Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Energy transport improvement detailed

Peter JAMES

Citizen staff

Prince George Citizen

Improving energy literacy, developing a First Nations engagement model and continuing talks on world class spill prevention systems are all needed to spur more energy transportation between Alberta and B.C., according to a newly released report.

A working group of deputy ministers from both provinces provided 24 recommendations to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and her Alberta counterpart Alison Redford last month and the two governments made the report public on Monday.

The premiers struck the committee last summer, in part to discuss how B.C.'s five conditions for new heavy oil pipelines could be met.

The working group conducted its work under the spectre of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would connect Alberta's oilsands with Kitimat. The report is dated Dec. 20, the day after a federal Joint Review Panel recommended the federal government approve the project.

The federal cabinet has yet to issue its decision, but in the meantime 10 judicial review requests have been filed at the federal court level asking that the review panel's report be revisited.

During the review panel's final arguments last June, the B.C. government argued that it could not support the project as presented because it did not meet the five conditions.

The deputy ministers recommendations touch broadly on four of those conditions: First Nations engagement, land and marine oil spill response and B.C.'s desire for more economic benefits.

Although not a formal condition, the report also talked about the need for new energy projects to have social license.

B.C. Natural Gas Development Minister Rich Coleman said in an email to the Citizen that the report will "help set the stage for future success" as the two provinces continue to work together.

“We welcome the report and look forward to working with Alberta to ensure economic growth and job creation is done in a manner that balances British Columbia’s public safety and environmental needs," he wrote. "The [report] released today has enabled Alberta to focus on British Columbia’s five requirements for any heavy oil project and allowed British Columbia to join Alberta in a commitment on a Canadian Energy Strategy."

Among the recommendations is a commitment by both provinces to improve energy literacy.

"Despite an overall general public acknowledgment and support towards oil and gas development, there are barriers and challenges which threaten natural resource sector growth," the report said, citing a perceived disconnect between the public's perception of the role the oil and gas industry plays in the economy and its real impact.

The report also said misinformation campaigns and previous incidents have soured the public and especially First Nations on future energy transportation projects.

The provinces hope to improve energy literacy by engaging with communities and increasing their use of social media to get their message out.

The deputy ministers also recommended the creation of a set of principles to engage First Nations groups about new energy projects. Although the two provinces need to approach aboriginal groups using different frameworks - most First Nations groups in B.C. have not signed treaties, while those in Alberta have - the deputy ministers believe each province can learn from the other.

"Both British Columbia and Alberta acknowledge the increasing role responsible business practices can play in fostering strong relationships with First Nations, and solid foundations for effective consultation processes, business partnerships and informed decision-making," the report said.

The deputy ministers also recommend further discussion on how to ensure that world-class terrestrial and marine oil spill plans are in place.

When it comes to B.C.'s fair economic share, the report reiterates that Alberta's royalties are off the table but that Alberta acknowledges B.C.'s right to negotiate directly with industry about how to obtain those economic benefits. The report doesn't say how those negotiations would be conducted.

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