With public hearings coming up in a few days, Enbridge made its Northern Gateway Pipeline pitch to the Prince George Chamber of Commerce on Thursday.
The federal government's joint review panel will stop in Prince George on Monday and Tuesday for community hearings. The company's executive vice-president for western access, Janet Holder, told the local business coalition that the proposed megaproject would be a boon for the local economy and Canada's standing in the world.
Canada's biggest export in 2010 was crude oil - $50 billion worth of it - almost all to the USA.
The pipeline would, she said, trigger a new fiscal relationship with China and the Asia-Pacific nations it would service. This would change Canada "from an overwhelming focus on north-south trade with the United States to a broader, more stable model... For the most trade-dependent nation in the G8, this is no small thing," she said.
On the local level, Enbridge is about to open a permanent Prince George office and if the pipeline is built, the construction phase would take about three years and employ somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 people at peak times. That would put $400 million into the Prince George economy, another $318 million into the coastal BC economy, and about $112 million into the Peace region.
Holder pledged that Enbridge would establish the Northern Gateway Community Investment Fund into which the company would put one per cent of its annual pre-tax earnings. It would be used to fund grassroots initiatives along the pipeline's corridor.
These announcements, and Holder's extensive explanations about safety measures and environmental protection measures, rankled one member of the audience. Katrin MacLean, who said she was affiliated with no group or agency but was trained in environmental trades, demanded of Holden to explain why Enbridge claimed so much Aboriginal support but failed to include many affected First Nations in its company lists of those involved in the consultation process.
"You have brushed aside 30 First Nations, by your calculations, and really the amount of support you have is only 36 per cent if that is the case," said MacLean.
"Your numbers are inaccurate," Holden replied.
MacLean also expressed concerns over the amount of geological study going into the proposed pipeline route to ensure it is not vulnerable to landslides and earthquakes that would cause ecologically deadly ruptures. Local creeks and rivers, said MacLean, are faster-moving than the Kalamazoo River in Michigan where an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in 2009 and did significant environmental and economic damage.
Holden described the Kalamazoo incident as "humbling" and said much had been learned and implemented since then to prevent future incidents.
Among other questions from the floor, UNBC instructor Charles Scott queried Holden on the sense of exporting raw petroleum products when theoretically more jobs could be created by refining it domestically and selling the value-added products.
Holden agreed, but added that Enbridge was the world's largest shipper of petroleum products from place to place, they largely did not dig the stuff up, process it, or do the selling. In their piping history, Enbridge had not seen any processing company build a new refinery in BC in decades because it wasn't economically viable to do so.
"We can ship anything," she said. "If a refinery is built, if an upgrader is built, the pipeline stays as it is."