I can’t think of any recent issue as divisive as Enbridge Northern Gateway. There really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. Those opposed to the pipeline essentially reject it on the principle that the risk to the natural and human environment is too great, no matter how mitigated the risk might be.
Those in favour – a quiet minority it seems – are willing to accept a certain degree of mitigated risk for the sake of promised positive economic outcome for the region, province, and country.
Enbridge’s current ‘phase three’ pipeline field work is underway. It will include two locations in Burns Lake, and about a dozen within the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako.
Even the most neutral observer has a hard time reconciling a summer of field work for a proposed project that hasn’t yet received a green light, with the idea that the public has any real say in how the process is going to play out.
The Joint Review Panel (JRP) hasn’t made its decision yet, so the natural question is, why carry on with expensive field work if you don’t even know if the project will be approved?
The jaded will say it’s because the JRP is just window dressing for a foregone conclusion. The pipeline will receive approval, one might say, so Enbridge is just carrying on with its interests.
Enbridge would point out that the field work they’re doing now is low-impact, and rises out of questions raised during the JRP process itself. They might also point out that they’ve been given the go ahead to at least try to get the project off the ground, and so they continue to act and proceed as if they’ll be able to reach a positive outcome.
It could just be that Enbridge is taking a financial risk in spending money on a project that isn’t gaining the public support it will need to proceed. You’re allowed to throw good money after bad. We do it all the time when we find ourselves invested (financially, emotionally, whatever) in something we don’t want to let go of despite indications that the investment is a loser.
But here’s what raises rancour. It’s not that Enbridge’s position isn’t cogent on the issue of preliminary field work. A cool head can see that it doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome of the regulatory process is a given.
What upsets many is the perception that ‘no’ doesn’t mean no. That hits a raw nerve, and it’s the fundamental problem. You can see that most clearly with First Nations, but others are fed up as well.
Picture somebody walking into your house to say he wants to rent a room from you. You say, ‘nothing is for rent,’ but he keeps talking about damage deposits, parking, and a lease.
That conversation would very quickly get exasperating.
Now picture the same situation but with the persistent renter-to-be having the full backing of your own elected government to be there.
There are no real consultations or negotiations in a situation where ‘no’ isn’t an option. Many citizens feel disenfranchised by the process, and they seem more justified to feel that way every time Enbridge hits the news.