With the commencement of hearings, the political fight over the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is now beginning in earnest. The proposed pipeline would carry bitumen from the oil sands to the Pacific coast for export. It would encourage the development of the oil sands and contribute to the fastest-growing category of emissions of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada. It would increase the total fraction of the world’s fossil fuels that will be burned, affecting how much climate change the world will experience. Having walked away from the Kyoto Protocol – and with no effective mechanism for curbing emissions in place – it is difficult to argue that Canada is doing its part to respond to this serious global problem.
In addition to the climate arguments, there is always some risk of a spill, either along the pipeline or with tankers off the B.C. coast. If what I read in John Vaillant‘s The Golden Spruce is at all accurate, the Hecate Strait is a particularly treacherous waterway. As anyone who has visited the coast of British Columbia knows, it’s also a beautiful and environmentally rich part of the world, both on land and in the sea. It would be a really awful place for another Deepwater Horizon-type disaster.
At present, the hearings on the pipeline are expected to last for 18 months. As we have seen from the Keystone XL pipeline, however, timetables are clearly subject to change as the debate progresses.