VICTORIA - Federal Green party Leader Elizabeth May says Ottawa is using Canadian taxpayers money to subsidize oil pipeline environmental studies that should have been fully explored by Enbridge (TSX:ENB), the Calgary-based company proposing to build the $6-billion Northern Gateway oil project.
But the federal government said Wednesday the $120 million earmarked to conduct oil tanker safety studies on Canada's coastlines was announced last March in Vancouver by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver against a backdrop of tankers and shipping vessels in Burrard Inlet.
May claimed leaked federal documents reveal the federal government has embarked on two major studies worth at least $120 million that are "greasing the wheels for Enbridge," but Oliver issued a statement Wednesday saying he had nothing to hide.
"Work on tanker safety is critical to ensure we have world-class marine safety on Canada's coastlines," said Oliver's statement. "While the Green party and the New Democratic Party oppose resource development projects before the science is in, our government will not make decisions until an independent, scientific review determines they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment."
At a news conference in Victoria, May said the federal documents reveal Ottawa is undertaking environmental initiatives that should have been originally conducted by Enbridge.
She said the Harper government is spending at least $78 million on marine spill studies specifically connected to bitumen, the molasses-like crude that will be shipped in the pipeline between Alberta and British Columbia. May also said the documents reveal Ottawa is spending $42 million to study ways to improve weather forecasting in the northern B.C. coastal regions that will be used by oil tankers if the project is approved by the federal Joint Review Panel.
"Some of this money is going to backfill for Enbridge and do the homework it should have done before it went to the Joint Review Panel," said May. "Other money is operational and represents an investment in better weather forecasting for supertanker routes that don't exist yet. We're building an infrastructure as though the project is already approved."
The Joint Review Panel's report on the project proposal is scheduled for public release by the end of this year.
Last March, Oliver said he was announcing a series of measures to improve oil tanker safety off Canadian coasts, including administrative penalties for polluters and mandatory marine response plans for oil terminal operators.
Oliver also announced expanded research on non-conventional petroleum products like diluted bitumen, and more ports, starting with Kitimat, being designated for traffic-control measures.
"I'm personally quite shocked by the extent of the spending when we see science cut in so many areas," May said. "If the (Northern Gateway) project were approved, I'd have no problem whatsoever, in fact it would be imperative that we put infrastructure into better weather forecasting for supertanker routes."
A Green party spokesman said following the news conference that Oliver's March announcement did not include details that the government's weather forecasting initiative will focus on the Kitimat area where the oil tankers propose to start their trips to Asia.
Andrew Weaver, B.C.'s lone provincially-elected Green party member, urged B.C.'s Liberal government to stick to its current decision to reject Enbridge's Northern Gateway proposal because it does not meet to province's five conditions for environmental approval, especially the second condition which calls for world-class response to marine oil spills.
Weaver, a climate scientist, said the Enbridge bid does not include a response plan to spills of bitumen-based oil product. He said Ottawa now is doing that work for them.
"This is another example of federal money being used to essentially subsidize industry, and industry's inability to actually provide effective response to marine dilbit (bitumen) oil spills because the tools don't exist," he said.
The proposed Northern Gateway project would see a 1,200-kilometre pipeline carrying 550,000 barrels of heavy oil a day from Bruderheim, near Edmonton, to a tanker port in Kitimat, on the north coast of B.C., for shipment to the lucrative markets of Asia. A twin line would carry condensate, for diluting heavy bitumen, east to Alberta.
The development would allow land-locked Alberta to expand its customer base beyond the United States, where the industry argues it is forced to sell oil for up to $8 less per barrel because it has no competing buyers.