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BizBeat relaunch

Enbridge makes a pitch for Northern Gateway

Jan 30, 2012

by Michael Ganley

Welcome to the all-new BizBeat, which will now be solely my responsibility (managing editor Max Fawcett having gone off and formed his own blog focusing on personal finance).

In this blog I’ll focus on big-picture current events. How are national and international political and corporate machinations affecting Alberta? Who’s making the big decisions and what do they mean for us? Where are the influences coming from and how are we going to manage them from our end?

Owning one of the world’s primary sources of energy puts us at the heart of a lot of big discussions. It seems to me that it is both a blessing and a curse. If we’re going to handle the development of the oil sands in a way that makes us happy now and will give our children and grandchildren the kind of future we want for them, we need to understand what is being said and done and ensure that our voices are heard, too. That’s what I’m after in BizBeat.

To that end, I’ll begin with a recount of Janet Holder’s speech to the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce last week. Holder is the Enbridge executive responsible for shepherding the Northern Gateway pipeline through the regulatory process, and addressed the Chamber on the same day hearings into the project began in the city.

In her speech, she advocated a “fact-based” public discussion about the $5.5 billion Northern Gateway. “That’s how we come to a consensus in Canada,” she said, “through debate, discussion and conversation. Ultimately, Enbridge doesn’t own this issue and neither do its opponents. Canadians do.”

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She acknowledged opposition from First Nations and environmental groups as well as her company’s oil spill (and public relations disaster) in Michigan in July 2010, when a burst pipeline spilled about 20,000 barrels of oil. She also pointed out that Enbridge does successfully deliver 2.2 million barrels of oil every day to markets in Canada and the U.S., which, without wishing to diminish the damage done in Michigan, does put it in a little perspective.

She also drew the audience’s attention to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted in December which suggested that 48 per cent of B.C. residents backed the project, 14 per cent of those strongly. On the flip side, 32 per cent opposed it, 13 per cent strongly. (The more amazing thing from that poll is that 25 per cent of British Columbians were not at all familiar with the project and another 30 per cent are not very familiar. So much for public engagement.) Expect plenty more polls in the coming year, and be suspicious of every one of them, although Ipsos Reid is one of the gold standards.

Holder did not address the controversial issues at either end of the pipeline, those being the continued expansion of the oil sands and the risk of a tanker disaster off B.C.’s coast. She also didn’t touch on the issue most likely to scuttle Northern Gateway: lawsuits from First Nations with unsettled land claims along the route.

Holder’s speech was efficient (I suspect she’s given it a hundred times) but not terribly convincing. It was delivered to a receptive audience of several hundred at the Westin Hotel, but I’m not sure it would have changed the mind of any pipeline opponents. Meanwhile, on the western edge of town far from the madding crowd, the hearings themselves plodded along.

 

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