British Columbia

'Science is being ignored:' prominent Alberta professor sides with B.C. on pipeline

Despite the tough stance from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley about Kinder Morgan Canada's pipeline expansion, a prominent Alberta academic is taking British Columbia's side in the dispute.

Ecology professor argues the interprovincial dispute is being driven by politics, not science

Pipes are seen at the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain facility in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Despite the tough stance from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley about Kinder Morgan Canada's pipeline expansion, a prominent Alberta academic is taking British Columbia's side in the dispute.

David Schindler, professor emeritus of ecology at the University of Alberta, says he thinks B.C.'s concerns about the Trans Mountain pipeline are legitimate.

The issue should be one of science and not politics, he argues.

"Somehow, science is being ignored in all this," he told CBC Early Edition host Stephen Quinn. "I think the questions [about spills] are very legitimate."

The National Energy Board recently announced that construction of the TransMountain pipeline expansion can go forward on Burnaby Mountain, but the B.C. government says it will restrict any increase in bitumen shipments until further study is conducted on spills.

David Schindler was awarded an Alberta Order of Excellence in 2008 for his work protecting fresh water resources in Canada and around the world and has advised the provincial government on oil spill clean-ups in the past. (University of Alberta)

Notley announced a provincial boycott on all imports of B.C. wines and cut off talks to purchase $500 million worth of electricity from B.C, escalating the inter-provincial spat over the pipeline.

He mentioned a Royal Society of Canada study from 2015 that lays out the unknowns when it comes to the transport of bitumen and said that many of the issues raised then have still not been addressed.

In particular, he said, he is concerned with oil spills during colder months.

"We still don't know how to get bitumen out from under the ice," he said. "If it goes in to one of the major salmon rivers crossing B.C., we will just sit by and helplessly watch it go downstream."

Climate change commitments 

It's not just scientific research and answers that are lacking, Schindler says, but also commitment to promises during the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris.

"From what I see, we are not taking this commitment very seriously at all," he said. "We are taking a very 'head in the sand' approach to the problem."

He says ventures to more renewable sources of energy, particularly geothermal, and away from the oil and gas industry are key to moving forward.

"If this were the beginning of the 20th century, we'd probably be protecting the buggy manufacturers and telling people the automobile will never replace the horse," he said.

With files from The Early Edition.