I spoke to Ian McAllister* author of two unforgettably beautiful books: The Last Wild Wolves and the Great Bear Rainforest about some glossy full-color brochures sent to local rainforest citizens by Enbridge Inc., the world's largest oil pipeline construction company.
Can you describe where you live?
I live on a small island on BC's north coast south of the Alaskan panhandle. It's a place known for its unbroken rainforest, fiercely independent native people, white spirit bears and rivers full of salmon. It can only be described as a global treasure of ecological and cultural riches.
And these brochures, when did they appear? What troubles you about them?
They showed up yesterday, the 51st day after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig explosion on April 20th. The big fear is that an oil pipeline terminating here -in Kitimat- just south of the panhandle increases the chances of another disaster like the Exxon Valdes. This would be bad for Alaska and for B.C. But even without a spill, the sheer size and numbers of these tankers planned for the BC coast will increase all kinds of problems including dead whales. In addition to the pipeline itself will have an enormous environmental impact.
Who wants the pipeline and who's in their way?
A handful of indigenous tribes are trying to preserve their homeland against largely Chinese oil interests who are desperately seeking access to Canada's tar sand oil deposits -- the second largest extractable oil reserve in the world. China needs the guarantee of this fuel in order to power its economy from the number two spot into first place. Enbridge wants to pipe their oil across the Rockies to the Pacific coast where tankers will take it to the Chinese coast.
What did the brochures say?
The front cover said: "We're Building More than Pipelines." There was the picture of a young happy smiling couple overseeing the construction of their new house. It's pretty, but the brochure lays out a terrifying 5.5-billion-dollar proposal to transport Canada's dirty oil 1200 kms overland to our pristine coastline.
What's the problem with the tar sands and/or the pipeline?
Well, they both take Canada and the planet backwards in our global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect diminishing biodiveristy. The tar sands are like the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill except they're happening on land. Enbridge wants to move over 500,000 barrels of bitumen (liquid tar) overland to a tanker port on the coast. At the same time about 200,000 barrels of condensate, a volatile toxic byproduct of the natural gas industry would travel east to Alberta.
The double pipeline would travel over a thousand waterways, including some of the world's largest salmon-producing watersheds like the Skeena and Fraser rivers. The marine side of the proposal would introduce behemoth VLCCs, or what the oil transport industry calls Very Large Crude Carriers, through the pristine and ecologically productive BC coast. Both the pipelines and tankers will be a non-stop ticking ecological time bomb
Did you know that Bellingham Washington's city council recently voted 7-0 to refuse any oil supplied by the Alberta Tar Sands?
Yes, and isn't it shameful that as the US signals concern about Canada's dirty oil our response is to simply find new customers. This is exactly what this pipeline is about....
And the problem with the pipeline itself is...?
If this project succeeds, it will mean more than just horrific environmental devastation. It also would be a signal that Canada has joined the elite roster of Petro states - nations that are funded by oil, ruled by oil and ready to do big oil's business at any cost.
It would also signal that Canada doesn't care about its international obligations for climate change and will exploit the tar sands in the name of short term gain.
Is Enbridge affected by the bad timing of the Deepwater spill?
It doesn't seem to bother them. . A couple of years ago Enbridge CEO Patrick Daniel told his shareholders that Northern Gateway would not proceed if it did not have community support. But they filed an application to develop the pipeline only two days before a thousand native and non-native people gathered in Kitimat, the proposed port location.
The Kitimat gathering was a milestone. All the affected native people came together to demonstrate their complete and unified opposition to Enbridge's Northern Gateway project. The fact that Enbridge filed at such a time impresses on me the brute arrogance of the oil industry.
Who will be affected most? Who will be affected first?
After the gathering in Kitimat, I travelled to the small traditional seaweed and halibut food gathering camp of the Gitga'at nation, whose traditional territory would be carved in half by transiting oil tankers.
At Kiel, the Gitga'at First Nation welcomed me to their seaweed and halibut food gathering camp, I sat one evening with elder Helen Clifton while she spoke eloquently about the importance of the marine world to her people. Her house is perched on layers of broken cockleshells and looks out onto where the oil tankers would pass. A flickering bare bulb lights the old house, which is heated by a big cast drum full of burning wood and surrounded by row upon row of seaweed, hanging halibut and laundry.
"We simply wouldn't exist as a people," Clifton said if the pipeline were to go ahead.
How do you see this progressing now, Ian?
There are billions involved. Enbridge will continue tp hide behind sympathetic government administrations and a petro-state mentality and play roulette with the environment, the First Nations way of life, and Canada' global reputation until the people stop them by using dissent, resistance and the courts.
*Ian McAllister is a Canadian conservationist working for the non-profit research and public education group Pacific Wild. He is the author of a number of award-winning books on large carnivores that inhabit BC's northern rainforest.
For more information contact: www.pacificwild.org