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Editorial comment

There has been much negative publicity directed towards Enbridge and its proposed Cdn$ 5.5 billion Northern Gateway pipeline. Enbridge, which operates (in Canada and the US) the world’s longest crude oil and liquids transportation system, is proposing to build a 1176 km twin pipeline system and marine terminal. The proposed project, currently under environmental review by a joint federal panel, would transport 525 000 bpd of oil from Edmonton to Kitimat for export and would import 193 000 bpd of condensate. A 36 in. oil pipeline would flow west towards the new terminal at Kitimat, and a 20 in. condensate pipeline would flow eastwards to the Edmonton area.

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The pipeline would be a way to link burgeoning production from Alberta’s oilsands to growing markets in Asia, which would allow Canadian producers to improve profits by reaping higher prices for crude overseas.

This week Enbridge is facing another round of public hearings and has been challenged on many points by lawyers acting for the Haisla First Nation, which claims much of the land along the proposed ROW for the pipelines.

One recent point of contention, making headlines in the industry, is Enbridge’s company video for the project, which inaccurately portrays the Douglas Sound by omitting the small islands, narrow channels and rocky outcrops that feature in the area, to make it appear as an obstacle-free tanker route. Enbridge has responded to this by stressing that the animation is “broadly representational”, not to scale and not geographically correct. Whilst Enbridge never claimed that the animation was for any purpose other than illustrational, it has received much criticism for what opponents see as an effort to simplify or deny the complexity of the project.

In fact, one videographer has produced a video titled ‘This Is Not an Enbridge Animation’, which shows dramatic nature scenes along the pipeline’s proposed route. It has been watched over 40 000 times since being posted a week ago. Presumably not all of these curious souls would be in opposition to the project, but in the public relations battle that comes as part of the package when you’re trying to get a pipeline approved, silly stunts like these can go a long way in harming your reputation.

The serious stuff is this: First Nations concerns, and concerns of other parties, are being raised at the National Energy Board hearings and Enbridge is answering to them. This round, Enbridge’s Gateway Manager John Carruthers has responded against claims that Enbridge was providing different supply forecasts depending on whether it was reporting to shareholders or the panel. According to Carruthers, different figures are generated depending on the crude mix at any given time (diluent, or condensate, will be shipped from the B.C. coast and used to help the heavy crudes flow through the pipeline).

It is interesting to note that Kinder Morgan, which is also planning an oilsands pipeline project linking to the Pacific Coast, has come under considerably less scrutiny than Enbridge. Has Enbridge’s attempts at reaching out to the public (its substantial advertisement campaigns, its recent handling of bad press related to a 2010 spill) cost it valuable approval ratings? Or is it that any major oilsands pipeline is bound to attract negative press? Kinder Morgan’s Trans-Mountain pipeline will be under the spotlight within the next couple of years, as it goes through its public hearings: we shall have to wait and see how it fares.

The fierce environmental opposition to producing oilsands crude (rather than those who are concerned about tanker traffic and pipeline safety) is such that any pipeline designed to transport oilsands crude to market will face resistance.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark announced in July the ‘five minimum requirements’ for the project, which included First Nations accommodation, benefit-sharing (which Clark calls “B.C.’s fair share”), improved marine and land spill response. However, recent polls show that a majority of British Columbians are against the project.

No matter how hard we strive to control our image, and the way people see us, or our company, we cannot make up their minds for them.

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