Friday, November 28, 2014

From Andrew Mitrovica

Recommend this post

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Corporate interests rank above citizens' interests

Recommend this post

Monday, November 17, 2014

LNG export policy will damage BC businesses and consumers

A large organization of employers in Australia wants governments to subsidize businesses crippled by large price increases for natural gas. Ai Group says governments have to moderate the consequences of decisions to approve export facilities that connect Australia to global gas markets. When LNG plants start to function, wholesale gas prices are set to more than double, even quadruple, by 2016, depending on the volume of gas diverted to feed the export plants.

Gas prices will explode due to Queensland exports, Sydney Morning Herald, October 2014
"Cassandra Goldie, chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Service, said the smallest of price rises would disproportionately hit the most vulnerable groups…

"A BIS Shrapnel report showed rising gas prices would lead to one in five heavy manufacturers shutting down within five years and total manufacturing production being reduced by 15.4 per cent by 2023, cutting 91,300 industry jobs…"
Through higher consumer prices and by massive taxpayer contributions to energy companies, Australian citizens are pummelled by the fossil fuel industry. It receives $10 billion a year in subsidies and seems exempt from Prime Minister Tony Abbott's proclamation that corporate subsidies were ending.

If BC Liberal plans proceed, the same results are inevitable in British Columbia. Being 4,000 km further from Chinese markets than Australia and totally dependent on new relationships with foreign intermediaries and marketers, a western Canadian LNG industry has inherent disadvantages.

The already subsidized industry in BC wants near cost-free access to gas stocks consumed to power liquefaction and for gas destined for export. Industry also wants accelerated write-offs so that taxpayers absorb capital costs of plant and equipment. The BC government has already offered electricity at cost well below the price paid by BC Hydro to private suppliers feeding power to the provincial grid. LNG players expect the public to pay for transportation and utility infrastructure and they demand relief from local and provincial taxes and for governments to shortcut or eliminate review processes, environmental regulations and barriers to importing labour and materials from overseas.

It is fairly simple to understand potential costs of establishing and maintaining an LNG industry. It is more difficult to identify and quantify the benefits.

In a tax regime that aims to realize a share of facility profits, there is great flexibility in defining those, particularly when transportation, re-conversion and marketing costs - most of it spent in foreign lands and virtually unverifiable - will absorb a major portion of end-market gas prices. British Columbia taxpayers will inevitably experience "Hollywood accounting" that enabled ten blockbuster movies to take in more than $6½ billion collectively while declaring nothing in profits.

Clearly, jobs will be created if LNG plants proceed. Construction will result in temporary employment for both Canadians and foreign workers but the numbers are not dependably calculated and probably cannot be because each facility will utilize offshore manufacturing and final assembly in British Columbia. It is certain that the ratio of permanent jobs for each billion dollars of capital investment will be uniquely low, when compared to alternative sectors. LNG liquefaction is highly automated as well as capital and power intensive. Positive social and economic returns to British Columbia are likely to be meagre.

Fossil fuel follies: Massive subsidies underpin oil, coal exploration, RenewEconomy, November 2014
A new study [The Fossil Fuel Bailout] has found that G20 nations, including Australia, are providing $US88 billion ($A102 billion) a year in subsidies just for fossil fuel exploration, despite vowing five years ago to phase out such support.

Australia features prominently in the report, accounting for $US3.5 billion ($A4.05 billion) of the subsidies. These are for fossil fuel exploration in increasingly remote areas (offshore and inland) for projects that depend significantly on the provision of public infrastructure.

The report “The fossil fuel bailout: G20 subsidies for oil, gas and coal exploration” was prepared ahead of next week’s G20 meting in Brisbane, where climate change has been relegated to a “discussion point” and is not on the official agenda, and where major fossil fuel companies are expected to argue the case for yet more subsidies.

Tony Abbott agrees with them, saying coal is the “energy of the future.”

But the report by the London-based Overseas Development Institute and the Oil Change Institute slams this investment as a “double folly” – saying that the investment in new fossil fuel exploration is both uneconomic and unsustainable.

“Despite the widespread perception that renewables are costly, our research reveals that finding new fossil fuel reserves at home and abroad is costing Australian tax-payers $A4 billion a year,” Oil Change International’s Director Stephen Kretzmann said.

“Scrapping these fossil fuel exploration subsidies would begin to create a level playing field between renewables and fossil fuel energy.

“Five years ago, Australia and other G20 governments pledged to both phase out fossil fuel subsidies and take action to limit climate change. Immediately ending exploration subsidies is the clearest next step on both fronts…”

Recommend this post

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Similarities, including the price

For roughly the same amount Pavco paid for modifications to BC Place, Poland built, from the ground up, Stadion Narodowy, a 58,145 seat arena and conference centre with similar retractable roof technology and parking under the heated, matural grass pitch for almost 2,000 cars. It opened in January 2012.

There is one other likeness to BC Place: the roof of Poland's national stadium leaks.


Recommend this post

Friday, November 14, 2014

More than LNG subsidies, consumers to pay higher prices

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 2014:
There are new warnings that gas prices will skyrocket as Queensland's huge LNG export projects start production next year.

The independent think tank, the Grattan Institute, has predicted that some households could see their gas bills jump by hundreds of dollars annually as the $60 billion a year export industry takes off.

Grattan Institute energy program director, Tony Wood, said consumers may face gas price increases over the next few years of more than $300 annually.

The report has found that high gas users in Melbourne can expect price rises of about $435 a year.

Mr Wood said manufacturers are expected to face even bigger increases.

"If you're a small business - a drycleaner, a baker or something like that - you might use in the order of about 4-500 gigajoules a year, and that would mean you're up for a gas bill increase of something like $2,500 to $3,000," he told AM...

Recommend this post

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Oil’s dive set to transform LNG market, The Financial Times, November 14, 2014
BC taxpayer
"The downward spiral in oil prices is poised to shake up liquefied natural gas…

"The 30 per cent plunge in crude since the middle of this year, to below $80 a barrel this week, is likely to have a big effect on LNG… By early next year, crude’s slide should be reflected in LNG prices.

"The prospect of lower gas prices to Asia has ignited debate over the viability of new LNG projects planned in Australia and the US…

"This week Beijing signed its second big agreement of 2014 to purchase gas by pipeline from Russia, in volumes that in time could compete with LNG…"
BC Liberals promised that LNG would be worth billions. That may yet be true except the money will be overseas, in the accounts of foreign energy companies.
Recommend this post

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

You can't handle the truth: BC Liberals - Updated

Site C not necessarily a slam dunk: Bennett, Business in Vancouver, October 15, 2014
"Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett says he is still torn on whether his government should give the green light to BC Hydro’s $7.9 billion Site C hydroelectric dam..."
Vaughn Palmer quoting Bill Bennett, The Vancouver Sun, October 17, 2014
"Despite the rumours to the contrary, government has not made a final decision on Site C. We are definitely not in the ministry of energy biased toward one choice or another. No one should think that we have made a decision to build Site C, because we haven’t."
Meanwhile, in the real world, Partnerships British Columbia issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to three shortlisted proponents for Site C worker accommodation as part of the selection process for building worker accommodation at the Site C dam site.
"The design, construction, partial financing, operation and maintenance of two temporary accommodation camps for the Site C Clean Energy Project (Site C). The two camps — one located on the north bank and one on the south bank of the Peace River — would provide accommodation and recreational facilities for the majority of workers at the dam site for the duration of the Site C construction period."

Above published November 11, 2014

Update November 12, 2014

Request For Proposal (RFP) #1951, BC Hydro and Power Authority, BC Hydro and Power Authority, Site C Dam

Site Preparation - North Bank
The purpose of this RFP is to select a proponent who will be responsible for site
preparation on the north bank of the Peace River at the site of the proposed dam and
surrounding project area. Any work contemplated under this RFP is subject to a provincial
investment decision to proceed to construction of the Project. No construction will begin
unless all relevant approvals are in place.

The scope of work under the Contract will generally include the following site preparation
(a) excavation and disposal of approximately 3,000,000m3;
(b) quarry development, including riprap production, of approximately 100,000m3;
(c) building of approximately 7.25 kilometres of access roads; and
(e) clearing and grubbing of approximately 115 hectares.

BC Hydro will give consideration to a request from a proponent for a site visit and has
tentatively identified November 18 - 20 as dates for such site visits. To register please
email the Contact Person at

Recommend this post

Heroes and victims

Being troubled by patriotic zealotry and glorification of war, I feel vaguely discomforted by Remembrance Days, particularly when craven politicians take centre stage at memorials. While struggling to find words that conveyed my reservations, I read Stephen Lautens. He mastered the expression that eluded me, offering indisputable truths with Wars, Freedom and Liberty.
"…politicians still describe WWI as a war of freedom and liberty, it wasn't in the same sense as World War Two, when a truly evil government was bent on conquest and enslavement. …It was a war about access to markets and raw materials and the personal rivalries of royal cousins, their generals and politicians…

"…politicians who revel in a resurgent militarism repeat tired phrases long since discredited, because no one will fight for corporate economic interests or the vanity of politicians, but you can still make people fight for freedom and liberty.

"…None of this takes away from the tragedy and sacrifice of the common soldier who inevitably pays the price for war, or our duty to remember the fallen. We simply owe it to them and future generations to be honest about what they made the ultimate sacrifice for and not hide it behind a false politician's slogan of "freedom and liberty".
One piece of school learning remains fresh in my mind despite passage of 50 years. Long ago, I sat in a sparsely populated theatre (Saturday 8:30 am lecture) as a UBC professor of International Studies described an event of 1918. I paraphrase,
As the war that introduced machine guns, flame throwers, poison gas and mechanized armies writhed toward armistice, English officers believed it fitting to end the campaign with a glorious cavalry charge. Instead of honours and accolades, the mounted soldiers were met with an unbroken barrage of machine gun fire from incredulous Germans.
Travelling backroads of Europe, I felt unsettled as we encountered innumerable monuments and memorials that celebrate offerings to the gods of war. I couldn't help but feel the commemorations were there to encourage future generations to be available when more lives were to be expended. If the offer of glory didn't work, militarists ensured that pacifists who cared not to serve as potential cannon fodder were ostracized. British writer Gareth Platt, in World War 1 100th Anniversary: Remembering the Heroes who Refused to Fight, wrote,
"…it took more courage to stay at home than go off and fight. The jingoistic bally-hoo of the early days saw millions of young people flock to the recruiting halls, lured by the promise of glory and adventure. Those that strayed from the flock were forced to look at guilt-tripping recruiting posters everywhere they went, and taunted with white feathers by women in the street."
All reasonable people understand that war may be morally justifiable, as a last resort. However, human experience demonstrates those situations are rare.

Recommend this post

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A letter to BC Ferries

Republished from the Facebook page of Sean Smith, with permission.
Dear BC Ferries:

I know that you are having a hard time trying to figure out ways to save money. Please, let me help you.
  1. You are not a cruise ship line. You are a bus.

  2. You are not a travel agency. You are the travel method.

  3. You do not need to advertise. You are the ONLY alternative.
So, with these three things in mind, please consider the following.

You need a news stand, not a gift shop. You need a cafeteria, not a restaurant. You don't need slot machines, you need good WiFi and some big screen TV's. You don't need a "marketing department", you need a full-on Social Media and Customers Service department.

You don't need a fancy travel office or vacation planning department, you need a plan to keep actual travel agents informed of what is happening with your ferry service.

I shouldn't see the BC Ferries logo on the boards at Rogers Arena during a Canucks game, or on a TV commercial. Believe it or not, people really are smart enough to figure out that if there isn't a bridge or a tunnel to the Islands, then they will have to take a ferry or a plane.....and you can't get your car into carry-on luggage.

See. I just saved you millions upon millions of dollars.

You're welcome.

Recommend this post

If the numbers are not known, invent them

Reviewing BC Ferries financial statements this week, I was reminded of a radio interview I heard early in the tenure of the current BC Ferries CEO. That was shortly after he banked a $200,000 bonus, provided to him by the ferry corporation because he was not going to collect bonuses in the future. (Don't worry if this seems odd; no one else understands the logic either.)

Mike Corrigan appeared on Sean Leslie's CKNW program June 17, 2012, explaining how a net loss at BC Ferries was actually good news.
"...Throughout the year, we lost $30 million more in revenue than we expected but we were able to claw back all of that and a bit more through good financial management..."

"...Our gift shops - that part of the business is actually really growing significantly over the last year. We're seeing double digit increases year over year. So we're doing what we can to generate revenues wherever we can and managing costs..."
Actually.... According to audited financial statements, BCF revenue in fiscal year 2012 was up by $15 million over the previous year, while traffic was down 1.5%. Unfortunately, expenses increased $21 million. So much for good management clawing something back.

Additionally, had retail sales been growing by double digit increases, year over year? Here are the actual results:

Further demonstrating Corrigan's error, in 2014, sales and gross profits of retail operations were less than the amount in 2010.

Recommend this post

Monday, November 10, 2014

Fiscal unfairness, a BC Liberal tradition

Between Powell River and Texada Island, ferry service is by the oldest vessel in BC Ferries' fleet, the 57-year-old MV North Island Princess, a vessel with capacity to carry 49 vehicles and 150 passengers. Sailings takes 35 minutes each way and there is no alternative means of surface transport.

The ferry fare for four people and a car is $71.

Five hundred miles east, between Balfour and Kootenay Bay, ferry service is by the 14-year-old MV Osprey, a vessel with capacity to carry 80 vehicles and 250 passengers. Sailings takes 35 minutes each way and using the ferry shortens the 125 km drive from Nelson to Creston by 12 km.

The ferry fare for four people and a car is $0.

In 2013, a report, British Columbia Ferry Corporation and Fiscal Fairness for Ferry-Dependent Communities, was prepared for the Powell River Regional District. It makes a number of reasonable points:
  • That BC Ferries "violates government’s fiduciary obligation to 20% of British Columbians who live in ferry-dependent coastal communities. The foundation of this fiduciary obligation rests within the long established principle of fiscal fairness."
  • That unlike the ferry service, BC Hydro offers "the same base rate for all British Columbians regardless of where they live."
  • The Liquor Distribution Branch "meets the test of fiscal fairness by providing for equal pricing of liquor products throughout the province..."
  • Despite the province's mandate, "the public coastal ferry transportation of BC Ferries plays no part in the Pacific Gateway Transportation Strategy. This is despite the fact that the region serviced by BC Ferries has pulp and paper production, lumber and wood-related production, mining and other significant economic activities that are directly related to the mandate." [Premier Clark stated that government policy was aimed at "strengthening our infrastructure to get our goods to market and generate sustainable economic growth.]
  • British Columbia "continues to fund and administer contracts for fourteen ferry routes in the interior of British Columbia which run free to the user as part of their obligation to highway funding."
Recommend this post

Solar power heating up

Here comes the sun, Mother Jones, November 2014
"Last week, an energy analyst at Deutsche Bank came to a startling conclusion: By 2016, solar power will be as cheap or cheaper than electricity from the conventional grid in every state except three. That's without any changes to existing policy. In other words, we're only a few years away from the point where, in most of the United States, there will be no economic reason not to go solar. If you care about slowing climate change or just moving toward cleaner energy, that is a huge deal.

And solar energy is already going gangbusters... its potential is massive — it could power the [USA] 100 times over..."

In the long run, unregulated economies move to the lowest cost solutions. Without subsidies and publicly funded infrastructure, LNG from British Columbia is presently undeliverable and, as clean renewable energy becomes more cost-effective, industry demands for higher subsidies and other forms of relief will accelerate.

In time, with no profits to earn, foreigners will depart and remediation of wastes and contaminated lands will be an expense for the public. In the complete business cycle, from industry start-up to discontinuance, taxpayers will be the losers.

What gets left behind and who pays for cleanup?
  • The Summitville Mine: "Galactic Resources Ltd. of Canada, walked away from the site and filed for bankruptcy late in 1992, leaving behind acid mine drainage and a 160-million-gallon containment filled with cyanide-laden water that threatened to spill over the earthen berm holding it back..."

Recommend this post

Plus ça change...

Suzanne Methot reviewed Farley Mowat's Walking on the Land, which was published in 2000. From that review:
"Farley Mowat detailed government treatment of the Ihalmiut, First Nations people in Canada’s northern lands. His accounts, which described famine and epidemics of disease, were vigorously denied by churches, industry, and government and earned Mowat the nickname “Hardly Knowit.” The denials continued for decades, culminating in the 1990s with Saturday Night’s infamous cover graphic of Mowat with a Pinocchio nose.

"Walking on the Land is another account of the Ihalmiut saga, and Mowat’s response to the denials. The author has rehashed much material from the first two books, but in this book he places the blame for the disintegration of Inuit culture squarely on the government, instead of characterizing it as an inadvertent consequence of contact between a hunting society and an industrial society. This book also includes gruesome details that were omitted from the other books in light of delicate 1950s sensibilities.

"Mowat’s rollicking narrative and rich characterizations make this an easy read. What’s not easy is the story of horrifying neglect and outright stupidity on the part of the federal government. And what’s pathetic is that those with an anti-aboriginal agenda will continue to claim that the Ihalmiut existed only in Mowat’s imagination, despite this book’s clear details about who Mowat travelled with, what he saw, and when. Fact: the Ihalmiut existed, and they were relocated to useless expanses of land no fewer than three times, shunted about by a government intent on building a colonial vision from sea to sea to sea.

Walking on the Land is a must-read for anyone who calls them self a Canadian."
Canada's indigenous people have been practitioners of sustainability for millennia, harvesting from nature without diminishing the land. Today, in the circles of government and industry, sustainability no longer involves caring for land, air and water or, as the OED articulates, protecting assets and conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Instead, now it means,
"We must outsource and layoff, cut quality and service and raise prices, fees, taxes and business subsidies."
In governments of Canada's westernmost provinces, no one speaks for the environment. As demonstrated in the preceding article on this blog, the protectors have joined the exploiters. First Nations, after severe harm by industrial and residential schools, are targeted with new pressures because they stand in the way of projects by multinational resource enterprises.

Oil sands pollutants contaminate traditional First Nations' foods: report, Globe & Mail, July 2014
"Titled Environmental and Human Health Implications of the Athabasca Oil Sands for the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Northern Alberta, the report will add to calls for sober second thought to ramping up oil sands production...

"'Substantial employment opportunities are generated by the oil sands. Yet, this development, as well as upstream hydro projects, compromises the integrity of the environment and wildlife, which, in turn, adversely affects human health and well-being,' the research paper said.
Jobs and economic activity have long been the justification for large scale industrial action in Canada's lightly populated regions. Typically though, the exploiters have had little concern for long term health of the lands and the people. The outsiders depart with profits of their work and leave the detritus for others.

In 1963, Arthur Laing's Ministry of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources demonstrated little understanding of people much affected by their development policies,
"Even the Indians are beginning to turn from the traditional hunting and trapping economy; more and more they are working as miners, stevedores, and construction workers."
Political leaders continue disrespecting and devaluing the traditions of First Nations. The British Columbia government waged a long legal battle against aboriginal rights and title. After the Tsilhqot’in Nation was successful in Canada's highest court - a case with roots dating back more than three decades - Premier Clark "embraced" the First Nation and promised a changed relationship.

That assurance had as much sincerity as a hogtied prisoner's declaration that he would stop running. Until it lost in the Supreme Court of Canada, Clark's government was dedicated to ending the concept of aboriginal title and taking full control of traditional lands of First Nations.

Recommend this post

Friday, November 7, 2014

Special treatment for special friends

Andrew MacLeod of The Tyee is reporting that BC Government officials aim to exempt natural gas producers from requirements they contribute to an industry fund that would pay to clean up toxic spills.
"The gas sector would be exempt through a system that redefined what substances would be described as toxic.

"...'This takes [natural gas] off the table for these elements (and possibly coal – need some work on coal),' [Jim] Hofweber wrote in the message to Fazil Mihlar, the assistant deputy minister for oil and strategic initiatives in the ministry of Natural Gas Development, and Jim Standen, an assistant deputy minister in the Environment ministry.

"...B.C. operators of natural gas pipelines and compressor facilities would still need to respond to spills and report them, but they would be excused from paying into the proposed fund that would be used to clean up spills..."
When political history of this era is finally revealed, people may learn of circumstances that led to Liberals becoming indentured servants of natural gas producers. Clearly, they are not trying to maximize returns to the public. MacLeod reported,
"In 2012, companies produced 3.5-billion cubic feet [per day] of natural gas in B.C., making the province the second largest producer in Canada, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers..."
Finance ministry records show natural gas royalties were $169 million for the 12 months ended March 2013. However, during that period, the liability for recorded credits that producers will deduct from future royalties increased by $160 million. Had government followed Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, the net revenue from gas royalties would have been reported as $9 million for the year.

At US$5 per million Btu, the value of the year's gas production was about $6.5 billion. The return by way of royalties amounts to about one-tenth of one per cent and the size of gas industry employment ranks low in BC's job market. So les amitiés particulières are not explained by public financial benefits.

We know that ADM Fazil Mihlar and others in the resource ministries are proponents of neoliberalism and libertarianism. In The Guardian, George Monbiot examined American writer Matt Bruenig's description of attitudes toward property rights attached to those political philosophies:
"Those who have acquired [property] should be free to use it as they wish, without social restraints or obligations to other people. Their property rights are absolute and cannot be intruded upon by the state or by anyone else. Any interference with, or damage to, the value of their property without their consent – even by taxation – is an unwarranted infringement."
In British Columbia, regulators who don't believe in regulation are at the tables negotiating with the oil and gas industry. With ideologues like Fazil Mihlar, their fundamental attitudes would have government earning no royalties at all. Indeed, that is a work in progress, with additional benefits such as unregulated fracking and below-cost electricity being made available as well.

One hundred years ago, the platform of America's Progressive Party stated,
"Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people."
More than 20 years ago, after meltdown of the Bennett coalition, power brokers from the business community selected Gordon Campbell to lead the Liberals to power. The party was directed and financed by special interests; its mandate was to make policies that were friendly, not to business but to big business. When Christy Clark was appointed Liberal leader, with support of fixers like Gwyn Morgan and Patrick Kinsella, the rewards to large enterprises accelerated.

Conniving to transfer environmental risks of gas production to the public from the companies that control 99.9% of the revenues is just part of the loyalty BC Liberals feel toward their sponsors.

Most readers will be aware there is one other possible explanation for incomprehensible rewards flowing to gas producers in BC. Addressing that possibility would require a team of forensic accountants and police investigators and access to records of foreign banks.

Recommend this post

Monday, November 3, 2014

NEB sham exposed

It is been long apparent that the National Energy Board is not an industry regulator. It is an industry facilitator that is staffed by people who serve the fossil fuel industry and work to deflect public concern about whatever projects industry plans. Scroll down through previous Northern Insight articles about the NEB for evidence that goes beyond the comments of Marc Eliesen, a widely respected former public servant and energy executive.

From Dogwood Initiative, November 2, 2014
Marc Eliesen has withdrawn as an intervenor in the federal government’s review of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline and oil tanker expansion project, detailing his reasons for quitting in a scathing 1,500 word letter to the National Energy Board.

Eliesen is the former CEO of B.C. Hydro and the former Chair of Manitoba Hydro. A deputy minister in seven different federal and provincial governments, Eliesen has forty years’ executive experience in the energy sector, including as a board member at Suncor.

Here is the full text of his letter to the secretary of the NEB:

Dear Ms. Young:

The Intervenor, Marc Eliesen, wishes to withdraw from the National Energy Board hearing on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP).

I applied as an intervenor with expertise to offer the Board in good faith that my time and personally incurred costs would be well spent in evaluating Trans Mountain’s proposal, questioning the Proponent, preparing evidence commensurate with my expertise, answering questions on that evidence, and providing final argument. Unfortunately, I have come to the conclusion that the Board, through its decisions, is engaged in a public deception. Continued involvement with this process is a waste of time and effort, and represents a disservice to the public interest because it endorses a fraudulent process.

I have a professional background that includes over 40 years of experience in senior executive positions in the energy sector of Canada, and an understanding and working knowledge of the mandate and operations of the National Energy Board, including an appreciation of the principles of natural justice and the rules and practices of quasi‐judicial bodies in Canada. I have reached my conclusions based on my wealth of experience.

I rigorously reviewed Trans Mountain’s application and developed extensive questions in the first round of Information Requests. I was dismayed when the oral cross-examination phase — that has served as a critical part of all previous Section 52 oil pipeline hearings — was inexplicably removed from this hearing. It is my experience that when a Proponent does not face the spectre of oral cross-examination, their written responses to interrogatories suffer from a lack of detail and accountability. Still, I was willing to see the results of the Information Request process the Board promised would be sufficient.

The unwillingness of Trans Mountain to address most of my questions and the Board’s almost complete endorsement of Trans Mountain’s decision has exposed this process as deceptive and misleading. Proper and professional public interest due diligence has been frustrated, leading me to the conclusion that this Board has a predetermined course of action to recommend approval of the Project and a strong bias in favour of the Proponent.

In effect, this so-called public hearing process has become a farce, and this Board a truly industry captured regulator.

In addition to gutting the oral-cross examination feature of a public hearing process that supports proper questioning and an adequate level of due diligence, there are other Board decisions that have been made over the course of this hearing that reflect a pre-determined outcome.

The evidence on the record shows that decisions made by the Board at this hearing are dismissive of Intervenors. They reflect a lack of respect for hearing participants, a deep erosion of the standards and practices of natural justice that previous Boards have respected, and an undemocratic restriction of participation by citizens, communities, professionals and First Nations either by rejecting them outright or failing to provide adequate funding to facilitate meaningful participation.

The above is reflected in the following:
  1. The Board elected not to request assistance from the Intervenors in the formulation of issues that would assist the Board in the conduct of the proceedings at the commencement of this hearing. This approach represents a double standard. Trans Mountain requested and received an amendment to the List of Issues in the earlier Part IV Toll Application. Also, this “no more issues” position is completely a reversal of what took place in the Northern Gateway Project hearing when the Board actively solicited assistance from Intervenors in the determination of issues to be included in the scope of the review. The Gateway Panel also included three sets of Information Requests (two on initial evidence and one on reply evidence) and an oral cross-examination of the evidence.

  2. Given the highly technical nature and voluminous size of the TMEP application, requests from numerous participants, including municipal governments, environmental organizations and First Nations were made asking the Board to provide significant additional time to prepare Information Requests. The Board basically rejected these requests.

  3. The Board has been alerted to numerous instances where Trans Mountain studies by its employees and commissioned consultants lack basic professional standards of disclosure, source verification, references, data, assumptions and methodology. It is shocking that in a process such as this where due diligence is required on a major capital project that the Board has not held Trans Mountain to a minimum professional standard of accountability and transparency. This is especially reflected in the Board’s own written Information Requests to the Proponent on the alleged economic benefit materials put forward. The Board’s veneer examination of the Proponent’s case is reflective of a decision not to dig too deeply for fear the economic case may crumble, or a lack of economic, financial and business acumen on behalf of the Board to know where and how to dig. The Board’s Information Requests related to Trans Mountain’s economic case are tantamount to a sweetheart written cross. And when basic business questions from Intervenors are asked to test the evidence at a higher level of scrutiny, Trans Mountain refuses to answer them.

  4. The Board, in an unprecedented fashion, has rejected the previously established practice in Section 52 public hearings on oil pipelines to provide for oral cross-examination on the evidence submitted at the hearing. The Board maintains that two rounds of written information requests is sufficient to test the evidence. Even the Government of Canada’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has informed the Board that evidence given without cross-examination should be rejected. The DOJ stated “Canada’s position is that cross-examination is necessary to ensure a proper evidentiary record ...” Furthermore, “cross-examination serves a vital role in testing the value of testimonial evidence. It assists in the determination of credibility, assigning weight and overall assessment of the evidentiary record. It has been termed ‘the greatest legal invention ever invented for the discovery of truth’ ... without cross-examination the Board will be reviewing only untested evidence.”

  5. With the absence of oral cross-examination of Trans Mountain executives and their experts, the only process now available to understand and test the application is through written Information Requests. The National Energy Board Rules of Practice and Procedure provides the NEB with the power to direct a party “to provide full and adequate” responses to Information Requests, without which the hearing process cannot be meaningful and cannot meet the requirements of procedural fairness and natural justice.

    For most Intervenors submitting Information Request No. 1, Trans Mountain has failed to respond and address the actual core elements of the question. They have either provided non-responses, general statements, or referred back to the inadequate information in the original application that gave rise to the question in the first place. In many instances Trans Mountain has assumed the regulator’s role declaring that the question asked is outside the List of Issues established by the NEB.

    Given the Board’s lack of objectivity it is not surprising that out of the approximately 2000 questions not answered by Trans Mountain that Intervenors called on the Board to compel answers, only 5 per cent were allowed by the Board and 95 per cent were rejected.

    The Board had stated that the elimination of cross-examination of the Proponent’s evidence can be evaluated through the two scheduled Information Requests. But we have a Kafkaesque outcome. Trans Mountain refuses to answer questions and the Board does not compel them to do so.

  6. The Province of British Columbia stated that “Trans Mountain’s failure to file the evidence requested by the Province in Information Request No. 1 denies the Board, the Province and other Intervenors access to the information required to fully understand the risk posed by the Project, how Trans Mountain proposes to mitigate such risk and Trans Mountain’s ability to effectively respond to a spill related to the Project.”

    The Province of British Columbia has the responsibility for undertaking due diligence on behalf of the public trust of British Columbians. The 80 questions Trans Mountain refused to answer — which the Province believed important enough to ask the Board for assistance and compel Trans Mountain to answer — were denied by the Board.

    The Board has sided with Trans Mountain dismissing the Province of BC’s need for answers in pursuit of its duty to British Columbians. The NEB’s bias in support of the Proponent is reflecting poorly on the Province of BC in that it is unable to obtain necessary answers to conduct its due diligence. Accordingly, it raises the question as how it is possible for the Province of BC to continue to participate in this hearing process. The Province should cancel the Equivalency Agreement with the NEB on this project and undertake its own environmental assessment as the only meaningful way in which it will be able to effectively obtain the answers it seeks.

The National Energy Board is not fulfilling its obligation to review the Trans Mountain Expansion Project objectively. Accordingly it is not only British Columbians, but all Canadians that cannot look to the Board’s conclusions as relevant as to whether or not this project deserves a social license. Continued involvement in the process endorses this sham and is not in the public interest.

Yours truly,

Marc Eliesen

Recommend this post

Should BC taxpayers promote fossil fuels?

If British Columbia continues to encourage the production and transport of coal, gas and oil, we are blowing poisons into the faces of earth's future generations. I know something about that, I did it to my children.

When a young adult, I smoked tobacco. Initially, it was an effort to look mature and conform with contemporaries; after a while, an addiction, continued even though it threatened my health and the well-being of people around me. They had to share the dependency but I was insensitive. That there were consequences began to register but risks were distant and current day pleasures seemed preferable. Regrettably, for too long I preferred transient self-indulgence despite the potential of enduring harm. With the usual difficulty, I eventually stopped smoking, an ordeal that was only difficult for the first ten years.

Today, I am alarmed by Canada's pursuit of material pleasures from fossil fuels with little regard for enduring harm to the world we live in. Industry, its agents and our governments ignore or minimize the science of climate change, just as seven CEOs of big tobacco did when in 1994 they testified to an American Congressional sub-committee that nicotine was not addictive.

This week another report was issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of 195 member nations, established "to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts." The Guardian reports,
"Climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread, and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless carbon emissions are cut sharply and rapidly, according to the most important assessment of global warming yet published."
The New York Times adds,
"The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report.

"Despite growing efforts in many countries to tackle the problem, the global situation is becoming more acute as developing countries join the West in burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said here on Sunday.

"Failure to reduce emissions, the group of scientists and other experts found, could threaten society with food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of major cities and entire island nations, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a climate so drastically altered it might become dangerous for people to work or play outside during the hottest times of the year.

"'Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems,' the report found."
Like smokers who choose a healthier lifestyle, we can withdraw from our addiction to fossil fuels and choose clean energy. We can even have more jobs by doing so. That was the conclusion of a study by a California university,
"Investing in renewable energy such as solar, wind and the use of municipal and agricultural waste for fuel would produce more American jobs than a comparable investment in the fossil fuel energy sources in place today, according to a report issued today by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.

"'Across a broad range of scenarios, the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per average megawatt of power installed, and per unit of energy produced, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector,' the report concludes. 'All states of the Union stand to gain in terms of net employment from the implementation of a portfolio of clean energy policies at the federal level.'"
However, changing course would offend wealthy and powerful energy interests and senior level governments in Canada lack the necessary courage. Consequently, this country's fight against climate change will be nominal, mainly waged in studios of government advertising agencies.

Barry McGuire had a hit record in 1965 that included a chorus that seems apt today:
And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don't believe
We're on the eve
of destruction.
Inertia and lack of political courage will cause Canadians to continue down the fossil fuel road but elsewhere in the world, things are changing. That presents a risk to British Columbia taxpayers who are asked to spend billions to grow an industry that the world believes must shrink. Some of the changes follow:

While You Were Getting Worked Up Over Oil Prices, This Just Happened to Solar, Bloomberg, October 29, 2014
"After years of struggling against cheap natural gas prices and variable subsidies, solar electricity is on track to be as cheap or cheaper than average electricity-bill prices in 47 U.S. states -- in 2016, according to a Deutsche Bank report published this week..."
"A new breed of materials for solar cells burst into the limelight this year. Known as perovskites, they are cheap, easy to make, and already capable of converting 15% of the energy in sunlight to electricity. While that remains below the efficiency of commercial silicon solar cells, perovskites are improving fast. One particularly promising feature is that they can be layered on top of silicon solar-cell material to harness a range of wavelengths that neither could capture alone."
Deutsche Bank Predicts Second Solar ‘Gold Rush’,, January 2014
"Leading investment house Deutsche Bank has dramatically lifted its demand forecasts for the global solar industry -- predicting that 46 gigawatts of solar PV will be installed across the world in 2014, before jumping by another 25 percent to 56 gigawatts in 2015.

"It notes that the world’s three biggest solar markets -- coincidentally located in the world’s three biggest economies, the U.S., China and Japan -- are currently booming and are likely to deliver what market analysts describe as more “upside demand surprises.”
Solar Panel Cost & Growth Trends, CleanTechnica, September 2014
"The average cost of solar panels has gone from $76.67/watt in 1977 to just $0.613/watt today...

"...the cost of electricity from solar panels is now lower than the cost of retail electricity for most people..."

Geothermal power sheds its hot-spring roots, The Economist, October 2014
"GEOTHERMAL energy, long a poor relation among the more glamorous renewable technologies of wind and solar power, is poised to smarten its dowdy image...

"It is reasonably clean; leaves behind little in the way of waste; does not suffer the vagaries of the weather or the inevitability of sunset; makes the tiniest of footprints on the land; and is pretty well inexhaustible. Above all, it is more or less free for the taking...

"...scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which examined the potential for enhanced geothermal systems, reckoned ...geothermal energy could be made available—enough to meet the world’s current needs for several thousand years."
Powering the Future, Cambridge University Naked Scientists, October 2014

Innovations in storage boost renewable energy, Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2014
"Last year, the Solana concentrating solar plant in Arizona began operations using molten salt storage, allowing the plant to keep feeding power to the grid for six hours after the sun goes down. A spokesperson for Solana’s owner, Abengoa Solar, said in an email that the company has another eight big plants involving similar storage under construction or in advanced development around the world.

"More recently, a huge project was announced that will involve a massive new wind farm in Wyoming, hundreds of miles of new transmission lines, and a $1.5-billion compressed-air storage system involving four massive underground caverns near Delta, Utah..."

Recommend this post