CEP tackles crude oil shipments

The national Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) Union will be on Parliament Hill Tuesday morning welcoming returning MPs with national energy security concerns.

Enbridge's Clipper and TransCanada's Southern Lights pipelines are on CEP's mind, especially after the recent defeat of its appeal over the National Energy Board's approval of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline. That pipeline, which both the CEP and Alberta Federation of Labour have likened to a bitumen superhighway taking jobs and resources south to the U.S., and jeopardizing national energy security, will carry bitumen from the Alberta oilsands, including Wood Buffalo, into southern Illinois.

The 2,969-kilometre pipeline will have an initial nominal capacity to transport approximately 435,000 barrels per day of crude oil beginning in 2009.

In a precedent-setting move, the CEP filed an application in October 2007 asking the federal government to overturn the National Energy Board's (NEB) approval of the Keystone application. The pipeline has also received the required U.S. presidential permit, one of the last regulatory hurdles, to allow it to operate state-side.

"We petitioned cabinet and they told us politely that they had reviewed our submissions before they approved so (TransCanada) has a certificate to build the first phase," said Stephen Shrybman, CEP legal counsel. Acknowledging the federal government eventually gave consideration to the CEP application to overturn the NEB approval, Fred Wilson, CEP executive assistant, added at least the objections are on record. However, in reality, Wilson noted nothing was changed.

"They made a political decision ... in spite of our very compelling evidence," he said this morning from Ottawa.

One chief complaint the CEP has about the process is the lack of communication from the officials. "We had to contact them (twice) to find out what they'd decided," said Wilson. "They should have treated us with more respect."

But that hasn't stopped the CEP from appealing both the Enbridge Clipper and Southern Lights projects. Applications were made to cabinet in early March to overturn the NEB approvals for the two pipelines. Wilson believes the government may not have been ready to act on Keystone, but "maybe they'll act differently with these ones."

He pointed out the CEP was aware that for the government to overturn Keystone, it would have been a "significant political decision. ... It was completely warranted because the NEB is out of control."

Wilson added the board is almost "farcical" in its "ineptitude."

Canadian energy security is an issue that is lost on many because they are removed from the issue. They don't understand the connection to not only themselves but also on a national energy security level, said Shrybman.

The problem with the rest of the country, particularly eastern Canada, is it has a lot at stake.

"Obviously the issues in and around these projects have traction in Alberta and there are quite a number of people out in the province who understand what the implications are over the longer term. Unfortunately the government seems to be kind of hell-bent on pushing ahead."

He noted that even some in the industry have recognized the need for a timeout, as things are moving too fast, but the government has said "no, we're going to go ahead."

While there is some debate out there, "We're having a hard time surfacing more debate about these issues that have any kind of legs," added Shrybman.

"We're still trying to engage the federal government with these issues, and they're not responding, unfortunately," he said.

Adding to the frustration is the lack of media attention. Recalling recent headlines, Shrybman said politicians "or others will have said something homophobic (17) years ago, and of course that's much more worthy. "It really is appalling."

With Alberta jobs and resources heading south, Shrybman noted it is undermining Canada' leverage."

In terms (of) bilateral relations with the U.S., our leverage, in terms of trade and investment, is really the fact that we control the tap. But by building this infrastructure, and in light of NAFTA, we've kind of abandoned much of that."

He noted both U.S. Democratic candidates for president have indicated an interest in renegotiating NAFTA.

"From our perspective, the most important provisions of NAFTA are those that really constrain our ability to regulate exports once they begin."

Fort McMurray Today, Page 1, Mon Apr 14 2008
Byline: Carol Christian

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