Tag Archives: pipeline

  • Freshwater Politics and the Gateway Project

    To mark the recent publication of Freshwater Politics in Canada, author Peter Clancy provides a brief overview of the freshwater dimensions of the controversial Northern Gateway project, as well as its many political dimensions. For more on this, or on related issues such as fracking, salmon conservation, Aboriginal water interests, freshwater governance, etc., grab a copy of his brand new book!

    The Northern Gateway project is one of the most significant energy ventures in Canada today. It proposes a 36 inch oil pipeline to convey diluted bitumen (heavy synthetic oil) from the Fort McMurray region to Kitimat BC. There it will be loaded onto tankers for Asian markets. A parallel 20 inch line will carry imported natural gas condensates, required in the manufacturing process, in the opposite direction. About 45 percent of the 1,177 km corridor is in Alberta with the balance in British Columbia.

    Freshwater politics is only part of the controversy here but it is a big part. More than one thousand rivers and streams must be crossed. While all watercourses are sensitive, the proposed Gateway route crosses five major Canadian watersheds. The Skeena and the Fraser drain to the Pacific, the Peace and the Athabasca flow northerly to the Arctic Ocean and the North Saskatchewan River flows easterly to Hudson’s Bay. These watersheds and sub-watersheds enclose a plethora of biological and social communities and each generates a variety of political concerns.

    Once upon a time in Canada, pipeline promoters worried principally about construction rights of way and financial backing. Big trunk pipelines were a post-1945 phenomenon with the Interprovincial Pipeline taking Alberta crude to Sarnia and the Trans-Canada Pipeline moving Alberta natural gas to southern Ontario. Today, land rights and financing are still key business parameters but they are joined by a complex set of political—regulatory and distributive—issues, including environmental impacts during the construction phase, operational safety over the life of the line, and pollution protection in the event of breakdowns.

    Political conflict is widespread. Several forces ensure this. In part it is because today we know and care far more about the bio-physical environment that pipelines traverse. In part it stems from the fact that the earlier generation of pipelines was dominated by organized interests at the source (producers) and at the terminus (consumers). Interests along the transit route were far less acknowledged. Today the interested public is wider—including First Nations, watershed activists, climate campaigners, and host governments. In addition, regulatory mandates are broader and deeper. In short our governing expectations have been transformed. There is far greater awareness and debate over the apportioning of risks and apportioning of benefits.

    In considering the environmental risks associated with Northern Gateway, the 2010 Michigan case is instructive. That July, a forty-year-old pipe ruptured near Battle Creek. In the eighteen hours between the first automated signal warning and the formal report of the breach, up to one million US gallons of oil spilled into a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The downstream flow affected a 25 mile stretch of the main river channel. With bitumen, the heavier compounds sink in water after a spill while the lighter ones float and evaporate. The pipeline owner, Enbridge Corp, spent more than two years dealing with the damages in the most expensive pipeline cleanup on record. The reasons for the spill—metal fatigue and faulty exterior lining—occurred in a relatively mature system but the issues it raises point to the future of Gateway as well. And remember the thousand-plus streams that the Gateway line will cross.

    Freshwater Politics in CanadaAnother striking feature of pipeline politics today is the range of state channels that shape decisions. For example, a project of this scale requires environmental licenses from both federal and provincial authorities. A joint regulatory panel was struck to streamline some of these legal requirements, and policy recommendations were ultimately conveyed to ministers for final decision. The Gateway panel included several hundred conditions as part of its ultimate recommendation for approval and a close analysis of those panel conditions, along with the ultimate ministerial versions, is necessary to capture the proposed apportioning of risks and benefits.

    Another critical channel of state authority is the courts. In vast stretches of proposed pipeline route, title to land is in dispute. First Nations that have never signed treaties or other land transfer agreements claim continuing Aboriginal rights to tribal territory. Without such guarantees from state authorities, it can be expected that a variety of legal injunctions can be expected to affect the project.

    In sum, the Northern Gateway project casts freshwater politics in sharp relief. In this, it joins a far wider set of agricultural, industrial, and municipal projects in regions across Canada.

    Peter Clancy is Professor of Political Science and an associate with Interdisciplinary Studies in Aquatic Resources (ISAR) at St. Francis Xavier University. He is the author of Offshore Petroleum Politics: Regulation and Risk in the Scotian Basin (2011) as well as Micropolitics and Canadian Business: Paper, Steel, and the Airlines (2004), and, with Anders Sandberg, Against the Grain: Foresters and Politics in Nova Scotia (2000).

    Note: If you are an instructor and would like to consider adding Freshwater Politics in Canada to the required reading list for an upcoming course, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy.

  • Environmental Issues and the U.S. Presidential Debates

    Peter J. Stoett’s new book, Global Ecopolitics: Crisis, Governance, and Justice, provides readers with an excellent introduction to major global environmental challenges. Through a series of case studies, it explores the limitations and possibilities of international governance—which involves not only governments but civil society and the private sector—to create effective solutions to these challenges.

    The deeper aim of the book is to encourage sustained, informed discussions of environmental policy and problem-solving. And, serving this purpose extends beyond the covers of the book. Today, on election day in the United States, we would like to share Professor Stoett’s reflections on the absence of environmental issues in the U.S. presidential debates.

    It took a colossal storm to get the media to focus, momentarily, on climate change-related issues during the recent American electoral campaigns. Yet in the days before Sandy, a casual observer of the Obama-Romney debates might conclude there are no environmental issues worthy of discussion if the word “energy” is not attached (a pipeline from Canada, patriotic dreams of fossil fuel independence, and the old chestnut, the “price at the pump”). But there are (with apologies to women everywhere) binders full of them.

    No mention of the greatest ecological disaster in American history, the BP Gulf oil spill. Nothing on one of the most dangerous threats to human health, the loss of biodiversity; or on the safety of the new energy panacea, shale oil and gas. No melting Arctic. No Asian Carp on the verge of invading the Great Lakes, or the West Nile virus terrorizing Texas. And wasn’t there a severe, nation-wide drought this summer that inflated food and biofuel prices? Silence.

    The so-called foreign policy debate focused on Romney’s favourite phrase that evening, “American leadership,” without even the slightest mention of America’s role in an international community struggling to cope with climate change, deforestation and desertification, an unprecedented oceans crisis, and the threat of mass extinction. Some positioning on American promises made in Copenhagen on a massive climate change adaptation fund would have been fairly basic. Again, silence.

    This was not an eerie, mysterious silence, but an orchestrated one. Of course, the environment will be relegated to the sidelines when the economy is on the field. But even the two Bushes found it (to borrow a word from opponent Al Gore) inconvenient not to at least pay lip service, boasting of the reforms their own “green presidencies” could make. And recall that during these elections, also, it was “the economy, stupid.”

    This silence is a consequence of a sharp trend away from policy debates that can in any way trigger wayward thoughts about climate change, the latest “third rail” in U.S. politics. I just spent six months in Washington, D.C., and think tanks are definitely treating the issue seriously, but ecology vanishes in thin public air at the leadership level. Well-funded “climate skeptics,” fueled by Fox News and other conduits, have rendered the broader debate on the environment largely mute. An implicit vow of mutual silence emerged; even the moderators knew better than to go there.

    Naturally, if re-elected, Obama—probably facing a hostile Republican Congress—will lack a clear mandate to move forward in even small measures. Romney, who felt comfortable publicly accusing Obama of the sin of not being a “coal and oil man,” had little environmental agenda in the first place. But what, exactly, either man would push is hard to say after watching the debates, and their campaigns have not filled the void.

    As for the impact of this careful silence in Canada, this depends on how your ear is turned. Our majority party in Ottawa prefers environmental dilemmas to be as quiet as possible, and let’s be realistic: Alberta will get its pipeline south either way.

    But many Canadians would have liked to have heard even a whimper of an indication as to how the next four years may look, especially in a year in which Canada assumes the presidency of the Arctic Council, where that melting sea ice is a multi-level challenge. After all, we will share many of the larger problems, including climate change and more extreme weather events such as hurricanes, coastal erosion, invasive species, and air particulate matter, with the same voters denied an adult discussion south of the border.

    Thankfully, the real work on environmental improvement takes place on levels other than the presidential, and the billions of people engaged in the every-day struggle often embrace, rather than deny or try to defy, sound ecological principals. But silence is far from golden when it excludes some of the most fundamental challenges of our time from a debate which, given America’s potential leadership role, has significance for all of us.

    - Peter J. Stoett

    Note: If you are scheduled to teach a course that would benefit from having this book on the required reading list, please email requests@utphighereducation.com to request an examination copy. We would be more than happy to give you the opportunity to review this excellent text for yourself!

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