My Oral Statement to the Enbridge Joint Review Panel

I’m in the waiting room at the Vancouver edition of the Joint Review Panel for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. I will shortly be making my ‘Oral Statement’ to the panel. Here is what I’m planning to say.

Hi, my name is Hugh Stimson, I work as a geo­g­ra­pher and infor­matics con­sul­tant here in Vancouver. I would like to start by thanking you for taking the time to listen to all of us. I think it is right and nec­es­sary that it be done, but I don’t suppose it has been easy. Thank you.

So we’re making this decision together, a decision about national benefit, and so also nat­u­rally a decision about national risk. I would like to ask you a question about risk, and then tell you about some of my own expe­ri­ences with the benefits.

With risk, there are a couple of dif­ferent things we have to think about: how likely it is for some­thing to go wrong, and what we stand to lose if it does.

The pipeline of course is set go through the interior rivers and water­sheds and then pass off to tankers on the coast but I’m actually not going to talk about how impor­tant those things are to me, about what we stand to lose. I don’t think I would succeed and I suspect many people standing at this portable podium have done a much better job than I could.

But I do want to ask about the chances. I’m not a risk assess­ment expert, but I have to wonder if we’re doing this part right. The pro­po­nent will have put a lot of genuine effort into char­ac­ter­izing the chances for this panel. But we keep having reg­u­la­tory assess­ments and we keep having dis­as­ters that we would never choose. So what have we been doing wrong, and what are we doing dif­fer­ently here in BC?

Catastrophes happen when more than one thing goes wrong at the same time. As I under­stand it, the usual way of esti­mating the chance of a bunch of unlikely things hap­pening simul­ta­ne­ously is to estimate the chance of each indi­vidual part hap­pening, and then multiply all those frac­tions together to get a smaller chance than any of them.

I’m a geo­g­ra­pher. The first law of geog­raphy says that “every­thing is related to every­thing else, but near things are more related than distant things”. That’s true in space, and also in time. Bad things happen in specific places, at specific times. In the real world chances are rarely inde­pen­dent. Chances move together, and when they do, that’s when you get disasters.

It wouldn’t be wild and spon­ta­neous chance that the com­mu­ni­ca­tions equip­ment on a heavily laden tanker rolling through the Hecate Strait happened to behave unex­pect­edly at the same time the steering equip­ment did, and the first tow line failed, and the second. It would be because the same storm was acting on them all at the same time at the same place. Or perhaps a hangover from the same bottle.

I’m guessing that inter­de­pen­dence is hard to include in a risk assess­ment. Human failure is espe­cially hard. I’m sure that the pro­po­nents have offered you some char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of risk. Do you have to believe it? Do you have to make your deci­sions based on the best assess­ment they are willing or able to offer?

My question to the panel is: however Enbridge is assessing risk, if they used that approach to guess the risks of the Deepwater Horizon blowout ahead of time, or the Exxon Valdez, or the Kulluk running aground, or Battle Creek, do you believe that they would stand here and tell you that the chances aren’t good enough and the project shouldn’t go ahead?

I would also like to speak about national benefits. Like a lot of Canadians now I have some expe­ri­ence with the pros­perity of oil extrac­tion. My brother who couldn’t find decent work in Ontario recently moved to the Saskatchewan oil patch so he can take up an electrician’s appren­tice­ship. I got myself estab­lished in pricey Vancouver in part using money I made in a Fort McMurray work camp. There are pay­cheques and some real pride to be had there. A pipeline will to some extent make for more pay­checks, and perhaps more pride.

But let’s not kid our­selves: that’s not a real economy they have up there. Real economies are built from many kinds of work, not on one resource. Real economies are com­pat­ible with the future, not built on this assump­tion that we will just never start taking the climate very seri­ously. Real economies are where the parts work together, not one where one part screws up the climate for agri­cul­ture or ruins the view for tourism or makes the ski season a crap shoot or opens up timber stands to beetle invasion when the weather warms.

The economy we’ve been building all this time here in Canada is not one where young men go away to grow up on coke and lone­li­ness and grown men stand at pay phones in modular hallways draining down their phone cards saying “It’s okay honey, daddy will be home in just two more weeks”.

So: you have choices now. If we don’t seem to be good at judging the real risks of petro­leum extrac­tion and trans­port projects, and if the national benefits are not perhaps the ones we want or need, and if the things we’re risking for them are as impor­tant as so many people have stood here and told to you in so many ways, I hope you will consider all your options. I hope you will just say: no.

Thank you.


Is it a genuine con­sul­ta­tion? Do they care? Does this process have a foregone conclusion?

[…] http://​hugh​stimson​.org/​2​0​1​3​/​0​2​/​0​1​/​m​y​-​o​r​a​l​-​s​t​a​t​e​m​e​n​t​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​j​o​i​n​t​-​r​e​v​i​e​w​-​p​a​n​el/ This entry was posted in Bookmarks and tagged benefits, enbridge, friends, hugh­stimson, inter­de­pen­dence, nopipelines, risk, tarsands by sarah. Bookmark the permalink. […]

Is it a genuine con­sul­ta­tion? Do they care? Does this process have a foregone conclusion?

Yes, yes, and yes, as far as I can tell.

Yes, yes and yes? Really? I think you just jedi mind trapped my brain. Is that possible? Great post by the way. You are an amazing writer. It just makes me really happy that you made a sub­mis­sion. And that I can read it.

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