If you ask someone at the coffee shop if they want their gas prices to rise, it’s unlikely they will leap out of their chair and scream “Yes!”

But this is exactly the same gusto that many people have in their opposition to proposed BC pipelines and the Alberta oil sands.

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By: Laura Keil

At the risk of simplifying the pipeline debate to an extreme, I still find it curious that so many people will hold these contradictory opinions.

The point is we don’t feel bad turning on our air conditioner or jumping in the car or on a plane to visit a palm tree, but destroying pristine wilderness in the north or risking spills along the West Coast? Clearly unacceptable.

Let’s face it, Canadians use more oil per capita than pretty much anywhere else in the world. We are energy hogs, but few of us are ready to own up to it. I’m as guilty as the next person. I’ve ridden a lot of planes in my lifetime. That hasn’t helped the climate, the boreal forest or the ocean.

In addition to burning a lot of oil, Canada pumps out approx. 2 million barrels of crude each day from the oil sands. That’s dirty, expensive oil that no one thought would be worth boiling out of Albertan dunes until quite recently.

When it comes to burning fossil fuels and producing it, it’s a case of moral hazard. We simply don’t feel the consequences as acutely as people in other countries. As far as climate change goes, it’s unlikely the Robson Valley will run out of fresh water this century. But in parts of China and India? You wouldn’t want to rely on those quickly melting glaciers. Terrible droughts that ruin crops and cause famine? There are many poorer countries you won’t want to be in.

But what will happen to the global economy if don’t get that crude to market? Prices will continue to rise making everything from groceries to children’s toys more expensive.

Along comes the opportunity for us to weigh in on a global energy and climate crisis. So, are we pro oil or pro renewables? Ie) pro pipeline or anti pipeline?

Would our dissenting voice actually help to oppose climate change, the oil sands, tanker traffic and environmental destruction? It’s not a silly question, but it’s one whose consequences we may not be ready to face.

Oil is used to make basically everything we own – everything that’s made with plastic, for instance. It’s funny how a pipeline in our backyard brings that plastic into perspective. Suddenly the trade-offs are more real.

Kinder Morgan Canada was in Valemount a few weeks ago explaining their proposed pipeline expansion to the public. As many already know, the company plans to more than double the capacity on their Trans Mountain pipeline, which begins in northern Alberta and ends in Burnaby, travelling through the Robson Valley on its way.

The twinning of a much more contentious section of the pipeline was completed in 2007, when the company twinned a section in Jasper National Park.

Now they intend to finish the job all the way to Vancouver.

The company hasn’t yet submitted a formal application to government for the expansion, but already the information gathering and disseminating has begun full force. Many speculate the Trans Mountain pipeline has a much greater chance of succeeding than the Enbridge pipeline. The company also appears to have a better safety record, and has definitely won out so far in public relations. Even the provincial NDP has held off on giving their yay or nay until they see the formal application.

At the public information display in Valemount, there were plenty of maps but none showed the 150m study area where the new pipeline could be located. Much of this is on private land. I was told by a company planning engineer, who couldn’t be quoted by name, that the general plan is to locate the new pipeline within 75m of the original pipeline, though some areas may differ.

Kinder Morgan spokesperson and engineer Greg Toth said they have been in touch with many landowners who may be affected. They need their permission to gather preliminary data for their application. If they don’t get permission from these landowners to occupy their land, he said they will have to make do without for the preliminary data collection.

But much like the pipeline debate isn’t really about the pipeline, neither is the approval process solely a local affair. World energy prices, outlooks and political clout all play a role.

Toth told me he thinks the bulk of the opposition isn’t to the pipeline itself but to the oil sands.

It makes sense. The Trans Mountain pipeline connects us in a tangible way to oil production. Some may be under the impression this is one way to stop the juggernaut. And it may help in a small way – both in the precedent it sets, and in the inability for more oil to get trucked out, thus raising prices and making it less affordable for everyone to consume oil.

So are we trying to force our own hand? Are we ready for the consequences?

The Village of Valemount has struck a committee of council to help navigate its relations with the company as they proceed with the expansion plans. The twinning of the entire pipeline is set to be completed in two years, by 2017, if all goes well. The expansion could bring hundreds of jobs to town for the construction period.

Before that can happen, for a few brief years, our support/opposition will have a direct influence on the global oil economy. How will we respond?

What’s clear: it’s not just a pipeline we’re debating.