Thoughts on the Northern Gateway Pipeline

by: Matt Palmer


The hearing for the Enbridge Pipeline has begun, and so has the circus. Accusations are flying about undue influence by foreign money, foreign interests that are seeking to sway the decision and the future of the pipeline. Environmental groups have received donations from foreign sources. The Energy Industry is a mix of Canadian and foreign companies all investing billions of dollars to exploit the oil sands and get it to International markets. The Harper Government wants to open up more International markets for our crude, to be a bigger player in the global economy. Yet, the argument is that this should be a National decision. But can it be? Should it be?


The can of worms is already open. Obviously, there needs to be a process for approving the pipeline that is not overly onerous, or too long. The process needs to be fair, transparent, and rigorous. Developing oil sands and building pipelines is serious business. There are environmental impacts from oil sands development, and there will be impacts from building a pipeline. Our objective should be to ensure that when projects are approved that the developers are held to the highest standards to ensure the least harm. Additionally, we should encourage the companies themselves push to be even better than the regulations. But, then this should be true of any energy system development – oil sands, coal, shale gas, wind, solar, nuclear, etc.


Should we be as worried about how environmental groups are being funded as we are about foreign corporations that have investments in the oil sands getting their say in the decision process for the Gateway pipeline? It seems a bit disingenuous to be worried about foreign donations to environmental groups unless we are willing to stop foreign investment in our energy companies. Influence is influence. This is the world we already live in. It is our reality. I have read quotes from environmental groups claiming that they do take foreign donations, but that those foreign funders have no say in operations, but I can’t imagine that the funders are giving money unless their ideologies are aligned. The same is true for foreign investment in oil sands companies. 4,500 speakers before the Gateway panel is too many if the objective is to stall the process, to turn it into a circus by having people show up in costumes, or signing up individuals from other countries who have no idea they have been signed up or are even aware of the issue. That is something to be concerned about. Arguments for or against the pipeline should stand or fall on their own merits. Good science is critical, and practical realities also must have weight.


Nationalism is a tricky thing. Protectionism and globalization don’t really seem compatible. We want to have a say about workers rights in China, for example, or the destruction of the rainforest in Brazil. Human rights are important, and the global community should speak up when governments or corporations trample those rights. We should care and get involved when citizens in countries like Libya rise up against their oppressors. When other countries impose unfair trade policies or monetary policies, we seek to influence and change those policies. Because of Globalization we are increasingly more interconnected. The question must then be asked, if we are willing to play in a global marketplace, and we are willing to intervene in other countries affairs when it comes to issues of human rights, are we willing to be held to the same standards, like for example what is happening to our First Nations people? We are developing a resource that will benefit not just Canadians, but other societies, so are we not strong enough and confident enough to hear outside concerns about a resource development  that may have impacts beyond our own borders? How we treat the environment should be as important to us as how we treat each other.


So what are the most dangerous issues in this debate about oil sands and pipelines? Foreign donations to environmental groups? Fears of foreign influence in a “national” issue”? How about energy illiteracy? How about the pleasure of self-righteousness that condemns the immorality or stupidity of others? How about the inability to listen to what others have to say because it might diminish the force of their own argument? How about the lack of critical thinking about energy systems, how they work, and how we realistically move to the future?


While the Gateway Pipeline decision process moves forward over the coming year, ask yourself if you really understand where your own energy comes from. What does it take to build a pipeline? What does it take to build an oil sands plant? What natural resources go into building wind turbines and solar panels? What about your clothes, your food, your computer, the medicine that is helping to heal people with disease? Do you understand the reach of oil and petrochemicals and their connection to every fibre of our daily lives? Do you understand what it will really take to transition to other sources of energy and the impacts they will have on the planet? We live in a world of yin and yang, and all of our choices have positive and negative unintended consequences. There are no free rides.


Instead of defaulting to conflict over these issues and trying make the other side lose, let’s chose to engage in being open systems and critical thinkers. Take a moment to be silent and listen. What we learn from that simple act might change the world.





About Unintended Consequences Documentary Project

I'm Producing and directing a multi-platform documentary project on global energy called "Unintended Consequences".
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