Gateway to Destruction

Photo by Bruce Hill

Enbridge Incorporated, a Calgary-based company, has proposed an estimated $5.5-billion 1,172-kilometre twin pipeline running from Bruderhein, Alberta to Kitimat, BC. Eastbound, the pipeline will import natural gas condensate to the Tar Sands. Westbound it will export crude oil to new marine terminal in Kitimat where it will be transported to Asian markets by oil tankers.

Unlike other pipelines Enbridge has built, the route for the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline crosses the rugged, mountainous terrain of the Northern Rockies and the Coast Mountains of British Columbia. The pipeline will cross some 1,000 streams and rivers, including sensitive salmon spawning habitat in the upper Fraser, Skeena and Kitimat watersheds. Five important salmon rivers that would be impacted are the Stuart River, Morice River, Copper River, Kitimat River and Salmon River.

The Enbridge Gateway pipeline would affect the traditional territories and rights of at least 31 inland and 10 coastal First Nations. A recent study conducted by West Coast Environmental Law has concluded that the pipeline would have a devastating impact on cultural activities such as hunting, fishing, trapping, berry picking, spiritual activities, traditional village sites, recreational activities, and travel routes, with few if any corresponding benefits to First Nations communities.

Tanker traffic can induce air pollution, ballast discharge, and terminal accidents during loading and unloading. The day-to-day impact of increased air pollution, noise, as well as the stress of living with the risk of a spill are health risks that communities along the pipeline and tanker traffic routes would face.

Fossil Fuels are so last century

Enbridge’s entire business is based on expanding fossil fuel use at a time when the science is clear: we need to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy in order to avoid climate changes that will impact future generations. Fossil fuels will eventually run out no matter how much we conserve. Renewable energy sources such as hydrogen, solar, wind, tidal and geothermal must be developed so there isn’t a major drop in available energy when the world supply of fossil fuels finally runs out.

The pipeline will enable further expansion of the Athabasca oil sands region of northeast Alberta by providing an additional 525, 000 barrels per day. The production of the tar sands oil that would fill the pipe would consume 200 million barrels of processing water each year, destroy 12.5 square kilometres of land, produce 6.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emission per year, the equivalent of emissions from 1.6 million cars, and produce 25 million barrels of toxic tailings and contribute 2.7 million barrels of seepage from tailing lakes into groundwater and surface water each year.

A spill?! What are the chances?

Each year, oil pipelines in North America spill millions of litres of oil into the environment. In July 2010, Enbridge’s Lakehead pipeline ruptured near Battle Creek, Michigan, spilling an estimated 4 million litres of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest oil spill in Midwest U.S. history. Although Enbridge claims to have a rigorous pipeline safety program, there are serious questions being asked regarding both its maintenance of its pipelines and its response to the oil spill. Enbridge has not yet explained how it would clean up a devastating spill in a fast-flowing river like the Morice-Bulkley or Skeena without causing further harm.

Oiling the food chain

There’s really no aspect of a marine and coastal environment that is not in some way adversely affected by an oil spill. The closer the spill occurs to the shoreline, the more pronounced the damage will be due to coastal zones being home to more concentrated and diverse populations of marine, bird and animal life. Health risks associated with both oil and gas development and water contamination are serious. Oil spills pose the risk of exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a known carcinogen that persists long after an oil spill has occurred. Land based oil spills carry the potential to contaminate drinking water through direct spills in rivers and streams, which will cause leaching and contamination to groundwater. Contamination from oil spills on fish and wildlife also pose serious health risks to humans. Even once the oil appears to have dissipated, it can still lurk beneath the surface of beaches and the sea bed, severely affecting marine organisms that burrow, such as crabs, for literally decades. These burrowing creatures are also food for other animals, so the cycle of poisoning continues for many years.

Construction and operation of the pipeline can impact fish through the sediment that is released into streams and rivers during road building, road washouts, and the construction of water crossings. Certain concentrations of sediment can kill fish directly. Sediments can also increase the amount of stress that fish experience, disrupting their feeding, growth, social behavior, and susceptibility to disease. Sediments may also impact fish eggs and affect the survival of juvenile fish, and make water cloudy, interfering with light penetration, reducing the number of plants, and decreasing the habitat for insects that fish rely on for food. Road building practices by industry users can threaten salmon spawning grounds with siltation due to slumping of stream banks.

In Alberta and northeastern British Columbia, the web of oil and gas development, including pipelines, has had harmful effects on many wildlife species, ranging from the loss of habitat to poisoning to a reduction in herd size and home range. Species in decline as a result of industrial development in Alberta include caribou, lynx, martin, fisher, wolverine and various bird species. The web of roads, well pads and related oil and gas facilities disrupts the way animals use the land for eating and cover, and affects their movement and migration patterns. Pipelines and related roads can contribute to fragmentation of habitat of animals such as grizzly bears. Roads and pipeline corridors also allow people easier access to an area, which can lead to increased hunting and poaching.

We are all connected

Throughout history, people have always understood that we are deeply embedded in and utterly dependent on the natural world. In stories, songs, and dances, cultures around the globe have celebrated being part of their surroundings. In a world where everything is connected to everything else, any action has repercussions and therefore responsibilities must accompany every deliberate act. Acknowledgment of that responsibility has also been explicit in the rituals of every society. The sense of being an intimate part of nature has been shattered over the past few centuries. Science and technology, and a new system of economics, has brought forth a different way of looking at the world.

In an urban environment, it has become easy to assume that human technology, economics, and industries create our habitat and fulfill our material needs thereby enabling us to escape the bounds of nature.

Economists assume that the atmosphere, water, soil and biodiversity that are crucial to life are “externalities” to economics. Based on this belief, human intrusion and exploitation contribute to the global economy, whereas nature’s activities in keeping the planet liveable are “worthless”. Furthermore, Nature’s ability to inspire us artistically, heal us emotionally, and instil self-worth and wonder, is dismissed.

There must be a balance between the economy and the environment. One cannot be at the cost of the other. In the case of the Northern Gateway Project, the detrimental effects on the environment outweigh its economic value.

– By Carly 

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