Pipelines full of politics

It is unfortunate that pipelines moving oil and gas don’t always do their job. Inevitably, a leak or explosion occurs at a most inconvenient time.

With federal government decisions pending on pipelines heading east and west from Alberta, Husky Oil’s 230,000 litre spill into the North Saskatchewan River July 20 is high on people’s minds.

The government of Saskatchewan oversees 25,000 kilometres of pipelines in the province, yet the regulatory environment is wanting.

How can this be? Pipelines are regulated by the province’s Ministry of Energy and Resources. We learned from the provincial auditor in 2012 that pipeline regulations did not comply with the law. In 2014, we learned the issues hadn’t been addressed. And they still haven’t.

Shipping oil by pipeline is more than four times safer than by train, according to the Fraser Institute, yet pipelines are often opposed by environmentalists.

Saskatchewan has a larger responsibility other than safety — which should be enough on its own.

A colleague at The Western Producer tells me that wheat is traditionally known as 10 percent protein and 90 percent politics. (The numbers have changed slightly over the years.) Pipelines and politics are about the same.

If Canada is to take full advantage of its energy resources, it must be able to ship oil from Alberta by pipeline to a port. Approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitmat, B.C., is on hold pending court-ordered consultation with First Nations. It may never be built, given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ban on oil tanker traffic on the northern coast of British Columbia, which is a way of killing an unpopular pipeline without opposing pipelines in general.

Energy East, a proposed conversion and expansion of a pipeline from Hardisty, Alta., to Saint John, N.B., is under federal scrutiny. It would transport 1.1 million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan to port. Construction is planned for 2018, pending approval.

How does a federal politician support Energy East when Saskatchewan — unlike Alberta — can’t inspect pipelines properly? The pipeline is already an east-vs.-west issue, with Quebecers opposing it. It’s embarrassing that opponents can point to Saskatchewan as a reason for their distrust, and astonishing that the province has not moved faster on a serious safety issue.

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