Kootenay activists planning local opposition to the Enbridge pipeline
––Nelson, BC February 23, 2012
Nearly 100 people came out to talk about local opposition to the Enbridge pipeline proposal in Nelson on Thursday, February 23rd.
After hearing more about the pipeline and the tanker traffic on the coast, people took time to come up with local activities to show opposition to the project.
West Kootenay EcoSociety coordinator David Reid led the crowd through a group exercise to come up with action ideas. Supporting the First Nations, t-shirts, shareholder activism and local pipeline parties all came up as ideas and several groups formed to pursue some of these actions.
Two guest speakers outlined issues with the pipeline. Local biologist Wayne McCrory has worked extensively on the bear populations on the coast and the Great Bear Rainforest. Local energy expert Dan Woynillowicz talked about the national economic future the pipeline and the tar sands are creating.
McCrory explained some of the basics of the pipeline project.
“We’re talking about a three-foot diameter pipeline that’s going to come all the way across the Rocky Mountains. 1100 kilometres to Kitimat and there’ll be another smaller pipeline beside it that takes back this condensate.”
The pipeline will cross hundreds of BC streams and rivers including many large salmon tributaries, he pointed out.
But McCrory focussed on possible impacts on the coastal environment and the new traffic in huge oil tankers, some over a kilometre long.
“Two hundred and twenty more tankers a year. Some of them nearly as long as these channels are wide.”
He explained how the Exxon Valdez oil spill had damaged over 1,000 kilometres of Alaskan coastline, damage which continues to this day.
“The Exxon Valdez oil spill had only one mild turn for the tankers to get from where they loaded the oil to the open sea. There’s one hundred kilometres of channels from Kitimat to the open sea and there are five sharp turns.”
McCrory also questioned whether Enbridge has any responsibility or liability for the bitumen once it is loaded on tankers.
Local energy expert Dan Woynillowicz who works for the Pembina Institute pointed out that the proposed pipeline is part of a growing concentration of the Canadian economy in the tar sands.
He raised concerns, as he put it, on “What that means for the sustainability of our economy over the longer term.”
Woynillowicz said that “that our current leadership in Canada may not recognize that the world is trending towards a lower carbon economy.”
He said the hazards of depending too much on the tar sands are already being felt. “We now have a currency whose value is correlated directly with the price of oil.” That means the value of our dollar goes through huge swings with the oil price. Woynillowicz explained how that makes investment difficult in manufacturing and other longer term and more stable industries in the country. “We are seeing a hollowing out of our manufacturing sector. Those jobs are not being replaced by jobs in the tar sands.”
Wayne McCrory focussed on how a tanker oil spill would seriously impact the rare, gene pool of the Kermode bear on small Gribbell Island, which is along the proposed tanker route from Kitimat. Recent genetic studies has shown that this island has over 45% white Kermode bears and is likely where the recessive gene for the white phase bear originated. He outlined how the incidence of white Kermodes varies from island to island and the mainland in the area, representing a version of Canada’s own Galapagos and evolution in the making. An oil spill along the Inside tanker route would devastate these small island bear populations, especially on Gribbell where clearcut logging and overfishing have resulted in diminished salmon runs. An oil spill would further decrease salmon for the bears as well as mussels and barnacles which the bears feed on in the intertidal zone, especially in years when the few small salmon runs on Gribbell are down. This will cause population declines and disruption of this fragile but globally significant gene pool.
Wayne McCrory also summed up a broader concern about exporting tar sands bitumen.
“We shouldn’t just think of the tar sands and the mountains the pipeline would go through, or the tanker traffic. We should think of the atmosphere, because it’s the atmosphere today that’s going to have the most devastating impacts with climate change in our lives,” said McCrory.