I am just a poor one time lawyer, one time politician and part time environmentalist who does a bit of broadcasting and writing. I know nothing about oil and natural gas except what it costs me. But I do know bullshit when it wafts my way, especially if the source is anywhere near where politicians ply their trade, PR people hang out (usually the same place) or when CEOs of large companies tell us about the huge social benefits they are about to confer on our province by reason of their utterly unselfish corporate policy.
So, when the government and a CEO tell me that the sale of what was once BC Gas to Kinder Morgan, a Texas company in the pipeline business, is a great deal for me, knowing the sources, I ask: How?
First a bit of the history. During the Vander Zalm years the Gas division of BC Hydro was hived off and privatized making a hell of a pile of money for many investors. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose, except I didn’t get in on it. At that time foreign ownership was limited to 20 percent, meaning that at least BC Gas would be under local control and management and, one assumes, attuned to what their shareholders wanted.
This 20 percent rule wasn’t popular for the big kids in the game because it made it difficult to raise money on share sales and unpalatable for corporate takeover – which, of course, was the whole point of the restriction. Always on the lookout for campaign donations, the Campbell Liberals eliminated the 20 percent rule and BC Gas, now called Terasen Energy, was ripe for the plucking.
And a Texas pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, plucked and took over the whole shebang.
Richard Kinder, CEO of Kinder Morgan, didn’t try to kid the folks at all. No shilly shallerer, Big Dick made it clear that what his company really wanted were the pipelines Terasen has going into the Alberta tar sands which, when the price of oil makes them viable for extraction (which is pretty damned soon) will need those pipelines and more into the United States. Let me quote Kinder verbatim:
“For Kinder Morgan, the merger will dramatically broaden our footprint into Canada…. (Strange way to put it but Mr. Kinder is after all from Texas, where George W. Bush also learned all he knows about the English language).
“Terasen has two core businesses – a low risk, large regulated natural gas distribution company in British Columbia that produces stable cash flow, and a strategically located refined oil products and crude oil pipeline business that offers tremendous growth potential. Terasen’s pipelines are well positioned to transport growing production from the Alberta oil sands, which is expected to become an increasingly important supply source to North America and Asia. There is a definite need for additional infrastructure from the Alberta oils sands, and we have a great opportunity to use the capital strength of the combined company – along with our expertise in building and operating pipelines – to increase capacity on Terasen’s existing pipeline system to help meet the growing demand of an oil starved world.”
Several questions arise here. If Kinder Morgan is going to export oil to Asia, will that be out of Vancouver on tankers sailing out through the Straits of Juan de Fuca, creating environmental concerns?
But my main question is this: Isn’t Mr. Kinder saying, “Look folks, what a hell of a deal this is. A nice big fat cash flow from the pockets of British Columbians to help us build pipelines to the Alberta tar sands?”
Pump and run?
Nothing wrong with that, you say?
How do we ensure that Kinder Morgan will maintain and upgrade pipelines and build for the future? The surface answer is, of course, that Kinder Morgan needs our cash … but what about after their oil pipelines are all done and making money hand over foot? How much will Mr. Kinder care from his Texas skyscraper when the BC pipelines Terasen acquired don’t much matter any more? If we don’t like the service we’re getting or the government thinks, as a matter of public policy, we need more gas, do we phone Mr. Kinder’s voice mail in Dallas to complain or make our point?
The government and the companies say that the price of natural gas will be governed by the BC Utility Commission and that’s true. But BCUC has no power to force Kinder Morgan to make more pipeline capacity available nor any ability to pressure it to upgrade its infrastructure. When Terasen stood alone, with a mandated Canadian majority ownership, its main business was supplying the BC natural gas market. When that is merely a convenient cash cow to be used as necessary, are we to believe that Kinder Morgan will deal with us as if we mattered?
Can Hydro be far behind? Premier Campbell says “no” but he also told us he wouldn’t privatize any part of Hydro – and he has. He also promised to keep BC Rail – and he hasn’t. He had Terasen under Canadian control and gave that up.
I only raise Hydro because if that is sold to American shareholders it will be the same as with Terasen – power and water for greedy and thirsty Americans first and the needs of British Columbia for those commodities last.
We are quickly moving to the place where American needs for oil, gas and water will trump our needs for the same. Moreover, the environmental problems this will raise will be ours not theirs and the profits not ours but theirs too.
We have taken a Canadian company that controlled the natural gas we use and turned it over to a foreign owner to use what should be our profits, public profits, to build American pipelines from the tar sands to America
Whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.
Rafe Mair’s column for The Tyee runs every Monday. He can be heard every weekday morning from 8:30-10:30 on 600AM. His website is www.rafeonline.com.