Some businesses in northern B.C. could benefit from an oil spill, according to testimony this week into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline.
Northern Gateway witness John Thompson told the Joint Review Panel that given what happened after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989, clean up crews attending a spill could generate economic spin-offs.
"Part of the evidence in the spill recovery document is, in fact, a lot of those companies in the Alaska communities made more money catering to the clean-up of the spill than they would of under normal circumstances," Thompson said under questioning from the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union.
Northern Gateway is seeking approval to build a $6.5 billion pipeline to connect Alberta's oilsands with Asian markets. The proposal includes a terminal at Kitimat and Thompson was answering questions as a witness on the marine emergency preparedness and response panel.
Thompson said in the event of a spill, socio-economic impacts will range from the impact on resources, like the fishery, the introduction of spill response workers into the community and financial compensation until things get back to normal.
He said it's important for the company to talk with communities about spill preparedness well before any pipelines are built.
"It may mean that some communities simply say we dont want any external workers coming into this community because it would be disruptive," Thompson said. "Well then the spill response approach would be based on precluding workers from those areas."
Although a spill could have a big impact on the fishery, Thompson said compensation and other opportunities - such as working on clean up crews - will ensure people don't lose any income. He said the compensation packages would not just go to those catching the fish but also people working in processing industries.
"The net result of these whole compensation schemes is the idea that at the end of the day, nobody is any worse off than they were beforehand," he said. "So what you would see is that the income levels would remain the same, the source of the income would differ. Instead of getting it directly from sales of product, it would be through the income compensation."
The fishermen's union was the final intervener to address the the marine effects witness panel, but members of the Joint Review Panel did have a chance to ask questions as well. Hans Matthews got straight to the point with his first question - is Northern Gateway confident in its own scientific evidence?
"I think weve seen over the course of the last several weeks, theres a a difference in views about certain effects on certain valued environmental components and social components and thats quite typical of science for different scientists to debate different theories," consultant Jeffrey Green replied. "Rather than say one is right and one is wrong, the approach that weve taken is to say that we do think there are effects, and that we need to take those effects seriously and plan accordingly for that."
Earlier in the hearing the witness panel spent a lot of time talking about the nature of diluted bitumen in water and what conditions could cause it to sink. Matthews asked how confident Northern Gateway was in that evidence as well.
"I wont get into the philosophical side of things here, but Ill basically just state that the 30 years experience I have in dealing with oils in general, knowledge of how these oils behave, the work we did in the lab, I have the confidence that the way weve described the behaviour of
these oils and modelled the behaviour of these oils, Im very confident in the
results that we presented," Randy Belore replied.