Speech on Bill C-46: Pipeline Safety Act

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I would like to speak to the bill on pipeline safety. In my view, it is a good first step toward ensuring pipeline safety, but there are still problems.

I want to speak to the overall scheme of pipelines in Canada, acknowledging, as I said, that this is a good first step. There is much more that needs to be done. There are some areas of vagueness in this piece of legislation. Overall we still have the problem, which I will start with as an overarching concern, with the current energy strategy that sees us wanting to get raw bitumen out of the oil sands, particularly when the price of a barrel of oil was trading internationally at levels that allowed this to be a profitable activity. The strategy appeared to be to get as much raw bitumen out of the ground as fast as possible and ship it quickly to other places for processing and refining.

I take issue with some of the comments that were made earlier in this place by both Liberal colleagues and Conservatives. The assumption that getting raw bitumen to other countries is in Canada’s best interest or even in Alberta’s best interest is, in fact, opposed by the major trade union that represents workers in the oil sands. There are far more jobs to be created in the oil sands if the material is upgraded near the resource and preferably refined near the resource before being diluted with a diluent, fossil fuel condensate, which is shipped to Alberta to make the bitumen flowable.

It is this combination of bitumen and diluent that would be the product to be shipped under all the controversial current pipelines that we hear about, whether energy east or Keystone heading south, or the two very controversial and unacceptable projects that British Columbians do not want to see, the Kinder Morgan project, or the so-called Enbridge gateway project. All of these pipelines are about getting raw bitumen to tidewater for refining in other countries. Therefore, we should be questioning the whole strategy.

What is missing is actually having an energy strategy, having an energy policy in Canada that allows Canadians to know that we are maximizing the benefit of our natural resources and reducing the environmental impact of their exploitation. To maximize value, one of the first principles should be that we get as many jobs as possible out of every ounce of raw material, whether we are talking about shipping out raw logs from the forest industry, which we should oppose, or whether we are talking about shipping out raw bitumen from the fossil fuel industry, which we should oppose.

That also speaks to the dangers of pipeline spills and tanker spills. Under previous legislation, Safeguarding Canada’s Seas and Skies Act, the current administration has brought up the liability levels for tanker traffic as well. I just want to note parenthetically that around liability and the Green Party’s larger concern around tanker safety, each supertanker is independently and individually incorporated. Therefore, in the event of a catastrophic accident, we can have all the laws in the world that say that they are going to be absolutely liable and they will pay for their damage, but the reality of tanker traffic is that, in the case of a major accident with billions and billions of dollars of damage, they are much more likely to go bankrupt and leave Canadians holding the bag.

I do not want to overlook that there is an international fund into which the industry pays for tanker safety, the ship-source oil pollution fund, but that is only accessible for up to $250 million per incident. Again, we know from the experience with real disasters that tanker accidents can be in the billions of dollars. That is speaking to our previous history with tankers carrying conventional crude, the Exxon Valdez being the most notable and still not cleaned up. We know now from Enbridge’s gross negligence in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that a pipeline rupture with dilbit is virtually impossible to clean up. Dilbit does not behave the way conventional crude does in freshwater environments. We have no experience whatsoever, and I underscore that, with dilbit in the marine environment.

As an intervenor on the Kinder Morgan hearings, I read through its evidence. It claims it has done experiments that show how dilbit will behave in a marine environment. It took large free-standing tanks in Alberta, added salt to the water, stirred, as they said to replicate wind and wave action, and then poured in dilbit to see how it behaved. That is the sum total of the knowledge base in Canada for how dilbit would behave in a marine environment.

Unalterably, the Green Party will oppose putting dilbit in tankers and open waters. We oppose putting dilbit in pipelines, not just because it will be hard or impossible to clean up and because the liability limits will not cover the damage, but because every pipeline is intended to take this stuff into tankers where we know the liability regime will not work because of the corporate structure of offshore oil tankers. The liability for Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, TransCanada and the like for dilbit stops at the end of the pipeline. Once they ship it into a tanker, it is not their problem.

Getting back to the bill, let me cover briefly why it is a good first step in a couple of areas and needs strengthening in others. Where it is a good first step is by enshrining the polluter pays principle into law. It is also good to see what is called “non-use value” for public resources being a compensable category. Non-use value basically means that environmental damage can be compensated. That is a good step as a principle. Some of the later clauses as to how this would come into force are unfortunately rather vague; there are still gaps in terms of how environmental damage would be compensated. I want to commend the administration for putting forward the concept of non-use value as a compensable form. It might create the potential for the National Energy Board to create new tools to go after polluters to get the money back as a result of a spill.

I do support the work of an environmental law group called Ecojustice, which has done a good synopsis of the bill for anyone who wants a quick review without having to go through the bill in detail themselves. The bill is too discretionary. It leaves a lot for the National Energy Board to develop its own rules and regulations around how this would be implemented. It does have significant gaps. For instance, oil pipelines carrying less than 250,000 barrels a day would not be covered under this regime. That is the scale of pipeline that would have the absolute liability.

Again, as has been evidenced by quite a bit of the debate earlier today, the $1 billion cap is not sufficient to cover the full costs of a spill involving dilbit. We know that from the Kalamazoo, Michigan spill, which hit $1.2 billion and has not cleaned up the spill, as parts of the Kalamazoo River remain contaminated.

The other part of the bill that needs more work is that it does not impose unlimited absolute liability. There are ways in which that would be limited with the capping, and additionally with other provisions that the NEB can bring forward. Bear in mind that is taking away what existed under the Fisheries Act where the government had the ability to recover the cleanup costs for a pipeline spill to the full costs. In certain circumstances, we already had some provisions that would make a pipeline owner face unlimited absolute liability. That liability regime is now gone.

I will quote from the legal opinion of Ecojustice, which states: “No liability regime can truly and comprehensively be termed a polluter pays regime unless and until polluters are made absolutely liable for the full costs of environmental harm.”

This bill represents a good first step, even with the criticisms that I have included in this presentation this afternoon. I want to make it clear that I will be voting for this bill. However, I would like to see the work done to improve and fill the gaps to make it less discretionary.

Overall, I would like us to focus more in this debate, which is often a dialogue of the deaf on the subject of what is in the pipelines. If it is dilbit, we should not be shipping it at all. Dilbit requires a two-way flow of toxic substances. First, the diluent has to be shipped. In the submission by Enbridge to the NEB, it said it would be buying its fossil fuel condensate from the Middle East. Therefore, tankers from Saudi Arabia would come all the way around and go through the tricky channels into Kitimat to put it into the western end of the twin pipeline, ship the diluent from Kitimat into Alberta, stir it in, and then ship it west. That is a cockamamie scheme.

I appreciate the attention of this House. This bill is a good first step, but the whole scheme needs to be reviewed.