By Bradley Shende
When I first moved to Vancouver from Winnipeg 20 years ago, it was with cold hands and warm optimism. The lure of the ocean, beaches, mountains, and forests was enough to get me out here, but what made me actually stay and start a career and business was much deeper than this surface beauty.
This is why I am deeply concerned to read recent claims that oil pipelines are essential to B.C.’s economic growth and prosperity.
As a local member of the tech sector, I believe that new pipelines are incredibly risky for B.C.’s economy.
Although I am not a member of any political party and am supporting persons on different sides of the political spectrum, I think the B.C. NDP deserves to be applauded for standing strong against an increase in oil tanker traffic. Kinder Morgan’s proposal to build a new Trans Mountain oil pipeline involves a lot of risk for our local economy and, as far as I can tell, very little reward.
To start, the new pipeline would not finance increased health, education, or other social services in any meaningful way. According to Kinder Morgan’s own data, the new pipeline would add a mere $9.86 million a year to B.C.’s coffers—or a shockingly small 0.0005 percent of provincial tax revenues.
Even more relevant, the pipeline would create just 50 permanent jobs and a few thousand more in temporary construction. These numbers pale in comparison to other sectors; my tech startup colleagues easily eclipse this within a single month.
All told, the benefits are pretty slim. On the other hand, the risks of running a new pipeline right through the most populous part of the region and turning Vancouver into an oil-exporting port are mind-boggling. And let’s face it—with pipelines and tankers, spills are an unavoidable cost of doing business.
According to experts, a major spill along our coast could cost over $10 billion in direct clean-up costs alone, the majority of which would likely fall to taxpayers to cover, as the B.C. government has admitted. How many health, education, and social services would face the chopping block to cover a government debt of that size?
It could also easily cost tens of thousands of people their jobs, directly impacting industries that together employ over 420,000 people here in B.C. and affecting those of us working in creative industries like film and high tech who benefit from Vancouver’s "greenest city" brand.
These numbers are not pulled out of thin air—a study from Washington State's government concluded that a major oil spill could affect 165,000 jobs in the state, and a recent UBC study found that 43 percent of all tourism and coastal industry jobs could be impacted by a major spill on B.C.’s north coast.
During a month when over a dozen separate oil spills from Alberta to Arkansas have made headlines, are these impacts we’re willing to face here?
The only thing that’s certain about new oil pipelines is that they’re risky business— for our beautiful landscape absolutely, but also for those of us who live, work, and do business in this province.
What we really need is to put aside the rhetoric and posturing and take a hard look at the facts. In other places where there have been spills, we've seen an alarmingly negative impact on the local economy, particularly on tourism, coastal industries, and the real estate market (see www.CredBC.ca for research on the costs and benefits of new pipelines for B.C. businesses). Supporting economic development is not the same as supporting all development projects regardless of their risks—and we need to have a real conversation about this.
In order to protect B.C. jobs and a strong local economy, we need to defend the industries that are the biggest job creators. According to the Urban Development Institute, the property development sector is directly and indirectly responsible for over 220,000 jobs in B.C. The tourism sector employs 127,000 people across the province, and our emerging innovation economy, one I am proudly part of, employs more people than forestry, mining, oil, and gas combined. Risking serious harm to these industries is the much more short-sighted stance.
TED, a global gathering of the world’s elite innovators, is not coming here in 2014 for Vancouver's tankers and pipelines; it's coming for the creative ideas and inspiration that should drive us into the future.
Sign me up for that.