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Tides turning for tankers

November 12, 2014

Living Oceans has chalked up three new wins on the Tanker Campaign. First, we won the right to proceed with our lawsuits against Enbridge, in a ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal. We are challenging both the recommendations of the Joint Review Panel and the decision of the federal government to approve the Northern Gateway project, citing the failure to deal with critical issues such as endangered species and earthquake hazards. Our lawyers at Ecojustice expect the cases to be heard in the fall of 2015.

We have also successfully intervened in the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline review by the National Energy Board (NEB), winning the right to present expert evidence on oil spill impacts and response measures. In this hearing we will present evidence on human health impacts, although Kinder Morgan’s poorly crafted human health assessment makes it extremely challenging to identify potential exposure pathways and populations at risk. The company even argued (unsuccessfully) that their Emergency Response Plan should be kept secret from the intervenors!

Finally, we won an order from the NEB requiring Kinder Morgan to answer our questions about its plans for oil spill response measures such as burning spilled oil or using chemical dispersants. The company initially responded to our questions by referring us to a 300-page textbook that does not answer our questions about where Kinder Morgan would think it appropriate to use in-situ burning or chemical dispersants.

Map TransMountain and Line 9 pipelines

Chinese investment in question

Meanwhile, debate continues as to whether the Northern Gateway pipeline is dead, or “merely resting.” None of the 209 conditions placed on the project by the federal cabinet has been fulfilled. China, in the throes of a major power struggle that has sent its offshore oil companies into a tailspin, has detained several top oil executives for alleged corruption. The industry has virtually ground to a halt, uncertain where or whether the regime’s current energy policy will support ongoing investment. This augers poorly for the already embattled project: three of the disclosed financial partners are Chinese-owned or controlled entities.

The glut of oil on the market has sent its price to a two-year low and many analysts say it will fall farther next year, making much of the tar sands development unprofitable in the short run. We are already seeing oil companies scaling back as the Canadian dollar falls in lockstep with the price of oil. The numbers take us so far outside the assumptions used to model the alleged financial benefits of both Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain that they are likely both heading back to the drawing board.

At the same time, industry hopes that were pinned on sending diluted bitumen east to Atlantic ports have come up against another wall of public opposition. Enbridge intended to reverse the flow of its 38-year-old Line 9 in early November, but has been stopped by the NEB because it has not provided a justification for its failure to place shutoff valves at major water crossings, as it was ordered to do. Enbridge (the “Keystone Cops” of corporate safety culture) has replied that its superior engineering design means they do not really need all those expensive shutoff valves, after all. It would appear that Enbridge is actually asking us to believe that the same technology that delivered the largest land-based spill in American history, the Kalamazoo, will protect our lakes and rivers.

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