Print Edition: June 5, 2013
“BC rejects pipeline over environmental concerns”
“BC formally rejects proposed Northern Gateway pipeline”
“BC officially opposes Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline”
Headlines like these were splashed across the top of high traffic posts from the likes of the CBC and CTV news websites within minutes of last Friday’s lauded announcement.
The news that BC had registered its official opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline as currently proposed set off a flurry of celebratory social media posts and jubilant call-ins to CBC 1. It was as though someone sounded the death knell for the controversial pipeline planned to carry oil from Alberta’s oil sands directly to tankers waiting on the Pacific coast.
Based on these headlines, and the bulk of the stories that followed, it would be easy to believe this potentially devastating ecological tinder box had been relegated to the realm of speculative fiction. Many people did and do. Although this is a positive step for those of us opposed to firing toxic sludge beneath our province’s beautiful landscape, it is by no means the end of the fight.
But first, the positive: BC seems willing to stick to its five conditions for pipeline approval, having rejected the current pipeline based on insufficient attention to environmental concerns. This is a sign of good faith from the provincial government, that we can place at least some trust in their willingness to stick to their clearly-outlined principles, even if we personally find those principles to be lacking.
Now for the bad.
The bad has less to do with BC’s rejection in and of itself and more to do with a call to face the sobering reality that this announcement, sure to boost public opinion of the newly-elected Premier’s office, is not the complete victory we may be led to believe.
It’s obvious from the reactions of those in favour of the pipeline (the federal government, Alberta, Enbridge itself) that the fight is far from over. While the provincial opposition for the pipeline could prove to be a PR stumbling block for the other parties involved, if they really want to push it through, there are many other options remaining.
1. A modified proposal from Enbridge
The province was clear on the rationale behind its rejection, but what if Enbridge addresses their concerns in a matter they deem satisfactory? The pipeline party is back on.
2. A proposal from another pipeline company
Kinder Morgan, Keystone XL and any number of other companies will be champing at the bit for further pipeline approval, along other varied routes. All it takes is a few signatures and the possibility of more oil coursing through the veins of this province is back on the table.
3. Federal government override
While the pipeline project is currently under review by the National Energy Board, the federal government has the final say on any projects it deems in the national interest. Discord between the province and the federal government could ultimately stop such a sweeping move in its tracks, but it hardly rules out the possibility of federal approval.
I hate to play the pessimist, but in this case, it would be unwise to spend too long celebrating a decision that amounts to a minor victory in the long battle over the future of pipeline projects in BC. I can only hope that the reaction to this announcement will not slacken the vigilant efforts of British Colombians determined to protect the long-term interests of our beautiful province.
It takes the CBC 32 paragraphs to temper their sensational headline to include this portion of BC’s statement on the pipeline: “the position adopted by BC on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project as currently proposed is not a rejection of heavy-oil projects,” which leaves open the option for approval of other massive oil pipelines, including the Kinder Morgan proposal.
Thirty-two paragraphs is far too long to acknowledge the complicated nature of this announcement. Every study I’ve read about the way in which people absorb the news underlines, bolds, caps-locks the fact you slowly lose your audience over the course of a news item. That means that most people get the breadth of their information by simply skimming headlines and pictures.
BC rejects pipeline over environmental concerns? It’s a catchy, eye-grabbing headline, but one that is so misleading that much of the article is spent backpedalling earlier claims.
Newsmakers have a responsibility to acknowledge the complexities of a story as early as possible. This could amount to something as simple as adding a modifying clause to the headline. Why not go with “BC opposes Northern Gateway pipeline proposal as presented?” Those two words would give any reader some inclination that the rejection is hardly as sweeping as it seems.