10 January 2012

Topical Tuesday Tackles the Tarsands

Those who know me, know that in the last few years I've been on a news diet. Especially in the car while I'm driving. Instead I listen to audio books from the library. This week, due to several technical malfunctions, I found myself without my defence against listening to the radio. And so I did.
I listened to the CBC - Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for you non-canucks and I listened to a report on the proposed pipe-line, The Northern Gateway - hearings begin today on this controversial project. Who's agin it - 1st Nation Peoples who live, fish, hunt and enjoy the land it will cross, most environmental groups with any smarts, who do not wish to support any further exploiting of the tarsands. Who's for it? The Harper Hooligans, the big oil companies and well, you know, the usual suspects of greed and avarice.
What I heard yesterday that got my head a-steaming, was that Harper is furious that "highly financed groups from the United States were protesting the pipe-line. How dare those non-Canadians interfere?? Bluster bluster blah blah!
Here's a story I heard about Stephen Harper when he was little. It may be not be true ;)  He was taken to the municipal swimming pool - a pool that his Daddy was on the board of, being an important man about town. Little Stevie had to pee so he did, in the pool. An older smart-guy from another community asked him what the heck he thought he was doing. Stevie said 'it's my pool and I'll pee in it if I want - it isn't any of your beeswax. You just swim in the deep-end...so it won't matter to you."
Here's a piece from the Globe & Mail for those of you who want to know more. Please engage. As a Canadian, I believe it is your business what big oil is getting up to. I invite you to join those 'moneyed rebels' with your pledges of support.

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The Northern Gateway pipeline, politics and the law

From Tuesday's Globe and Mail
After years of preparation, a project that would reshape the geography of Canada’s energy landscape is entering public hearings. But with the tremendous rancour already stoked by Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, it’s likely some of the most important decisions that will clear – or block – the path for its construction won’t be made by the three-person federal joint review panel that expects to render a verdict by the end of 2013.
Instead, it’s possible the courts – and perhaps even Parliament – will be called on to play defining roles. The pipeline represents such an important confluence of issues – Canada’s future energy development versus its commitment to environmental obligations and first nations rights – that legal and political intervention could set important national precedents.
There are several ways this could happen, and several important possible outcomes – both if the National Energy Board approves Gateway, angering opponents, or if it denies a project the Harper government has vocally supported.
Legal challenge
First nations and environmental groups are almost certain to appeal any approval of Northern Gateway. They could do so on numerous grounds. If the NEB gives its blessing, that decision can be challenged in the Federal Court of Appeal on procedural grounds. First nations groups could also mount constitutional challenges, arguing that they have not been accorded sufficient consultation or accommodation. First nations do not have a veto on resource projects, but legal wrangling can force substantial delays.
Creative federal intervention
Ottawa has been loath to directly interfere with the National Energy Board, which is supposed to operate independently. But there are several examples of how it has used more creative means to overturn a decision, without doing so directly. For example, when the NEB came out with a restrictive policy on natural gas exports, Ottawa asked the board to reconsider – and the NEB came back with a less restrictive policy. The NEB also said no to a natural gas pipeline to Atlantic Canada, saying it didn’t make financial sense. After Ottawa implemented the National Energy Plan, which included provisions that changed the economics of the pipeline, the NEB reconsidered and approved. The Harper government has already shown its willingness to intervene in similar ways with the CRTC and Investment Canada.
Direct federal intervention
Parliament has often intervened in major pipeline projects. It was Parliament that cleared the way for construction of the initial TransCanada Corp. Mainline pipeline, which delivers western gas to eastern markets by way of Northern Ontario. And Parliament also stepped in to pass legislation for an Alaska gas pipeline through Canada, drafting and passing the Northern Pipeline Act. Legislation could be used to overturn an NEB decision not to approve – a move that would, according to multiple sources, be unprecedented and susceptible to legal challenge. But Ottawa could also use legislation to strengthen an approval. Legislation can still be challenged on some grounds, but it’s a more ironclad method to approve a pipeline, since there are fewer grounds for appeal. It would be an unusual method, but it’s been done before with pipelines.
The stakes
A Supreme Court ruling on first nations consultation and accommodation could provide an important clarification of how aboriginal people should be treated in relation to resource projects and industrial development. That’s something lawyers have been begging for, since there is no neat prescription of what needs to be done to meet those principles. But if Ottawa forces through a project that either the NEB turns down or first nations continue to stridently oppose, it risks damaging the credibility of the NEB – or opening a major conflict with aboriginal people. “One of the things I’ve always looked at as a key to this case is whether or not this is the issue on which Prime Minister Harper wants to pick a battle with the first nations,” said George Hoberg, a professor in environmental and natural resource policy and governance at the University of British Columbia. The Gateway case is fraught with so many issues that Prof. Hoberg is already using it as a classroom case study. Lawyers with first nations expertise are also watching closely.

And so will I be. Like an endangered-hawk I'll be watching...


CA Heaven said...

Interesting to see a Canadian's view on this. I work for BigOil, and my company is heavily involved in tar sands in Alberta. I only work on marine exploration myself, so I've never been in the tar-sand projects, but I know many people who are. There are plenty of people in my company who don't like the tar sand production, but our general company-attitude is as follows: If the Canadian democracy has decided that they will exploit the tar-sand resources, we're willing to help (provided we make a lot of money on it of course; like Frank Zappa said: We're in it only for the money). The main problem with the tar sands is the marginal energy budget (you need to spend 9 barrels of oil to produce 10 barrels), and the environmental issues. We (more precisely; my company) claim that we're able to produce the tar sands more efficient and cleaner than anyone else. We'll probably continue until the Canadian people (i.e. the elected politicians) kick us out.

Cold As Heaven

Hart Johnson said...

Jan, I think you know me and my attitude on most of this. I am an environmentalist at my very CORE. I hope your courts up there are still rational thinking entities, as your neighbors to the south seem to find more and more that ours have been bought and paid for and they no longer do what's right.