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Prime Minister Harper pushes Kelowna pipeline

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PATRICK VAILLANCOURT — The Other Press (Douglas College)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressing attendees of a barbeque in West Kelowna on Sept. 20.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressing attendees of a barbeque in West Kelowna on Sept. 20.

VANCOUVER (CUP) — Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Kelowna, B.C. the weekend of Sept. 14 for a national caucus meeting and to meet with residents opposed to the proposed pipeline projects in the western-most province.

Although details of Harper’s agenda while in the province have not been disclosed, there is a broad consensus that the trip to Canada’s West Coast was to make a big push in support of building the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines, as well as expanding the existing Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

The Keystone Pipeline, which has been the focus of intense media attention and scrutiny over the last year, will take bitumen products from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Texas. While none of the components of the proposed Keystone Pipeline are to be built in B.C., aboriginal leaders across the country have been vocal in their opposition to it, citing negative environmental impacts.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline project proposes a 1,170 kilometre twin pipeline from the oil sands to the port of Kitimat, in northern B.C. Opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline is focused on the company Enbridge, which has a relatively poor record on pipeline safety and security. The proposed flow of oil makes pristine areas of the province potentially vulnerable to oil spills. The oil would be carried onto tankers destined for Asia.

The proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline, however, strikes at the heart of those living in the province’s lower mainland. The current pipeline, which was designed to transport crude oil but now carries refined product from the oil sands, ends at the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C. The expansion, which proposes to twin the pipeline, is meant to accommodate nearly triple the amount of oil — from 300,000 to almost 900,000 barrels per day — to oil tankers in the Burrard Inlet. The oil is then exported to oil-hungry markets in Asia.

In 2007, the Kinder Morgan pipeline was ruptured accidentally by sewer contractors working for the City of Burnaby, causing an oil spill that forced evacuations and damaged homes and marine wildlife, as well as resulting in traffic disruptions for months after the spill was contained.

Environmentalists and First Nations leaders opposed to the pipeline say that the government is meeting with them purely as a formality, while the Harper government contends it is consulting with all interested parties.

The debate, especially with regards to the Northern Gateway pipeline, has also led to somewhat frosty relations between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford; relations which have warmed significantly since their respective election victories.

The Prime Minister’s office has directed senior cabinet officials to travel to B.C., starting on Sept. 23, to engage in a public opinions campaign which they hope will win them greater support for the building of the Keystone and Northern Gateway pipelines and the expansion of the existing Kinder Morgan Pipeline.

Photo: Jonathan Hayward /Vancouver Sun

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