pipeline, which runs through Langley, is now owned by Kinder Morgan. The company has proposed a twinning of its 60-year-old pipeline, and shipping more oil out of Vancouver harbour.

Thus far, Kinder Morgan has not submitted a formal application, but it has set up a series of consultation meetings with people living along the route. While it has an existing right-of-way, it will need to come to agreements with First Nations along the route to allow expansion to go ahead. One suspects much of that work is underway behind closed doors.

People who live on or near the route of the pipeline in Langley have legitimate concerns, and they deserve up-to-date information from the company. So do Langley Township and the Kwantlen and Katzie First Nations.

It is quite likely that if the pipeline goes ahead (and it has a far better chance of being built than does Northern Gateway), the second pipeline will veer away from the main route, where it goes through highly-urbanized Walnut Grove.

Some pipeline opponents think that by stopping or delaying pipeline projects, they will somehow end Alberta oilsands development or curb global warming.

This is particularly true of those in the U.S. protesting the Keystone XL pipeline, which will transport oil from Alberta and North Dakota to Gulf Coast refineries.

Guess what. The oilsands will continue to produce oil. It will simply be transported by another means.

If they are serious about reducing global warming, a good place to start would be in backing proposed LNG plants for the B.C. north coast. The sooner China can replace its coal-fired power plants with plants fired by natural gas, the better it will be for the environment.

However, it’s always easier to be against something than in favour. I’m not aware of any environmental group pushing to replace coal-fired plants with those fired by natural gas, despite obvious benefits to the planet.

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