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Vol. 16, No. 15 Week of April 10, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Pipeline turns political; Enbridge CEO tackles ‘hard-line activists’

Take it as read that Enbridge Chief Executive Officer Pat Daniel is very worried, or very angry, or both.

Normally the epitome of easygoing, he has waded into the Canadian election campaign, almost breaking the unwritten rule that corporate leaders should never make political waves when they have a project before government regulators.

But Daniel removed any questions about how passionately he views Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project when he spoke in Toronto to the Empire Club of Canada, a collection of influential leaders from business, professions, education, labor and government.

In urging his audience to “explain to our leaders that Canada needs to be a more prominent world player” he said Northern Gateway could “propel Canada into that league.”

But getting there means rising above the “mounting clamor of a coalition of hard-line activists and their political allies” who would rather say “no” to energy projects than seek “balanced, sustainable development and support continued prosperity” for Canada, he said.

Project a showdown

There is little question that Northern Gateway has become a showdown between the forces of those who believe it can lead Canada to a place among the world’s energy superpowers and those who think it will be a blight on the landscape and a reckless danger to British Columbia’s coastal waters.

The C$5.5 billion project is designed to ship 525,000 barrels per day of oil sands crude from Alberta to California, the U.S. Gulf Coast and, above all, Asia.

The proposal must clear a federally appointed environmental assessment panel, the National Energy Board and the federal cabinet if the corporate partners can give their go-ahead by about mid-2012.

Daniel’s overriding current concern is that public opinion — led by environmentalists and 61 First Nations — could sway Canada’s next government to impose a ban on crude oil tankers in British Columbia coastal waters, notably the northern Queen Charlotte Sound, Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance.

Ban promised by Ignatieff

Michael Ignatieff, leader of Canada’s Liberal Party and the only serious challenger to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s reelection, has promised that if he forms the next government on May 2 he will extend a ban on tankers delivering Alaska crude to the Lower 48 states to crude oil carriers operating out of northern British Columbia.

Harper ignored the first attempt to impose such a moratorium when he spurned an opposition motion passed in the House of Commons in December.

Based on a meeting he had with Ignatieff in March, Daniel said he expects that if Ignatieff wins the Liberal leader will drop the idea of a tanker ban because his party “sees the importance of increasing trade with Southeast Asia.”

Daniel said the choice for Canada is to make its energy reserves “available to the rest of the world,” or lower its horizons and “keep our nation’s most important export commodity landlocked and discounted and retreat to serve North American customers only.”

“It will require strong leadership, strategic vision and focused effort over several years,” he said.

Daniel: benefits to First Nations

He said that in addition to opening new markets for Canadian petroleum and creating thousands of jobs, Northern Gateway would “generate millions of dollars in benefits for the First Nations and other communities” and an estimated C$270 billion increase in Canada’s gross domestic product over 30 years.

Daniel said he is confident the federal review panel will decide Northern Gateway poses no significant adverse impact on the environment and is in the public interest.

Gerard Kennedy, the Liberal party’s environmental spokesman, told reporters development of the oil sands will not be constricted to any one project.

“Nobody believes everything should be done uncritically,” he said. “The oil sands serve Alberta and enrich Canadian society, but only if they are kept in balance.”

However, David Swann, president of the provincial Liberal party in Alberta, pushed back against his federal counterparts, saying there is no choice for the oil sands “but to develop alternate markets. … It makes no sense to develop just one market.”

—Gary Park

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