Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Exercising our right to public statements - somewhat privately

by Edward Gregr, Sarah Klain, and Kai Chan

Over 18 months ago, during the initial froth over the Enbridge Northern Gateway proposal to ship diluted bitumen across BC via pipeline and then overseas via tanker, we signed up to give our views to the Joint Review Panel (JRP). We saw it as an opportunity to present both our personal values on the issue, as well as emphasise how some of our research bears on the ecology, values, and trade-offs of the proposed project.
In the interim, the federal ('Harper') government has made considerable changes to environmental legislation through two omnibus 'budget implementation' bills. The first of these, Bill C-38, made sweeping changes to environmental protection laws, largely to the benefit of the oil and gas industry. In particular, they undermined the authority of the JRP by allowing the federal cabinet to make the final decision on Northern Gateway (see here, and here).
These changes contributed to an already polarised debate and seemed to galvanise opposition to the pipeline proposal. In recent months, as the JRP held hearings throughout British Columbia, speaker after speaker has spoken out against the project. As protesters sought to make their opposition heard, the panel often felt threatened, even cancelling some hearings in fear for their own safety.
Last week in Vancouver, and the weeks before in Victoria, these 'public' meetings were effectively closed to the public. The meetings were broadcast by video link to venues some distance from where the panel was taking oral submissions. This rather dramatic approach to public process has raised the ire of some.
This was the context as we arrived in downtown Vancouver on January 19, 2013 to give our oral statements to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel. While the mood was positive, the tension was palpable. The meeting room was remote, the police presence obvious, and the setting formal. We were ushered in three at a time into the presence of the panel. Bags had to be checked. We faced the three-member panel, and two Enbridge representatives. It was not a comfortable speaking environment.
Nevertheless, the speakers shone. We were impressed with the quality of every oral submission we heard that morning. Everyone was prepared, articulate, passionate, and persuasive. We were fortunate to share the morning with 11-year-old First Nation activist Ta'Kaiya Blaney who spoke eloquently about cultural values and the crown's obligation to First Nations.
Interestingly, even though we share many values, and much academic space, our respective presentations had little overlap, and managed to cover a lot of ground. Kai spoke about the nature of the cost-benefit analysis, touching on the size of the risk, and social justice among other topics. Sarah covered the re-emergence of First Nations traditions and sustainable energy, and Ed spoke about the vulnerability of ecosystems, and questioned the ability of the industry in general and Enbridge in particular to effectively reduce and mitigate the risks.
The panel was respectful, and appeared to be listening closely to each speaker, occasionally making notes. The silent, respectable-looking Enbridge representatives seemed unmoved by the statements. We wonder how they will process all the opposition they have witnessed. Is there anything that could change the minds of Enbridge executives when it comes to this proposal?
Ed, Sarah, Kai.
January 23, 2013
Risk, Credibility, and Justification:
What are we trusting who with, and why?

What I said to the Joint Review Panel about the proposed Northern Gateway Project
I came here today because I am deeply concerned about the potential consequences of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, both for Canada’s Pacific coast, and for future generations.
I have been working as a marine ecologist on the BC coast for close to 2 decades. I have a Masters Degree in Zoology; and extensive experience in both field data collection and spatial and statistical analyses. I have published peer-reviewed, scientific articles on the habitat of BC’s marine mammals, and on the importance of nearshore ecosystems. I understand many of the components of these systems, and have a good understanding of how the system works.
In my statement, I’ve decided that rather than repeat numbers you no doubt have in more formal submissions, I will try to synthesis for you what resonates most with me. I will emphasise the risks this project presents to Canada’s Pacific Coast, and why this coast has such value to Canadians. I will explain why I doubt the proponent’s ability to effectively reduce and mitigate those risks, and I will question the economic justification of the project, and argue that any such infrastructure expansions will actually undermine Canada’s long-term economic interest.
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline crosses 2 huge mountain ranges where there is real winter. Avalanches and landslides are not uncommon. This in and of itself seems pretty daunting, and you have a submission detailing these risks to the pipelines themselves, and the challenges for access If there is a ruptured pipe. Especially in winter, it may take days to reach a leak. By then, the effectiveness of any clean-up is likely to be minimal.
The pipeline would cross over 750 water courses, dozens of which have high fisheries values, including the Fraser, Skeena, and Kitimat watersheds – these are incredible salmon-bearing rivers that provide one of the most inspiring, natural bounties remaining in the world – and they provide this for free. In academia, we call such things ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are easy to undervalue and take for granted. But once they are gone, they are often impossible to replace, and substitutes tend to be very expensive.
This particular service, this natural wealth supplied by these rivers, is extremely valuable to BC and Canada. And it will continue to produce a bountiful supply of salmon long after the relatively short term benefits of this pipeline are long gone.
Unless we wreck it.

chan_ottersThe BC coast produces many other goods we enjoy such as clams, crabs, herring, rockfish; and also provides habitat for species that have social and cultural importance – sea otters, killer whales, and humpback whales are but three iconic examples. All these species depend on other components of the ecosystem such as forage fish, kelp forests, and eelgrass beds. This web of life feeds the spirits of residents and tourists, alike, and, as you know from formal submissions, generates considerable economic activity.
The entire coastal ecosystem and the services it provides us, the things we love to eat and use and enjoy, generate significant physical and spiritual benefits. This has immense monetary and non-monetary value. The natural productivity of the oceans is truly phenomenal. Year after year. Whales keep coming back, salmon return to the coast to make more salmon. Crabs, clams, mussels, multiply. And all this just happens. With no help from us.
And it will keep happening, for generations to come. Unless we wreck it.
There are many ways to wreck ecosystems. We dam rivers; we introduce disease; we over-exploit our fisheries … but Oil wrecks things in a very special way – especially biological things.
Animals and ecosystems are resilient to lots of changes: more predators, less food, more or less oxygen, higher or lower temperatures. If nothing else, they can often find a more suitable habitat. But coat something in oil, and biological function pretty much stops. For oiled individuals, it’s usually game over. For ecosystems, their productivity is severely degraded for decades at least, and perhaps permanently if they get pushed to far.
Now, I acknowledge and appreciate the degree to which my lifestyle depends on petroleum products. And I recognise the benefits of development. But this proposed pipeline, and in particular its marine transportation component, puts the entire coastal ecosystem at risk.
What are the benefits for taking such a huge risk? For BC, benefits seem to be primarily in the form of jobs. A number that is trivial compared to the sustainable resource based jobs that are potentially at risk from a maritime spill.
While there would be some significant revenues to government, you have a submission describing how just one major spill would cost more to clean up than the $2.5B in anticipated TOTAL govt revenues that the project is expected to generate over its 30-year life span. And given the Exxon Valdez experience, such clean ups in no way guarantee a return to pre-spill conditions, or the recovery of the lost resource sector jobs.
As described by the BC Government, this is in part an issue of regional equity, with BC being asked to bear the bulk of the risk, for a fraction of the benefits. However, unlike the BC Government ‘s implied suggestion that there might be an acceptable price for taking on this risk, what you have been hearing throughout your travels in BC is that the risks are just to large. Many believe that no risk of a spill is acceptable.
Now, while I accept that zero risk is not possible, you have a submission estimating the likelihood of a significant tanker spill at between 8 and 14 %. This is a big number, and it reflects the precarious nature of the proposed tanker route, in terms of both geography and weather.
Is the proponent – or anyone – really up to this challenge? Can the risks be minimised, and any consequences effectively mitigated?
Well, Enbridge has spent millions of dollars on advertising – radio; newspapers; TV; movie theatres; airbrush artists – trying to convince the public that the risk is minimal, that we can trust them. That they can handle this.
Unfortunately, the facts speak otherwise.
In the 2010 Kalamazoo spill, Enbridge was more concerned with keeping the oil flowing rather than making sure it was still in the pipe. In 2011, ExxonMobil continued to pump oil into the Yellowstone River for 45 minutes despite strong indications of a leak. In 2010, Alberta averaged nearly two pipeline failures a day. In 2012, Alberta had so many large spills that the govt undertook an investigation of pipeline safety.
Clearly, this is not just about Enbridge. This is the culture of an industry that sees devastating accidents as simply the cost of doing business.
Are they trying to do better? Perhaps. But then why would Enbridge limit its liability by creating a separate corporate entity to run the pipeline? Why would they misrepresent the navigational hazards of Douglas Channel by erasing a bunch of islands? Why would they downplay the risk of marine transport by using average instead of extreme storm conditions in their marine transportation models?
This intellectual dishonesty does not make them look trustworthy. It suggests that they either do not understand the risks, or are not taking them seriously. There is precious little evidence to suggest they will be willing and able to sufficiently reduce the risk, or effectively mitigate any impacts.
In terms of the economic justification for this project, I understand the fundamental argument is that infrastructure is needed to access new markets because of the discounted price paid by an over-supplied US market.
While this situation is real today, its persistence into the future depends entirely on economic models. Now, I am not an economist, but I do understand models. And I want to emphasise that model results depend as much on the underlying assumptions as they do on the data. The models for this project used a 30-year time horizon – the assumed life of the oil sands. They assumed an 8% discount rate. A discount rate effectively de-values the future value of what you are selling. It assumes that cash is more valuable today.
discount rateThus, the economics of this project depend on exhaustion of the oil sands in 30 years, and the rather selfish attitude that fossil fuels are more valuable to us today, than they will be to future generations.
This inequity is often rationalised through the assumption of substitutability. The future will find alternatives. But is this a reasonable assumption? Do we really believe the global economy will wean itself off oil in 30 years? There are no cheap substitutes waiting in the wings. Substitutability is a poor assumption when dealing with fossil fuels, and thus brings the whole idea of a discount rate into question. It may well be that oil – left in the ground – is actually the best investment we can make for the future.
The current assumptions inevitably bias the economic model towards short-term gain. But what if we extended the life of the oil sands to 60, or 90 years? What if we treated undeveloped reserves as an investment instead of with a discount rate? Yes, we would forgo short-term profits, but the benefits of our natural resources would then extend across many more generations. With a longer-term perspective, the price differential would disappear, and because it would require a slower rate of oil sands development, there would be no need for more infrastructure or bigger markets.
Another economic consideration is the structure of royalties paid by oil producers. You have received a submission detailing how oil company royalties in Canada are much lower than other oil-producing countries such as Norway. Surely it would be sensible to revisit oil & gas subsidies and incentives to ensure that they align with long term, Canadian objectives and values rather than corporate ones. Ensuring Canada gets as much value as possible from our resources is clearly in the best interest of Canadians, in both the short and long term.
Given the vulnerability of Canada’s Pacific coast, the magnitude of the risk, the questionable commitment of the proponent to managing and mitigating the risks, and the alternatives that exist to maximise benefits to Canadians without a pipeline, I believe you will agree with me that this project is not in the best interest of Canadians, and is best left on the shelf.
You also need to ask yourselves who benefits the most from the breakneck development of Canada’s resources. Ripping & shipping as fast as we can benefits primarily the producers. I therefore ask that as part of your report, you recommend to the federal government that engage with Canadians in producing a more wide-ranging economic analysis. One that reflects a broader set of values than just short term revenue and jobs. One that balances returns today with equity for future generations, and meaningfully considers the values of conservation and sustainability. One that considers alternative royalty structures, and a broad range of alternative timelines and development alternatives.
There is much more value here for Canadians than what is suggested by industry-commissioned economic studies. Such a comprehensive analysis should be included in a National Energy Strategy, to ensure that any projects we undertake in Canada equitably serve both present and future generations.
You have an opportunity to move Canada in a more sustainable direction. I urge you to take a long term view, and recognise that it is our moral duty to proceed conservatively. Not just for me, or me and my children, but for my grandchildren and their children as well.
Please consider what kind of legacy we will be leaving them.

Thank you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Clam Gardens and Clean Energy, Sarah Klain Oral Statement to Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel

by Sarah Klain 

In an effort to speak out as both scientists and citizens, Kai Chan, Ed Gregr and myself, Sarah Klain, gave oral statements to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel on January 19, 2013. Enbridge seeks to build a pipeline linking oil extracted from tar sands to Kitimat, BC then ship it to China.

I reminded myself to breathe deeply to suppress my nervousness in the very formal setting with bright lights and an audience of three Review Panelists and an Enbridge representative. I was impressed with the quality of every oral submission I heard that morning, particularly the 11-year-old First Nation activist Ta'Kaiya Blaney. I am left wondering how the silent, respectable looking Enbridge representative will process all that he has been witnessing. Is there anything that could change the minds of Enbridge executives when it comes to this proposal? Let's hope this public outpouring of arguments against the pipeline influences the hearts and minds of all involved in this pivotal decision. The following is my oral statement.

During a graduate level field course in the central coast of British Columbia, I woke before dawn to help with a clam garden study near Bella Bella. I quietly reveled in the sunrise over the sea smoke near ancient forests. In my early morning sleepiness between dreaming and waking, I imagined the distant past in which First Nations leveled the mud flats, cleared rocks and tended their clam gardens for thousands of years. During this field course in the Great Bear Rainforest, I was given a brief glimpse of the ongoing cultural revitalization of the Heiltsuk First Nation, who are documenting and reviving many traditions, including their clam gardens. Later, I learned about their recent collaborative joint clam management plan with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. This plan represents years of a First Nation working with government scientists to manage a resource of cultural and economic importance.
This clam garden, recognized by the leveled area cleared of rocks which is exposed at low tide, is near the Hakai Beach Institute along BC's central coast.
 I’m in the final stages of finishing an article on marine invertebrate fisheries management in the central coast, which was only possible with extensive Heiltsuk collaboration. I’m hoping my key Heiltsuk informants will be co-authors. 

I am a PhD student at UBC at the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability. I earned a master’s degree at UBC studying the monetary and non-monetary values that people associate with the marine environment in northern Vancouver Island. This research involved in-depth interviews with a wide range of people who rely on the ocean for their livelihood and for their identity, including First Nations. I have published several articles in peer-reviewed journals. The Great Bear Rainforest’s intact ecosystems and the people working hard to improve their communities in this region inspired me to voice my perspective here. During my central coast field course, I learned about the reliance of the Heiltsuk on their marine environment and about their ongoing efforts to build their scientific and stewardship capacities.

The Heiltsuk are part of the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network, which enables First Nations to improve environmental monitoring in their territories. 
An oil spill would have disastrous consequences on the type of clams I studied and so many other food sources in this region. Although the chance of a catastrophic spill is disputed, I am certain that approving this pipeline will destroy or at least damage government-to-government relationships with Coastal First Nations. When I spent time in Bella Bella, the Heiltsuk’s vehement protest of the Enbridge pipeline and associated tanker traffic was highly prominent throughout their community. If this pipeline goes through, I fear violent protest is inevitable. This pipeline threatens to ruin decades of fraught negotiations and relationship building between First Nations and various levels of Canadian government.
The Heiltsuk protest the proposed Enbridge Pipeline. Photo: Globe and Mail 
Based on my research on the slow improvement in government-to-government relationships, I believe it’s critical to listen to local visions of a preferred future.  As you have heard from many Coastal First Nations, this pipeline is not part of their visions for the future.

This pipeline controversy is so much more than one contested pipeline involving aboriginal voices demanding to be heard, arguably reckless corporations and the risk of polluting local ecosystems. Using language from Appendix 1 List of Issues and Terms of References, when, “considering the cumulative environmental effects likely to result from this project in combination with other projects,” the elephant in this room is climate change. The outcome of this proposed project has physical and symbolic ramifications for climate change. This pipeline enables the expansion of the oil sand operations. We are at a critical juncture in which we are deciding to expand, maintain or reduce fossil fuel infrastructure. The world is watching. The cumulative effect of this pipeline in conjunction with other oil-sand-related developments contributes to destabilizing our climate. 
An anonymous oil sands worker posted this photo on The worker posted, "Myself, along with the majority of my co-workers are ready for a renewable energy revolution." See the full statement here.
I believe expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is immoral given the scientific consensus that climate change threatens all of life as we know it. I fear that we need a local catastrophe to start making the hard decisions that will contribute towards climate stabilization. I would prefer to avoid a storm in BC akin to Hurricane Sandy, a disaster like the Exxon Valdez spill or a Deepwater horizon-style blow-out in our backyard.  I prefer that we learn from these tragedies and modify our plans for energy development accordingly. This pipeline is simply not a good investment.

I want you to consider alternatives to this project. One such alternative is that Canada, heralded as a liberal democracy and celebrated for its internationalism, takes this opportunity to get serious about climate change by stopping this proposed pipeline and stopping the expansion of fossil-fuel infrastructure. The alternative to this project is shifting our priorities towards cleaner energy sources. Developing renewable, non-fossil fuel-based energy could have sweeping benefits, including greater energy security, increased energy independence, better air quality and the mitigation of greenhouse gases. Building new infrastructure to transport Canadian bitumen to China provides none of these benefits. 

Alternatives to expanding fossil fuel infrastructure include investing in renewables, like offshore wind farms (photo from REVE).
I urge you not to permit the construction of this pipeline because of the environmental risks, the damage that this project will do to the relationships between Coastal First Nations and the government of Canada, the cumulative effects of this projects in conjunction with others that will increase green house gas emissions, and the alternative of supporting renewable energy development instead. 

When I studied in the Great Bear Rainforest, I felt gratitude towards my teachers. They taught me about the long-standing and varied cultural knowledge about the linked human and ecological history of this awe-inspiring, magnificent place where salmon crowd rivers, Spirit Bears roam and clam middens remind us of the long ongoing presence of human inhabitants and cultural practices. I learned about the locally tailored efforts to develop tourism, sustainable forestry industries and fishing industries with more local benefits. I recognize the economic challenges facing many communities in this region, but the local and global risks associated with this pipeline do not add up to the jobs and tax revenues claimed. In fact, the net benefit is simply not there as found in a recent UBC economic study. As a PhD student striving to do research towards a better world for future generations, I would be grateful if you reject this proposed pipeline. 

Let’s prevent these Spirit Bear cubs, endemic to the Great Bear Rainforest, from facing the risk of an oil spill. Photo from Sierra Club