North America’s energy boom and pollution: How governments say no to information

By Kathy MacMillan, CNN • Updated 22nd February 2016 Several Western Canadian provinces are ignoring the rights of the public to access information and safeguards on environmental projects while ignoring safeguards on lawful energy…

North America's energy boom and pollution: How governments say no to information

By Kathy MacMillan, CNN • Updated 22nd February 2016

Several Western Canadian provinces are ignoring the rights of the public to access information and safeguards on environmental projects while ignoring safeguards on lawful energy development in order to protect their multibillion-dollar natural gas and oil industries, says an auditing firm.

“Over the past 10 years, this has been a huge abuse of democracy by the five provinces in this region,” said Simon Fraser University Professor Larry MacMillan, who is writing a book on the subject. “Western Canada is in the middle of a great debate over our resources. Not just the oil sands but coal and gas and pipelines and the impacts of all that activity on the environment.”

Auditor General Michael Ferguson offered some high-profile examples of how governments of all stripes have ignored the people they claim to serve in his fall report.

His office examined four cases relating to pipelines, marine oil spill protection and mining. The probes involved oil and gas companies and the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments.

In a damning two-part report, Ferguson showed how all four provinces restricted access to information; that no one received training in environmental law or informed consultations. The governments deemed public information deemed secret, Ferguson said.

“Over the past 10 years, this has been a huge abuse of democracy by the five provinces in this region,” said Simon Fraser University Professor Larry MacMillan, who is writing a book on the subject. “Western Canada is in the middle of a great debate over our resources. Not just the oil sands but coal and gas and pipelines and the impacts of all that activity on the environment.”

“Some of the rules that we have in place that require people to give notification before [pipeline construction] could … get to the point where we were saying that you’re risking the lives of emergency responders because you won’t do a public notification,” MacMillan said.

“And as you can imagine, if you’d have a spill of oil in the Great Canadian Bight, in Nova Scotia, to say, ‘This is a dangerous environmental accident; send in the firefighters and do your thing,’ in the real world, it’s a dumb idea, because there’s not enough firefighters,” he said.

One case is the 2010 rupture of an Enbridge pipeline near a house in Michigan. It was 50 years old and an equipment misjudgment may have worsened the damage. Unsafe pressure in the pipe may have pushed oil farther downstream, but the substance was restricted near a community with a well-informed populace and a robust environmental movement, Ferguson said.

Enbridge proposed a two-phase consent process, starting with environmental impact and then proceeding to public consultation on environmental benefits and practical consideration of potential environmental impacts. Ferguson found that not only were communities shortchanged but environmental impact studies were not released until a legal process was exhausted.

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