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REPORTING · 16th October 2014
Walter McFarlane
The Kitimat Museum and Archives held presentation as a part of their Kitimat Question’s Energy exhibit at the Rod and Gun on Saturday, October 4th. Two leading authorities on Canada’s Energy Policy, Doctor Kathryn Harrison, a political Scientist from the University of British Columbia and Doctor Andrew Leach from the University of Alberta, an Environmental Economist with the school of Business, were in Kitimat to talk about the future of Canada’s Energy.

Both talked about how Kitimat has become a topic of discussion in their professions and both wanted to hear from the community.

Harrison initially pointed out that it seemed like there was a lot of mistrust in the questions Kitimat representatives provided to the museum. She explained she was not surprised by the level of distrust because the processes have been changed, there is a reduction in government transparency. She looked at three areas of concern, federal ministers championing the projects before their Joint Review Panel reports have come in, the revision of the Federal Environmental Statutes and ‘Orwellian Double Speak’ which is coming from the Governments. She also posed the question: What actions have the government taken to earn the trust of the public? Her answer was not the public’s ability to trust but the elected leaders ability to be untrustworthy, giving examples where the government has said one thing, then went and did the other.

“We are seeing something new emerging where communities which are simply transit sites for fossil fuels are speaking up because they don’t see economic benefits that correspond to the environmental risks, air quality, to fisheries, to drinking water to their coast, to say nothing about aboriginal communities which are saying no to projects on unseated traditional territory,” said Harrison.

She expressed people will know in a year or two how much authority local governments have.

Leach started by explaining his title, Enbridge Professor of Energy Policy. It means his University has received a donation by Enbridge to fund research. He does not work for Enbridge.

“I think what you’ve seen here in Kitimat is really the brunt of a massive shift in the way energy moves or is going to move on our continent,” said Leach. “The market in North America has completely turned on its head. The US is producing more oil than it’s ever produced, Canada’s producing more oil than it’s ever produced and the US and North American Continent as a whole is using less oil or about the same amount of oil that it used 10 years ago. So the question becomes, what do you do with that oil?”

He expressed they could sell it at a discount or export it and Kitimat jumps to attention as a port city on a map.

One of the topics which came up was David Black’s Refinery Proposal. Leach stated refining is a global business. He stated to have a refinery here, the refinery would have to be competitive in a global market and what would give the refinery an advantage. Leach listed two advantages, cheap Natural Gas, cheap feed stock.

He also asked how British Columbian residents wanted to use their natural gas, reduce the cost domestically or sell it at a low market value. The same goes for bitumen.

Harrison expressed she was sceptical when a member of the newspaper industry makes a decision that the oil producers who have the knowhow and expertise are not doing.

“On LNG, I think there is a lot you can learn from Fort McMurray, in terms of the things not to do. The first thing from an economic perspective is: never listen to an engineer when they do a cost estimate,” said Leach.

“The Premier says we’ll be doing the world a favour by exporting LNG. That may be true, but I think there are a lot of reasons the opposite may be true,” said Harrison. “How does the life cycle emissions from our LNG compare to coal or some other fossil fuel alternative. There is a huge amount of research and a huge amount of debate about that.”

She expressed just saying the LNG is clean does not make it so. Regulations which govern flaring, venting, how the plants are powered and the carbon capture and storage of CO2, which should be done by the premier make it clean.

“How do we know, even if it has a lower carbon footprint over its lifecycle then coal, that our LNG is actually going to replace coal in the destination markets,” said Harrison. She explained that coal is relatively cheap and provides a lot of energy.

She would later say to the crowd that markets are about making money, they are about certainty, policy and working within a frame work. She stated the market should not be solving problems, this is the role of government. She does not blame oil companies for making money on oil, she blames them for funding climate science denial.

Leach explained one of the things the community should be concerned with is reclamation of the site when all is done. “The Alberta Government holds maybe, 2% of the total reclamation costs for oil sands in reserve. They don’t hold enough to manage a major tailings spill, but that doesn’t mean it’s free. That risk is still being born, it’s still being born implicitly by governments and tax payers etc. or people having to deal with long polluted sites,” said Leach.

“When those projects are done, when they are at the end of their life, it’s when they are going to be no longer competitive, they are losing money and they aren’t going to be giving money to the tax payer to reclaim, they are going to be sucking money out of us, because they won’t be competitive at that point,” said Harrison.

Leach stated that what we think is Capitalism is not Capitalism at all. “Governments act to preserve existing jobs, they act to protect yesterday’s economy, they act to protect the politically speed of the economy because the workers who might work for the solar panel factory in Kitimat don’t have a well establish lobby as the plant doesn’t exist, they don’t have a union… they don’t know who they are,” said Leach.

Other topics included the role which scientists play in gathering information, the Joint Review Panel and the role of local governments.

As the presentation drew to a close, Mayor Joanne Monaghan was asked to comment on the role of Council. She expressed Mayor and Council has to listen to all sides in the community and explain what is good for the community, what the community needs and create a list of what they want for the community in the future and how does the community get to where they need to be while keeping the environment safe. She expressed she wants jobs, good living and she wants Kitimat to be progressive.

She expressed she was not for bitumen being shipped out but she was for a refinery. She suggested they ask the other councillors who were present.

Harrison wrapped up by touching on Canada’s Role as a carbon exporter, making two calls. One that the world will not ‘get its act together’ and Canada will make money by selling fossil fuels while it can ignoring the toll it will take on the future or the world will ‘get its act together’ and Canada will be stuck with the long lasting facilities.

“There are some broader issues that are not just energy related, that are structural changes in the economy, changes in overall views,” said Leach. “You’re in the middle of both of them, essentially, the entire energy industry is looking here. […] Be careful. Don’t put people all in one pan. Don’t assume it’s the economists verses the scientists, don’t assume it is the energy industry vs. somebody else.”

“There aren’t easy solutions. If you’re going to stop something, you’re going to give something up. If you’re going to allow something, you’re going to give something up as well. There isn’t an easy kind of win win win here so don’t get sold by either side of the discussion,” concluded Leach.

The presentations were over quickly and most of the session allowed local residents to ask questions of these two experts. Unfortunately, there was allot going on in Kitimat that day and the session was not really well attended.

There is a video presentation, ‘The Rational Middle’ tonight at the Mount Elizabeth Theater from 7:30 to 9:30 as final part of Kitimat Question’s Energy wraps up. Tickets are $10.