The Runner Debates: Why Do Pipelines Get Approved?: Alyssa Laube

The benefits are politically smart, but ethically and environmentally dangerous

Runner Debate - Pipelines by Nicole Kwit

(Nicole Kwit)

Check out the other side of the debate here

Surrey may soon accept a benefits deal from Kinder Morgan, the company responsible for the Trans Mountain Pipeline. The project was built in 1953, running from Strathcona County to Burnaby, and is expanding by 980 kilometres to carry 890,000 barrels of oil a day, up from 300,000. It is set to begin operating at the end of 2019.

According to its website, “Trans Mountain is committed to maximizing the benefits to communities affected throughout the construction process and during operations. In addition to tax and employment benefits a comprehensive Community Benefits Program benefits communities impacted by construction through a range of educational, environmental and financial benefits.”

The notion behind the deal is preemptively slapping bandaids on wounds that haven’t opened yet. They make natural areas more traversable and beautiful, and prepare citizens for emergency situations, among other initiatives. The plans do not include benefits from land access agreements, employment, or property tax payments, and usually focus specifically on emergency management training, infrastructure and park enhancement, and educational and training programs.

So far, 18 have been signed—constituting 95 per cent of the pipeline route—and several more have now been proposed to municipalities in the Lower Mainland. In 2014, community benefit agreements were signed in the British Columbian cities of Hope and Barriere. Many more were accepted in both B.C. and Alberta in 2015, and last year, Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Chilliwack, and the Fraser Valley Regional District Area D all signed off on CBAs.

In Abbotsford, $1.3 million was put towards sprucing up the Ledgeview Golf Course. $1 million was spent on improving Coquitlam’s Mackin Park, and $1.2 million on Chilliwack’s Vedder Greenway Pedestrian Trail Bridge. The Thompson Community Park and Mount Cheam trailhead were developed with $75,000 in Fraser Valley Regional Distract Area D last September.

It seems that the Surrey has had a change of heart since the project was under review by the National Energy Board. Although the city then spoke out against the project, it is now considering opening up its wallet to the company pushing it.

Politicians who have spoken to the media about accepting the plans have all essentially said the same thing—that, if the pipeline is happening anyway, there’s no reason to say no to free money—and yet cannot give a conclusive answer, since it is not going to be approved until before the second half of the year begins. There has also been the suggestion that taking money from the company doesn’t mean that the city supports it, and remains critical of Kinder Morgan’s process.

Both responses are weak, but understandable. Those on the fence or partially against pipeline construction could easily agree to take a bribe from big oil. It’s a lot of money changing hands, and even casual environmentalists with master’s degrees in political science and economics will place it before promises to stay green.

Politically, it’s smart. But ethically and culturally, it paints an ugly portrait of Surrey. For one, the city must be run by dollar-hungry hypocrites, if they can take a stand against the pipeline until they get a whiff of bills in Kinder Morgan’s pockets. Clearly, their dedication to environmental justice cannot be trusted. Second, the people of the Fraser Valley have not been particularly supportive of the expansion, especially not those in Burnaby and Coquitlam. Otherwise, it is simply spineless.

If making Surrey eco-friendly is what the city truly believes in, then it has an obligation, as a reliable government, to stick to that stance. Accepting benefits from those pumping oil through the Trans Mountain Pipeline would be a pathetic display, and not one that I could support as a citizen that respects the area I grew up in.

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