Opinion: Canada can develop oil sands responsibly

Contributed to The Vancouver Sun
Greg Stringham
Vice President of Oil Sands
Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers
June 26, 2014
Northern Gateway might be controversial to some given its geography and the broader discussion around ongoing use of oil, but for the foreseeable future the pipeline is strategic, smart, and with all the safety stipulations from the federal and B.C. governments, it can and should be built.

Canada is a global leader in many respects in oil and natural gas development. The Alberta-B.C. oil pipeline to expand industry access to growing global markets provided impetus for further improvements to existing safety policies in Canada and will be one of the safest pipeline and marine transport projects in the world.

Global demand for crude oil continues to grow and Canada has the opportunity to responsibly contribute to meeting this demand by growing and diversifying markets.

Built and operated responsibly and safely, British Columbians and all Canadians stand to benefit economically from opening up natural resources trade with other markets.

Other countries - Norway and the United States to name only two - routinely move oil by pipeline and marine transport to benefit their energy security and economy. Northern Gateway provides that benefit to Canada - one of several pipelines, existing and planned, to improve access to global markets.

Canada's oil industry creates billions of dollars in economic activity across Canada, supports thousands of skilled jobs and helps government fund public infrastructure, such as roads, schools and hospitals, through taxes and royalties. To deliver economic development, the industry relies on safe transportation of oil to markets via rail, pipelines and marine tankers.

Economically, B.C. benefits today from Canadian oil development and stands to benefit even more if we can enhance trade. The Canadian Energy Research Institute estimates oil sands development will generate $28 billion in economic activity in British Columbia over the next 25 years. A survey of oil sands producers shows that more than 370 companies in B.C. already supply the oil sands, generating over $1.1 billion annually in economic impact. For example, Langley-based Britco provides modular buildings used in the oil patch.

B.C. outlined its five conditions for heavy oil pipelines in 2013 and since then, significant work has gone into meeting these conditions.

This project has undergone an extensive, thorough and credible regulatory review. The National Energy Board's joint review panel found Northern Gateway to be in the national interest, subject to 209 conditions.

Land spill response requirements have been further strengthened and marine tanker systems - from navigation to liability rules that place responsibility firmly at the feet of industry - have been raised to a world-class level.

Through the International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds ($1.1 billion) and the Canada Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund ($400 million), Canada has one of the strongest liability and compensation regimes in the world.

The oil transportation safety track record over the past 50 years is very good, but even still, work continues to improve prevention and ensure producers, transportation companies and spill-responders have the best information available to manage products safely and to make the best plans possible for response, containment and cleanup in the event of an incident.

Progress has also been made to improve consultation and the involvement of aboriginal groups in B.C. in these projects. However, more work needs to be done.

Industry wants to do its part by improving access to training, procuring products and services, and investing in aboriginal communities.

Gaps in skills and training to ensure aboriginal people benefit from employment on this and other energy projects is an imperative for aboriginal people and for our industry.

The major projects office in Vancouver and a federal-provincial-B.C. First Nations forum for infrastructure and resource development issues announced recently by the federal government are welcome steps forward.

In the end, why do we need new pipelines and marine tanker transportation? Because there is a global demand for Canada's crude oil supply. Because projects like Northern Gateway generate capital investment, jobs, economic spinoffs and increased revenues for companies and governments, all of which strengthen Canada's economy. And because we can do this responsibly.

The diversity of views around Northern Gateway is challenging, but it has provided the impetus for beneficial new policies and operational safety improvements across the board. The Northern Gateway pipeline and others like it, with the conditions applied by regulators and governments, will be among the safest in the world and will deliver significant tangible benefits to the country as a whole. It is strategic, it's smart and it's timely.

There is no question there is more work to do. Working together, we can assure Canada's economic security through responsible resource development. We need to turn the conversation to how we do this responsibly, not whether we can do it at all.