With the United States’ recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline, the debate around the construction and expansion of oil pipelines in B.C. has seen renewed vigour.
Enbridge’s proposal to build the Northern Gateway project, which would see a twin pipeline running from Bruderheim, Alta. to the coastal city of Kitimat, B.C., would help expand Canada’s current oil exports to a growing Asian market.
According to Greenpeace Canada, however, the potential environmental costs would far outweigh any benefits.
“The environmental implications [of the Gateway project] would be huge,” notes Mike Hudema, Greenpeace’s climate and energy campaigner.
“Over 1,100 kilometres of pipeline would go through some of the most pristine areas of the country,” he explains.
“It would cross over a thousand rivers and streams, many of which are salmon bearing streams that are of course essential to the B.C. salmon industry. It would also go through the Great Bear Rainforest which is the last intact temperate rainforest [in the world].”
Hudema notes that it isn’t a question of if there will be a spill, but when.
“You have to look at Enbridge’s history; between the years 1999 and 2008 they had over 600 spills, which is over one spill a week,” he says.
“We even have quotes from Pat Daniels, the CEO of Enbridge, who has said that they can’t absolutely guarantee that there would be no spills.”
Although a potential spill or leak in the actual pipeline is a key concern, oil tankers navigating the rocky B.C. coast are yet another issue.
“The pipeline would bring over 100 to 200 tankers through the B.C. coast, and they would be navigating through very narrow and very tumultuous inlets; it would be an ongoing danger to the B.C. coastline,” says Hudema.
“Each one of these tankers would carry more oil than the Exxon Valdez. Any type of tanker rupture would be disastrous for everything along the coast: the animals, the aquatic species and the humans that depend on the coast for their livelihood as well.”
While the repercussions of a pipeline leak or tanker spill associated with the Gateway Northern project would be far reaching, the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is even closer to home.
The pipeline currently runs between Edmonton and the Lower Mainland, with its shipping port on the south shore of the Burrard Inlet.
Kinder Morgan is proposing to twin the pipeline, which would more than double its current carrying capacity, and increase tanker traffic in the inlet.
“The Kinder Morgan expansion would have similar problems [to the Gateway Northern project],” explains Hudema. “Twinning the pipeline would cause all sorts of risks. You already had a massive blowout in Burnaby from this pipeline, and this would increase that danger.”
The blowout referred to occurred in July 2007, and resulted in about 1500 barrels of oil contaminating the Burrard Inlet and adjacent areas.
The Burrard Inlet is home to the Tsleil-Waututh Nation. In October 2011, Chief Justin George stated that “our community was deeply affected by the 2007 oil spill.”
In reference to the Kinder Morgan project Chief George said, “The risks associated with the … project are too great to accept.” He goes on to say that “our Inlet has been scarred by the impacts of oil spills and we have seen firsthand the inadequacies of emergency response and clean up efforts.”
He says that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation is supportive of economic development initiatives, but that there must be a balance between the environment and the economy. According to Chief George, “Tsleil-Waututh has embraced sustainable development on our reserve land and in our traditional territory. We are property developers and business owners in renewable energy technology. We have an array of government and industry partnerships that we rely upon to foster the economy that helps to sustain the community.”
The community also makes it clear that everyone is affected by this issue because every person, government and group relies “on the health of marine ecosystems to sustain their culture and well-being.”