NEB Promises to “Do Things Differently”

Government needs to talk property rights with landowners – or get out of the way.

 At this summer’s National Energy Board (NEB) Safety Forum, newly minted Board chair Peter Watson informed those of us in attendance that he planned to do things differently. 

As a long-time advocate of the NEB doing things differently – or better yet, not at all – I was curious. His predecessor had claimed the Board could only operate within the limitations of government legislation. So I asked Mr. Watson, publicly, what in fact he meant by “doing things differently.”

His response was that he intended to consult and “talk more” with “stakeholders.”

The new chair did not elaborate on who all he would recognize as “stakeholders.”

But unless Mr. Watson starts talking to landowners – the only real “stakeholders” – about property rights, he won’t really be saying anything new at all.

Property rights are the pre-requisite for any serious discussion about safety.

When most people talk about pipeline safety what they are really talking about is protecting people and the environment – i.e., public and private property – from the risk of leaks and spills.

Property rights empower landowners to demand the safest pipelines possible in the deals we negotiate – something even company shareholders want, too.

That’s because property rights are the foundations of a free market system that includes contract and the rule of law which has always been the real way to guarantee the greater good.

Expropriation of private property for the benefit of governemnt and its cronies throws the whole system out of whack.

It is just a subsidy, a kind of rent control, and license for indifferent or reckless behaviour by the recipient.

In other words, if you get to use something for next to nothing, and you don’t even own it, you tend not to look after it very well. This is what’s known in economics as Tragedy of the Commons. It’s the same reason why rent controlled, subsidized, and public housing usually deteriorates so badly – people are getting it for free or cheap, so they don’t look after it.

Meanwhile, even though the majority of landowners are pro-oil pro-development, they are increasingly also pro-property rights and pro-choice — meaning they want the right to say no to a bad development deal.

As we at the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations (CAEPLA) like to say, “Landowners want in!”

In other words CAEPLA encourages agribusiness and other landowners to see themselves not only as voluntary partners in the energy transport industry, but as part of that industry.

Which of course would make the NEB redundant.

Regulators’ original purpose was never really safety or the environment. Those agenda items were only added to their mandate in order to placate the public and justify the Board’s existence.

The NEB has never been an effective guarantor of safety and has lost whatever public confidence it might have enjoyed in any case.

The real route to pipeline safety are property rights that recognize landowners’ right and responsibility to steward the land, to ensure the safety the public demands by way of ‘win-win’ business agreements bound by contract law.

Why would anybody – industry, landowners, or the public – want government to meddle and insert itself in energy transport?

While it may once have protected pipeline companies and politicians, the NEB has never benefited landowners and the public. In fact, the bureaucratization and politicization of pipelines has now paralyzed the industry, with few or no new project in any danger of proceeding any time soon.

This obviously hurts the companies, but it also hurts farmers and the public who rely on safe, abundant cheap energy.

CAEPLA has proven of late that landowners can work with, in, and as part of the energy transport industry.

So if a safe prosperous energy economy is the goal – why not get government regulators out of the way? Why not let the real stakeholders – landowners and pipeline companies get on with it, just like EVERY…OTHER…INDUSTRY…does?