The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline: 1177 kilometres of Rethink

Red Deer River

I was heartbroken after hearing about the recent oil spill in Alberta on the Red Deer River near Sundre, which destroyed Gord Johnson’s farm.

Last week, nearly 160,000 to 480,000 litres of oil vomited out of a ruptured pipe, and spewed into the river which supplies the mid-sized city of Red Deer with drinking water.

For many years, I’ve had a deep connection to this area in central Alberta where Mr. Johnson’s forested property is located. My grandmother lived in Sundre. I regularly attended a church camp close to the oil spill. I’ve been on family holidays, school camping trips, and participated in many rained-out hiking adventures on several forested tracts near Mr. Johnson’s farm.

The pipeline is managed by Plains Midstream Canada; a subsidiary of U.S. owned and operated Plains All American Pipeline LP.

According to a Globe and Mail story by Nathan VanderKlippe and Dawn Watson, the same company is accountable for a 28,000-barrel spill in Northern Alberta in 2011.

Pipelines self-destruct for several reasons. Older pipelines are prone to corrosion inside and out.  Sometimes pipelines in the past weren’t buried deep enough, which makes these lines vulnerable to the spring river melt. Yet pipelines, old and new, frequently rupture.

This brings me to the infamous Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.

By 2017, Enbridge hopes to construct a pipeline starting at the small town of Bruderheim Alberta, running through British Columbia, and ending at Kitimat on the northern coast. This pipeline will supply Alberta with 15,150 jobs. Almost 35,444 British Columbians will be employed if this plan is implemented.

The federal Conservatives and BC Liberal Premier, Christy Clark, support the eventual construction of Enbridge’s interprovincial pipeline.

In recent times, certain hurdles have been removed in the House of Commons, which mean this pipeline is sure to receive official approval from the Federal government without proper environmental studies.

The Conservative’s recent C-38 omnibus bill, infamous for several other reasons, has weakened the federal government’s approach to environmental assessments. The National Round Table on climate change – first introduced by Progressive Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – has been forced out the door, and several environmental groups will no longer receive government funding.

It seems impossible to believe, but our present industry-friendly, Kyoto-killing, Environment Minister Peter Kent, once hosted a program on CBC in 1984 about the dangers of greenhouse gases.

After the oil spill near Sundre, in a radio interview on CBC with Anna Maria Tremonti, Christy Clark gave what appeared to be lukewarm support for the Northern Gateway Pipeline.

Although Clark is an avid supporter of free enterprise, she also admitted British Columbians were taking most of the risk if this pipeline is completed.

Indeed, we as a province will have much at stake if this pipeline comes to fruition, since Enbridge’s recent track record on oil spills is somewhat frightening.

In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline in the Kalamazoo River in south western Michigan burst open, and 800,000 American gallons of crude oil spilled into this beautiful river flowing through gentle, pastoral countryside.

Since pipelines frequently self-destruct, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline will clearly endanger Albertans and British Columbians. So how can the people at Enbridge live with themselves? There are many great things to be said about this corporation, who also champion sustainable, renewable forms of energy.

Enbridge can actually be considered as leaders in green technology.  The company has assembled seven wind projects, three solar farms, a geothermal installation, and a waste heat recovery installation. Enbridge is also responsible for building Canada’s largest turbo-expander fuel/cell plant.

Al Monaco, Enbridge’s President, appears to take green technology quite seriously. In his words, the company is “transitioning to a lower carbon-intensive footprint.”

However earnest Enbridge might be with their green intentions, this still doesn’t give this corporation the right to build a pipeline through British Columbia’s pristine wilderness.

If Enbridge’s pipeline is constructed, our coastline will also be endangered, and herds of oil tankers will sail along the British Columbian coast in droves. Since 1972, the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait, and the Queen Charlotte Sound have enjoyed an informal moratorium on oil tanker traffic, but the silent, protective agreement will no longer exist after the pipeline connects to Kitimat.

Oil spills on sea and land happen on a daily basis. These industrial accidents are more than just inconvenient overflows of smelly, messy black goo. Oil is a highly toxic substance, and poses a great danger to humanity’s survival.  In Antonia Juhasz’s book Black Tide – a study of the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – the author offers many startling facts about oil’s chemical properties.

Crude oil is composed from a high percentage of volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene, and xylene. Human exposure to these compounds might cause an assortment of health effects, including cancer, neurological damage, and birth defects. Heavy metals such as nickel and lead are also present in oil, along with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons – these compounds are poisonous to mammals, and remain in the environment several years after a spill.

Enbridge’s focus on innovative, green technologies is truly laudable, but their Northern Gateway Pipeline project is hazardous to British Columbia’s natural health. I realize the construction of the pipeline will create several jobs, but such a project is not worth subjecting our forests, rivers, coastline, and ourselves to more environmental perils.