The Georgia Straight recently interviewed Elizabeth May, leader of the federal Greens and MP for Saanich–Gulf Islands, about the Kinder Morgan pipeline project. It will triple bitumen shipments to the Lower Mainland and result in a nearly seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers travelling through Burrard Inlet.
Below, you can read an edited and condensed version of what she said about the project.
Georgia Straight: What are the biggest misconceptions about the Kinder Morgan pipeline?
Elizabeth May: The number one misconception is that it is in Canada's national economic interest.
Georgia Straight: Can you elaborate on that?
Elizabeth May: Well, there's never been any study on the economic risks and benefits of the project. The National Energy Board explicitly ruled that jobs and the economy were outside of its mandate. I was an intervener, as you know. A fellow intervener was Unifor, represented by...Steven Shrybman, who attempted to put in evidence before the National Energy Board that proceeding with the Kinder Morgan pipeline could lead to the closure of the last remaining refinery in the Lower Mainland of B.C.—and put the workers at the Chevron refinery in Burnaby out of work. And the National Energy Board said, "Not our business to talk about jobs and the economy."
So I find myself constantly struggling against the hype and propaganda of proponents, knowing that none of those claims have ever been put to the kind of neutral, regulatory agency test—for, you know, baloney. And knowing that the National Energy Board didn't look at the economics of the project.
Now, you look at the economics of the project the way Robyn Allan has and you wonder what we're talking about here. We've got bitumen being a precrude product that will always sell for far less than a barrel of real oil because it's not oil and it's not even crude. It's a lump of solid precrude material.
The idea if we could export raw product without any value added, as soon as we get it to an export market, [and] we'll get the global price of oil, well, I don't know why you would. It's not oil. It's still a lump of crud. You've got to upgrade it before you can even get it to synthetic crude. And then you have to refine it from there. So it's both the lowest value and one of the most highly polluting forms of petroleum product that's on the planet.
So the low-value piece is pretty significant when the global price is low and there's a global glut. Saudi Arabia has recently agreed to reduce how much it's flooding the world market with supply, but not by much, not by enough to make producing bitumen profitable.
Another misconception is that pipelines don't drive up production in the oilsands and don't increase greenhouse gases. But there's a very solid piece of work that was done by the environmental impact statement in the United States. The final environmental impact statement to the secretary of state, who at that time was John Kerry, on the Keystone pipeline set out the sensitivity of the global price of oil to the impact of pipelines in boosting growth of oilsands development.
And this is very significant too, because a lot of people said, "Oh the Keystone review said conclusively that this was greenlighted because it wouldn't cause an increase in greenhouse gases. So Obama should have approved Keystone. And then they somehow flip-flopped." Those were obviously the voices of people who never read the report because at the time that Kerry first received it when oil was selling for well over $80 a barrel, you could make the case that an additional pipeline would not make any difference because the oilsands were going to be expanding anyway.
The report that went to John Kerry specifically said when the price of a barrel of oil falls below $80 a barrel, building a new pipeline will create pressure to expand in the oilsands that would otherwise not be there because the price is too low. So there's a sensitivity around greenhouse gas increases, oilsands expansion, and pipelines being not a static equation but one that changes with the global price of a barrel of oil.
Georgia Straight: If pipelines are built and more oil comes to market, does that drive down the price of oil internationally, which in turn will lead to more consumption and more greenhouse gas emissions?
Elizabeth May: It could but that kind of sensitivity isn't really there. The amount that we'd be producing, we'd need to be competitive with Saudi Arabia to have Canadian production really feed into the change in the global price. So I would defer to someone like Jeff Rubin or market analysts around the price of oil. I stick to stuff I'm pretty sure of and I know this: when the price of a barrel of oil is under $80 a barrel and you build a pipeline, you are driving up greenhouse gases.
After the economic misconceptions, the biggest screaming-in-neon-lights misconception of this was an evidence-based case to approve Kinder Morgan. Because the only so-called evidence that the Trudeau cabinet had was what was produced through the National Energy Board process. As a candidate, Justin Trudeau said in the election campaign—as did the hapless Liberals running under their banner—they all said "the NEB process is broken. You can't approve a pipeline through a broken process. We'll put the Kinder Morgan proposal through a proper process to have an evidence-based basis for whether it should go ahead or not.
The National Energy Board process was completely flawed. It didn't allow interveners to do cross-examination, and they said we could do paper questions. But it didn't actually occur to me until I was pulling together my final argument—I was the only member of Parliament to make a final argument to the NEB against Kinder Morgan—I put an awful lot of work into going back over the 23,000 pages of evidence that Kinder Morgan had adduced. Which of course is mostly repetitive, redundant, and irrelevant material.
The only evidence Kinder Morgan put forward that bitumen and diluent would behave much like crude—and you would be able to clean it up in a marine environment—came from a one-time-only study that they did over a 10-day period in the middle of summer in Gainford, Alberta, in a big tank of fresh water to which they added salt and stirred and said this replicates the Burrard Inlet. And diluent. And they claimed it floated. It was not a peer-reviewed study. It wasn't published anywhere. It was, as I said, 10 days in Gainford, Alberta.
Georgia Straight: What did you learn from the Kalamazoo accident involving Enbridge?
Elizabeth May: There were several things to learn from the Kalamazoo accident. One was that the Enbridge multiple-failsafe-technological whiz bang solutions to having alarms go off should you have a pipeline leak aren't really useful if people in the control room run around turning off the alarms as they scream at you that something is wrong. And if the workers in the control room conclude, "Oh we shut down for maintenance. This is routine pressure problems." And they shut off all of the alarms.
Then the next shift of workers came in and the departing shift didn't say to the next shift, "you might want to double-check because we had alarms going off all over the place and we shut them all off." It was pretty weird. So then the second shift are the ones who started pumping thousands of gallons of dilbit through a broken pipe. Brilliant.
The other thing we learned is that when you put dilbit in a fresh-water environment, it can never be cleaned up. It's been six years and the bitumen and diluent separated. The bitumen sank and it cost billions of dollars and it's still not cleaned up. So that was a real wake-up call. Certainly as someone who's opposed for pipelines for many reasons, I thought we were dealing with something that behaves much like crude and I don't think that now. I don't think anyone who has actually looked at the evidence thinks that.
But they managed to spare Justin Trudeau the humiliation of looking at the evidence before pronouncing that it was all safe. The fact that he actually claimed that shipping bitumen to the coastline was safer in pipelines than in trains reflects that they spared him having to look at the facts before betraying his promises.
Georgia Straight: Is it safer to ship bitumen by train?
Elizabeth May: The safest way to ship bitumen is by rail. Now, there are other things that you get doing it that way. There's probably more greenhouse gases in shipping it by rail. I think certainly there are. On the safety issue, on which they implicitly connect in our brains the notion of Lac Magentic and a fireball killing people in a small community, that accident, that tragedy, did not involve bitumen. We were talking not just crude, but Bakken shale. Bakken shale is bad stuff and enormously inflammable.
Bitumen, on the other hand, solid bitumen, you can try with a blowtorch to try to get it catch fire and you'll have no luck. And if you had [transport] bitumen [by rail, here's] how they do it: you have to heat up the bitumen because it's a solid. You can't pour it into the train. It's a solid thing. You heat it up enough to put it in a railcar. And then it cools down in that railcar. It's not going anywhere until it gets to its final destination when you have to heat it up again to get it out of the railcar.
So you don't mix it with diluent. You just heat it up. Put it in the railcar. And it goes solid again.
If that railcar were to catapult off a high place and crash into a brook below, it would make a mess of splintered and fractured railcar parts as it broke apart but the bitumen wouldn't be going anywhere. It would be sitting there as a lump. It wouldn't catch fire and it wouldn't blow up.
I don't think this is a smart thing to do. Why do we want to ship out raw product as fast as possible without getting any value added? But if you were going to do that for some reason, the safest way to do it is by rail.
Georgia Straight: What are your thoughts when you see the young people of British Columbia getting energized to fight this pipeline?
Elizabeth May: I'm happy to see young people and old people getting energized to fight this pipeline. I represent one of the ridings in Canada with the highest proportion of seniors. I think it's something like the second or third highest proportion of seniors. When I say that I'm prepared to engage in civil disobedience and get arrested and go to jail, I don't want to be standing on the sideline when people several decades older than me...say...they'll be going to jail. I don't want people beng led away by the RCMP using their walkers to get into a squad car while I'm sitting on the sidelines. So yes, I'm happy to see—very, very encouraged to see—young people engaged. And we have to do things that are in the streets.
But I also urge people to remember we can do things based on creating more political pressure by writing letters and articles to the national press, to the national papers, where people still seem to think that B.C. is somehow being selfish in not wanting to help out the Alberta economy.
I think we have to point out the threat to the British Columbia economy. We have to point out that there is no economic case. All the points I was making earlier. But I'm absolutely encouraged because when push comes to shove, Clayoquot summer in 1993 was not only protecting Clayoquot Sound but reviving forest practices policies throughout B.C.
A lot of that has been lost now with Christy Clark. We're back to pretty bad forest management practices. But Clayoquot summer up to this point, was the single largest event of nonviolent civil disobedience in Canadian history. And I think it will be eclipsed by what will happen in B.C. with the leadership of people like Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and the Tsleil-Waututh and the Musqueam and the Squamish First Nations and in my community, the Saanich people.
Georgia Straight: Kinder Morgan will say "we've got agreements with First Nations where the pipeline will cross." Do the Tsleil-Waututh or the Saanich or the Musqueam have a legal ability to fight this, given that the tankers will be travelling through the waters?
Elizabeth May: Absolutely, they do. Absolutely. Their traditional rights, and particularly the Douglas treaty rights, are really strong and I don't think people understand how they give a written commitment that First Nations, Saanich First Nations, will have the right to use the territory. I think the language is "as formerly". This has not really been dealt with.
Adam Olsen from Tsartlip First Nation made a very impassioned final argument before the National Energy Board pointing out that under the Douglas treaty, it's not just the First Nation in terms of leadership that needs to have the negotiations. As an individual Tsartlip person, Adam asserted he has rights to fish and travel in the area where the tankers will be going. So you know, the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, and Squamish territorial rights are very much impacted by Kinder Morgan, both pipeline and tankers. And of course, Saanich rights are affected.
Also, I don't know when the United States is going to say something. Certainly the San Juan Islands [residents] are very concerned. The San Juan Islands were declared by Barack Obama to be national monuments, which mean they have the same status for protection as if they were national parks.
Georgia Straight: You've also got Nuu-chah-nuth relatives in Washington state.
Elizabeth May: We're talking about the Salish Sea and the Salish people. And the Salish Sea, Coast Salish people, southern resident killer whale populations, and wild salmon predate anything to do with an international boundary. And the international boundary is of long standing, but the First Nations' rights certainly are of longer standing and are transboundary.
Georgia Straight: Have you had any discussions with any members of the federal Liberal caucus who are even giving any consideration to crossing the floor to join the Green party?
Elizabeth May: No. There were some brave voices early. I don't know that anyone would be prepared to do that. I'd certainly welcome them. That's for sure.
Georgia Straight: I was wondering about Vancouver Quadra Liberal MP Joyce Murray.
Elizabeth May: Joyce put out a statement—"I'm disappointed but it's all still good because we're Liberals." I'm still enormously personally fond of Justin Trudeau. I'm still hoping he'll do the right thing. I don't think they wanted to brief him on the evidence. They wanted to tell him this is an evidence-based decision. And it may be that the senior bureaucracy told [Environment Minister] Cath McKenna the same thing.
I mean, they told her that on Woodfibre and Petronas and she believed them when it wasn't true. I keep holding out the hope these guys will actually look at the evidence. Either they've looked at the evidence and they've decided Canadians won't go to that kind of difficulty to figure out there isn't any evidence that this stuff can be cleaned up. If you're going to buy a bunch of wonderful spill-response boats and booms and they're going to get out within 15 minutes of any spill, I don't know what the hell they're going to do, since we don't know how to clean up bitumen and diluent. They're pretending it behaves like crude.
Georgia Straight: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Elizabeth May: Oh gosh yes, because the evidence was so poor. Bear in mind, thank goodness for mayor and council in Vancouver, and mayor and council in Burnaby. Their court cases are already filed about the violation of procedural fairness before the National Energy Board. They're making some of the very same arguments I was planning to make in court. So I'm hugely grateful for that. For all of us who want to oppose this project, who are committed to oppose this project, there's a whole lot of steps we take before we form blockades and put ourselves on the line. One right now that we need is more people saying I'm committed to fighting this project because there's no evidence for it. Show us the evidence.
Push back hard on the idea that "we know how to clean up bitumen and diluent." We need to cite the fact that Unifor and the Canadian Labour Congress, who are concerned with worker rights, don't want these pipelines built. I think we have to push for why are we not looking at more refineries for Alberta. I know people who say to me that's a terrible idea because there will be more greenhouse gases from a refinery in Alberta. But shipping this stuff out is destined for refineries in other countries. And if we're going to hold the level of production on a declining basis from the oilsands, you start with wanting to help the Alberta economy now with that ancillary infrastructure, and using it domestically. Instead, we're importing almost a million barrels a day to Eastern Canada. And trying to export on an increasing basis. That's what Trudeau said in his announcement: the oilsands production is going to go up. That's not acceptable if you're going to meet your climate targets.
Georgia Straight: How concerned are you that Rachel Notley is going to be an effective salesperson for this project and may be able to convince British Columbians that perhaps this is in the national interest?
Elizabeth May: On the sheer politics, if you asked me why the Liberals just did this, it was not based on the evidence, obviously. It wasn't based on the economics. It was the politics of trying to help Rachel Notley in Alberta.
Georgia Straight: Why would they want to help Rachel Notley in Alberta?
Elizabeth May: The alternative may be a premier Jason Kenney. I celebrated Rachel Notley's win. I cheered. I'm thrilled to have finally a premier in Alberta who is willing to talk about carbon pricing, willing to talk about a climate change plan. But the problem is the pipeline politics are also counterfactual. Nobody is looking at what would it take to have a national energy strategy that works in combination so that we're diversifying our energy portfolio, and we're not stuck with all our eggs in the bitumen basket. That's why the economy in Alberta is tanking. It's because Stephen Harper's strategy and Ralph Klein's, when he was there—and it just continued under the other Alberta premiers in the Conservative party—was "let's ramp up getting as much raw bitumen exported as fast as possible." That needs to be called out and justified as a good strategy.
And then the response is always from people who are knowledgeable in the industry, and they sound very knowledgeable: "Oh, there's no market for refineries." Except that in the 1970s we had 40 refineries and we now have 16.
In the world of globalization, the fossil fuel masters of the universe who are digging up our boreal forest and our muskeg and scraping out the bitumen would rather have Canadians take all the risks—and then the oceans take the risks to ship it to refineries that they've already built in other countries rather than create jobs for Canadians here. So I look at this in a bit more nationalistic [way], I suppose, and I would like to see refineries in Alberta that would allow us to ensure that oilsands production never goes above where it is right now, which is a bit more than two million barrels of bitumen a day, but create more jobs with less bitumen by refining it and using it domestically.