B.C. 'intentions paper' has clear intentions

It's called an "intentions paper," but Environment Minister George Heyman has become a little shy about expressing exactly what B.C.'s intentions are when it comes to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion.

The firm intention four weeks ago to restrict oil shipments through B.C. has vanished, for the time being.

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And the prevailing impression that the sudden burst of concern about oil-spill response capabilities is all about the Kinder Morgan expansion is being expressly denied.

On Jan. 30, the B.C. government announced it was thinking of some new regulations on oil-spill response, the second batch in three months, to improve preparedness and recovery. They included the idea of imposing restrictions on shipments in the interim, which enraged Alberta and led to a short-lived wine war. That came to an end with minimal casualties when B.C. dropped the idea and referred the concept to the courts for a ruling on whether it has the power to do such a thing.

Later on the day of the announcement, Heyman went to a Bowen Island dinner with a few dozen of the ranking environmental campaigners in B.C. That has received a lot of scrutiny because the gathering was labelled a Kinder Morgan strategy-group session, and was all about fighting the pipeline. The dribble of leaks after the evening, despite the group's extraordinary efforts at secrecy, suggested that Heyman was warmly received.

Wednesday's release of the intentions paper is a followup on the proposed regulations that outlines the thinking behind the remaining regulations. But there are two new things in the mix.

One is that Point Five - the original idea of restricting shipments - has been erased. It was taken off the table by Premier John Horgan last week and it has been taken out of the intentions paper, as well, to placate Alberta.

The other is that Heyman is denying that the regulations and the intentions paper have been expressly crafted with the Kinder Morgan expansion program in mind. That will come as a surprise to a wide range of people who apparently believed exactly the opposite.

When the regulations first saw the light of day, Greenpeace's reaction was that they were "a major blow to Kinder Morgan."

The group predicted that when the spill studies were done, "Kinder Morgan will be the owner of a brand new pipeline with no 'on' switch."

Other groups fighting the line had the same reaction, for obvious reasons. The NDP campaigned on fighting and stopping the pipeline.

It stressed how precious the coast is and how opposed it is to tanker traffic. The government is in court fighting the original approval. Heyman's evening engagement after his first move on the regulations was with people organized to fight the pipeline.

But Wednesday he said: "This is not about Kinder Morgan specifically. This is about anyone who transports oil through the province.

"This isn't about anything other that ensuring our practices on oil transport are up to date and protect our interests... The regulations today are not aimed specifically at Kinder Morgan."

Challenged on the startling notion that this all of a sudden isn't about Kinder Morgan, he relented slightly.

"I certainly didn't say it has nothing to do with the Kinder Morgan expansion, but this has to do with the existing transportation of... hundreds of thousands of litres of refined and heavy oil through B.C."

There's lots of oil moving around various ways, and the regulations apply to anyone moving more than 10,000litres.

The regulations are of general application, but it's a bit much to try to change what's been the prime focus of the new safety regime at this late date.

It's a measure of how much more carefully B.C. is treading after Alberta erupted, that Heyman would try to deny the obvious.

Maybe it's not all about Kinder Morgan. But certainly most of it is.

The second paragraph of the intentions paper is another serious warning about any increase in oil movement, and how a majority agrees that a dramatic increase presents risks that must be addressed. It's a side-long reference to Point Five, without actually stating it.

Heyman is trying to cool down the argument while the government finds out if it's on solid ground. But it's still most definitely about the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

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