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Climate change not part of Kinder Morgan hearing

Scientists concerned over government's lack of consideration on the issue
Kinder Morgan tank farm
Vancouver artist Gabriel Mindel-Saloman is leading a people's procession along the Kinder Morgan pipeline route and will pass by the company's tank farm on Burnaby Mountain.

An internationally renowned environmental economist is criticizing the federal government for failing to consider climate change while reviewing pipeline applications, such as Kinder Morgan’s bid to twin the Trans Mountain line.

SFU professor and climate change expert Mark Jaccard blasted the government’s absence of consideration for climate change, despite Canada’s promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to help stop the planet’s temperature from rising by two degrees Celsius.

“It’s completely inconsistent for the government of Canada to allow expansion of oil sands and talk, at the same time, about its promise for two degrees Celsius,” Jaccard told the NOW. “If the government were being honest, it would ensure any infrastructure project, like a pipeline linking the oil sands, included in its terms of reference an estimate of how this and similar infrastructure projects contribute to climate change.”

According to Jaccard, the reason behind the disconnect is obvious.

“They don’t care. They are getting a lot of money from the oil industry,” he said. “Our politicians act as if they were bought by the oil industry. I’m not saying they’re bought by the oil industry. I’m saying they act as if.”

On Dec. 16, Kinder Morgan applied to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline, which has been running oil from the Alberta oil sands to B.C. since the 1950s. The expansion, if approved, would increase the line’s oil shipments, from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of oil per day.

“Oil sands are about two million barrels per day,” Jaccard said. “The new projects that have been approved, or are in the planning stages, are designed to bring production ultimately to nine million barrels a day. This is huge.”

Jaccard said it was interesting that the National Energy Board Act outlines concerns about the environment, and the board assesses whether there will be oil spills – on land, on sea or in fresh water – but “climate change will devastate all of those ecosystems.”

“I don’t even care about these processes that are looking into preventing an oil spill. The First Nations and other environmentalists are all clamouring about an oil tanker spill on the coast, to preserve the fish life and mammals, ocean life. Well, climate change is acidifying those oceans,” he added. “I work in an inter-disciplinary school at Simon Fraser University with ocean ecologists and oceanographers, and they will tell you these species are doomed anyway if we’re going to continue to expand the burning of fossil fuels.”

The National Energy Board has been clear that it will not consider climate change when reviewing Kinder Morgan’s application.

“We’re not addressing climate change in this hearing. That’s been laid out really clearly in the list of issues,” said Sarah Kiley, a spokesperson for the National Energy Board. “If you have a concern about climate change, we don’t have a mandate to regulate for that. Our mandate is pretty specific. We regulate pipelines that cross either an inter-provincial or an international border. We do exports, we do tolls and tariffs and a certain number of different things.”

Many people who applied to participate in the Kinder Morgan hearing expressed concerns about climate change, including George Hoberg, a UBC professor who specializes in energy and climate policy and holds a PHD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

In his application, Hoberg stated the planet is likely to warm 2.6 to 4.8 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, “bringing about changes unprecedented in the history of human civilization.”

Hoberg identified increasing oil sands operations as the main obstacle in Canada meeting its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius.

Hoberg’s application to intervene as someone with relevant information or expertise will very likely be rejected by the board.

“I think that indicates there is something deeply flawed about the process,” he told the NOW. “If academics and experts on climate change can’t intervene in a hearing about a big oil sands pipeline, that’s a big problem.”

Hobergisn’t the only one raising the spectre of climate change. Two of his colleagues, including UBC professor and climate scientist Simon Donner, encouraged other experts to apply in the hearing, and they estimate 20 to 30 academics with similar concerns followed through.

“I’m not saying yes or no the pipeline, I’m saying no to the process,” Donner told the NOW.  

“Most people working on this issue, whether they are scientists or not, are very frustrated with the federal government,” he added.  “A lot of those 2,100 people (who applied) are not going to shut up about this, because the National Energy Board made a mistake, and people are not going to let it stand and stay quiet.”

Donner said there was no policy or mechanism to determine if building new projects will stop Canada from meeting its greenhouse gas emission targets.