Environmentalists, First Nations and other opponents to Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline could be becoming victims of their own success.
Once the Joint Review Panel makes its recommendations at the end of this year, the final decision rests in the hands of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet, regardless of who is elected B.C. premier in May. The B.C. government could make things difficult for the project and First Nations have already said they've got their lawyers on standby to seek a court injunction the instant Enbridge would get the green light.
While the pipeline opponents have done well with the battle, particularly in the court of public opinion, where the latest B.C. poll shows 61 per cent of residents are against the project, they haven't considered the larger war.
Too much is invested in the oil sands, by the companies, the Alberta government and the federal government, to not find other ways to get that product to market, one way or the other. If it's not a westward pipeline through Northern B.C. to Kitimat, it will be some other way.
It might be another southern pipeline into the United States, such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline or one like it.
It might be an Eastern Canada pipeline, like the one proposed by New Brunswick Premier David Alward, that could possibly hook up with underutilized refineries in Montreal and Quebec City on its way to Saint John, an already existing deep port with an already existing refinery in place. The Irving refinery is the largest in Canada and, according to the National Post, it's only processing 300,000 barrels of oil per day but has the capacity to process as much as 1,000,000 barrels each day.
It might be oil shipments by rail, heading east, west and/or south, wherever it makes most sense to get the unprocessed oil to a refinery, whether it's in Canada, the United States or China.
Speaking of rail, there have been a few clever minds (some of them opponents of the current proposal but actually in favour of a pipeline link through Northern B.C. from the Pacific to the oil sands) asking why Enbridge didn't simply run their planned pipeline along the existing rail right-of-way through Northern B.C. Construction would be cheaper, monitoring would be much easier and the response time in the event of spills would be much quicker.
What these various options demonstrate is that stopping the Northern Gateway Pipeline from going ahead won't keep the bitumen in the ground. It's coming out and once it's out, it's making its way to market.
The broader discussion that all Canadians need to participate in, not just Albertans and British Columbians, has to be what's the best way for Canada to benefit from oil sands development and move the bitumen, in the most environmentally conscious way, to the destination that brings the most benefit to Canadians.
While the Eastern Canada pipeline seems to make the most sense on the surface, since Canada would be refining the oil and keeping those jobs in Canada, and particularly in the have-not provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick, there are some issues, including construction cost and time and the problems with a much longer pipeline.
In the 1870s and 1880s, a rail link from Eastern Canada to the new but isolated province of British Columbia was seen as essential to Canada's long-term survival and economic well-being.
Could a new link, this time a pipeline carrying bitumen and condensate, heading from Western Canada to the Atlantic, be what's needed in the 21st century to bond East and West together?
Premier Alward's idea might just be it.