Oil made the news last week twice, and it couldn’t have been better scripted from the province’s point of view. It’s difficult to paint yourself as both and conservationist and as a jobs-oriented pro-industrialist, but the province managed to pull it off.
First, the province wrapped up its cross-examination at the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review Panel hearings. A Ministry of the Environment press release couldn’t have been less enthusiastic in its appraisal of Enbridge’s responses to the province’s line of questioning.
It seems like the writing is on the wall for Enbridge Northern Gateway. The province doesn’t have much to lose on this one. The public – the vocal majority anyway – is not in favour of Northern Gateway. The province also reiterated its commitment to waiting for the outcome of the joint review panel and eventual environmental assessments before it would make any final decision.
The second piece of oil news that has been making the rounds is B.C. businessman (and the owner of the Black Press group of newspapers, which includes this one) David Black’s announcement that he has secured financing to not only build an oil refinery in Kitimat, but that he could also secure the financing to build a pipeline if the Northern Gateway proposal falls apart.
Last week, the province released the findings of a report it had commissioned into the economic feasibility of a Kitimat oil refinery. The report’s conclusion was that Black’s Kitimat refinery proposal had economic merit and that the province should seriously consider it.
Following on that news, Black also announced that his refinery proposal would include new technology that is up to 50 per cent cleaner than old technologies. A greener oil refinery, if you will.
It was a bit of a coincidence that the report was made public at the same time the province wrapped up its cross examination of Northern Gateway. On the one hand, Northern Gateway wasn’t able to satisfy the province’s line of questioning, but on the other hand, here was a fresh oil proposal that was not only economically feasible, but greener and not burdened with the public relations fiasco that Enbridge has brought us.
The province has washed its hands of Enbridge Northern Gateway, at least in the sense that it won’t go out of its way to help Enbridge get out of the jackpot it finds itself in.
At the same time, the province has thrown tentative support behind Black’s refinery proposal, that (might) still require a pipeline to cut across Northern B.C.
With a May election bearing down fast on the Liberals and dismal polling, the province has more pressing issues to deal with than proposals that are still years away from construction.
But the B.C. Liberals have managed to do two things. They’ve distanced themselves from criticisms that they were too cozy with Northern Gateway, favouring economic outcomes over environmental, and they’ve distanced themselves from the criticism that they’re willing to let industry and jobs falter in the face of environmentalist lobbying.
In either case, they’ll have a positive position to take no matter which side of the debate a voter might fall on.