Listening to one of the Northern Gateway Pipeline ads that have been polluting our airwaves as though the radio stations are pristine valleys along the route, one number suddenly caught my attention.
Eight hundred million. That's how many dollars, the ad informed unwary listeners, will be injected into the B.C. economy through the local purchases of goods and services necessary to build a pipeline to carry Alberta's tar-contaminated sands into the Pacific Ocean and beyond.
The reason it caught my attention is because that is also precisely the amount of money that Enbridge has spent to clean up the Kalamazoo River in Michigan.
So far. Two years - and $800,000,000 - after an undetected spill from an Enbridge pipeline poured three million litres of tarry sand into the Kalamazoo River, the company is variously declaring victory over the cleanup project, continuing the ongoing effort to clean it up, or forced back into the cleanup by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency because the job was left undone. depending on who's doing the talking.
What is clear is that the river is still seriously polluted, despite Enbridge's efforts to white-wash it.
Indeed, it's reminiscent of the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill.
That catastrophe has been declared satisfactorily concluded several times - in company propaganda accompanied by pretty photographs of shore-line rocks and sand and driftwood.
And then some meddling environmentalist goes up there and sticks his toe in the sand. revealing the tar and oil that's still killing anything trying to live there decades later.
Nevertheless, some people are fooled.
It's the standard corporate strategy for dealing with the environment: it's usually cheaper to convince people that you've cleaned it up than to actually clean it up.
Let's be realistic: there are people with big money who want to suck large amounts of oil out of the Athabasca tar pits.
And they will. The Northern Gateway Pipeline may or may not be a good idea.
The fact is that the project is worth a lot of money to Alberta, and to Canada as a whole.
Not so much for B.C. And ironically, we're the ones who will get to clean up any resultant mess.
Because, frankly, all the indications are that Enbridge cannot be trusted to do it.
Enbridge has a record of converting environmental concerns into risk-assessment equations.
When word of the Kalamazoo calamity spread through B.C., Enbridge quickly announced that it was adding $500 million to the safety budget for the Northern Gateway project.
How did they get to that number? How did they get to it so quickly? Did they just pull it out of their butts? Or was that a number from early planning stages that a risk assessment suggested could be slipped out of the budget?
Consider some of the ways that Enbridge has been converting its risk. For instance, Enbridge won't actually be building the pipeline (if it's built at all). It will be built by a separate company - owned mostly by Enbridge.
Here's how risk management works for that gambit: if (or when) the pipeline springs a really big leak, the cost of cleanup will be limited to the resources of the pipeline company.
If the cost is too great, Enbridge washes its hands. but not the contaminated rivers.
And tells everyone everything is OK.