Opinion: What difference will more pipelines really make?

In the past week, pipeline construction near Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota was halted, while the Kinder Morgan project that will transport oil from Alberta to British Columbia – and then be moved by tankers to Asian markets – was given a green light to build.

With more underground tubes to gush oil through, we can lower the cost of our energy needs, increase the value of our natural resources and improve the safety of the transportation infrastructure.

Wherever a pipeline is built, the nearby communities can expect a few well-paying job fairs to pop up.

However, not everybody agrees that those merits are worth it and the resolve against pipelines is very vocal.

It took months of relentless protests before construction was brought to a standstill on the Dakota Access Pipeline last Sunday.

Since an elder from Standing Rock First Nation began the protest eight months ago, thousands of people from all backgrounds have since made their way to the site and remote support has been shown from all across North America.

The protesters argued that the short-term economic benefits of a new pipeline won’t be worth the irreversible environmental damage.

Those trying to build pipelines, as well as the First Nation bands and environmentalists who try and stop them, both think they’re fighting to make the world a better place.Nobody can truly be sure whether the environment or economy needs more attention at the moment.

Pipeline expansion probably isn’t going to be the lynchpin that destroys the planet, but it’s a commitment that will see us burn through our non-renewable resources much faster.

With billions of dollars going into each pipeline project, the oil barons surely have access to the world’s most intelligent people. So if they applied humanity’s most profound understandings towards building a pipeline in North Dakota, who decided that unleashing attack dogs and pepper spray on peaceful protesters should become part of the plan?

Police brutality probably didn’t help the developers round up any new support. But no matter how many people hate a development, their opinions and moral opposition need to translate into dollars in order to have any effect.

For investors to be convinced to make the costly decision to pull the plug on a massive pipeline project, they need to lose all hope of running a profitable venture.

Even if the entire board of directors wanted to make decisions out of altruism, philanthropy takes a back seat at the scale of billions of dollars.

And they know they must account for opposition from environmental opponents. There’s probably a line item on their budgets called, ‘Dealing with environmentalists.’

Since environmentalists aren’t likely to persuade business committees with sentimental arguments, they have to present themselves as an overwhelming financial liability if they want to win.

That sort of threat is already being made in light of Kinder Morgan’s approval.

One First Nations Chief from Quebec has promised civil disobedience if the project encroaches on any aboriginal territory, as the blueprints are calling for.

But those destructive efforts may never amount to anything more than a rounding error on the spreadsheets at Kinder Morgan and it could damage the reputation of the anti-pipeline lobby.

It will be interesting to see if Kinder Morgan’s planners are prepared.

Right now – with an election on the horizon – B.C. Premier Christy Clark is testing the waters before she commits to supporting the Kinder Morgan or not.

Swing voters and Liberal loyalists will probably be the ones who shape her opinion.

It’s a divisive issue of course, but the competing interests of economic growth and environmental protection most often lead to a good compromise.

Dan Walton


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