Tag Archives: environment

Public Participation, Petro-State Style

I am sitting here this afternoon with a copy of the National Energy Board’s Application Form to Participate, for the upcoming Enbridge pipeline reversal to carry tar sands oil through Ontario, and specifically through my community. The Government of Canada, in order to streamline environmental approvals for tar sands projects, now requires people to fill in an application to participate in the public consultation process. No more can you show up and just start talking to people because you’re a citizen in a democracy and you care about what happens. As of now, if you can’t demonstrate in writing a direct impact on your own personal life and/or special expertise in the subject under question, your participation is neither wanted nor required and will not be allowed.

If I (or you or anyone else) want a chance to participate, we must complete and submit this application form to Enbridge–yes, that’s the proponent–by April 19th.

From the Application Form:

Page 2: “If you need support to fill out this form, please contact the Process Advisor. … The Process Advisor cannot tell you what content you should provide on the form. It is your responsibility to demonstrate that you should be allowed to participate.”

Wow. You know, if a proponent under the Ontario process were to try pulling something like this, their project would never be approved. A citizen must demonstrate to a corporate entity that they should have the democratic right to participate in an environmental assessment process?

Page 5: “If available, please provide documentation with your application that supports your qualifications or describes the source of your relevant information (for example, a curriculum vitae, a reference letter, description of your relevant experience, etc.).”

Yes, that is correct. If you want to claim special expertise relevant to the public consultation process, you must submit supporting documentation, including a resume.

Page 6: “NOTE: The Board will not consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of the oil sands [sic], or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.”

The entire project is about the tar sands; the pipeline in question currently carries natural gas from east to west, and is going to be reversed to carry tar sands dilbit from west to east. How can you talk about whether or not this project is acceptable without talking about the tar sands? That’s like having an environmental assessment for a highway expansion and ruling out, from the start, any discussion of the environmental impacts of cars or alternatives to private transportation.

In the case of the pipeline, by ruling out the tar sands, you’ve limited any discussion of environmental impacts to pipeline spills. Not nothing, to be sure, but also not the important part. Which, if Canadians had any chance to weigh in on tar sands development in any other forum, wouldn’t be so offensive. But we don’t. The Government of Canada is going to develop the tar sands, come hell, high water, oil supply gluts* or, what’s more likely, all three at once.

I’m sure the NEB and Enbridge think this is going to save them all kinds of time. By eliminating 99% of the people who would like to participate in the hearings, it sure will be a lot more streamlined–to the point of being a slam-dunk for Enbridge; I’ve never heard of a project being turned down because you might have a hydrocarbon spill–and I’ll bet you they won’t have to deal with anyone showing up for a public meeting and standing in the front row screaming threats at the panel. Just my guess.

But say, wouldn’t it be fun if, before they got the slam-dunk streamlined review process, they had to wade through about 5,000 application forms first?

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*There is so much oil being produced in the tar sands right now that a supply glut is requiring producers to sell their product significantly below market value–$80 instead of $120. So not only is Canada destroying the environment to produce a fossil fuel with enormous social and ecological impacts lasting over a geological time scale, but we’re doing it at a discount because the product is not currently needed. I’m sure an economist can fill me in here on the wisdom of the free market in this regard and how it is effortlessly taking care of our true needs.