Sunday, September 21, 2014
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Opinion: Pipeline fear factor is inappropriate

By CHRISTOPHER WILSON AND WYATT WEBSTER, Special to the Sun

The hand-bill promoting the “NoPipelines” march in Vancouver Sunday is another in a long series of fear-instilling, overblown and misleading posters publicizing anti-oil sands demonstrations supported by U.S. donors.

“Calling all nations,” it reads. “Your support is needed. Convergence 2014! Protecting our sacred waters from tar sands oil … UN World Oceans Day.”

Professionally-designed, scary skull logo? Check.

Do-or-die call to action? Check.

Skilled branding, clever hashtag and global tie-in? Check, check and check.

Problem is, the poster, the event it advertises, and the movement it promotes are all misguided.

That’s why the two of us, on our own time and using our own resources, have decided to speak out against this constant misinformation and fear and in favour of sustainable resource development, jobs and the growing tax base that support our schools, hospitals and our most vulnerable citizens.

We were proud to be there at the last anti-oil sands, anti-pipeline event at Sunset Beach in early May. If you saw the coverage, you might have noticed us and some friends with our pro-jobs, pro-oil sands, pro-pipeline banners unfurled near the beach. Then again, you might not have seen us, as the negative messages seemed to grab the most coverage that day.

We want to change that.

We want to point out that more than 72,000 people are employed by oilsands operators. And according to a recent statement by the Human Resources Council, over the next decade that figure is expected to rise to 98,000 — that’s 26,000 new positions in a region committed to reducing its CO2 emissions per barrel, and then reclaiming, re-contouring and re-vegetating decommissioned areas in the oilsands. It’s an impressive story.

Even more impressive is the fact the government of Canada has found over the past dozen years that aboriginal-owned companies have secured more than $5 billion worth of contracts from oilsands developers in the region. You didn’t hear any mention of that in Bishop Desmond Tutu’s recent activist-informed speech in Fort McMurray. Or Neil Young’s.

As two youngish men with long work lives ahead of us, we want the public to know not only that oilsands are a huge part of Canada’s energy future, but also that pipelines are by far the best option for transporting liquid fuels over long distances.

Just last month, the National Energy Board reported rail shipments of oilsands product sharply increased. You can expect that to continue if Northern Gateway, Trans-Mountain and Keystone XL are delayed.

Why should you care? More important, why should the Convergence 2014 crowd care? The answer is pretty simple: Lac-Megantic.

Anti-pipeline activists should know that B.C. railcars carrying crude grew in number from 50 in 2011, to 1,200 in 2012, according to information released by the National Energy Board. Experts tell us that without the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan projects, B.C. could see a half-million rail cars carrying crude across the province each year.

We didn’t expect the anti-oil sands activists of the world to acknowledge some of these simple facts on Sunday. In fact, we expected to be heckled by the ‘NoPipeline’ forces for our attendance, much as we were jeered at last month’s protest.

So why do we do it? Are we financially supported by a company, an association or a charitable foundation? No.

It’s simple. We do it because we’re personally motivated to see Canada’s valuable resources developed, and its oil safely transported through pipelines to diverse markets beyond the U.S. where we forgo billions of dollars a year.

More importantly, we think that all Canadians — including First Nations — should consider the enormous potential benefits of the oil and gas sector. A recent study by the Fraser Institute found First Nations unemployment rates are especially high (20 per cent to over 42 per cent) in First Nations communities located in areas identified for oil and gas development.

This is a tremendous opportunity, and points to the prospects of a better future not only for Alberta First Nations, but for other aboriginal groups as well.

In the interests of “convergence,” maybe it’s time the supporters of sustainable resource development — including enterprising First Nations — converged around the idea that cleaner oilsands and safer pipelines will play a big part of our collective future.

Christopher Wilson is an educator based in Vancouver. Wyatt Webster is a First Nations member and small business-owner, also based in Vancouver. For more information, see www.CanadaAction.ca

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