Speaking from the heart: an Enbridge Joint Review Panel Oral Statement

by Sarah Stoner

I arrived at the Delta Hotel about half an hour early. There had been so much hype about protests and security I didn’t really know what to expect. I made my way to the third floor and in my angst, realized that I was the first to arrive. I signed in and decided to go check out the rally outside. There were about a hundred people gathered in solidarity to express their opposition to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project and the way in which the public had somehow been excluded from the “public hearings”.

As it approached one o’clock, the crowd dispersed quickly in order to make it to the offsite location to view the live broadcast of the “public hearings” taking place inside the Delta. I made my way back upstairs.

Those of us that were registered to speak that afternoon gathered in a room down the hall from the actual hearing room. There was a projection screen with the actual hearings being video-cast in this room, so at least we could see what type of an environment we were to be speaking in. We were allowed to have one guest with us, which was definitely a relief in this intimidating environment. The Joint Review Panel officials brought speakers in three at a time, while the rest of waited patiently for our turns. Once you were done presenting your oral statement, you weren’t allowed to return back to the viewing room. If you wanted to watch the presenters that came after you, you were asked to go to the offsite viewing location. Luckily, I presented second to last so was able to watch all of my fellow presenters from the comfort of the waiting room screen down the hall.

I was definitely very nervous when it was my turn to talk.  My heart was pounding so hard it made my voice quiver.  Despite the nerves and the overly intimidating environment, the experience was empowering and I felt great afterwards.

Below is the speech I presented to the JRP. As a staff member of Pacific Wild and a passionate advocate for keeping our coast oil-free, I would be happy to answer any questions or provide advice to those of you that will be giving their oral statements in the coming weeks. Please feel free to get in touch: sarah@pacificwild.org.

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Dear members of the Joint Review Panel,

It’s a pleasure to meet you again. We crossed paths at the Oral Hearings in Hartley Bay nearly a year ago now, but let me re-introduce myself.

My name is Sarah Stoner and I am a resident of Denny Island on the Central Coast of B.C.

I have lived in British Columbia my whole life. I grew up travelling like a yo-yo between Vancouver and Whistler, Mum’s and Dad’s houses respectively. I learned to love the mountains and the ocean at a young age and spent lots of time outdoors exploring what has come to be known as Beautiful British Columbia.

I completed my BA in Geography and Environmental Studies at UVic and went on to pursue a master’s degree in Disaster Planning. My research focused on evaluating the social vulnerability of people living in urban, rural and remote communities on southern Vancouver Island to natural hazards.

Over the last five years, I have stepped outside of my ‘southern B.C. comfort zone’ and started to explore the Northern regions of our beautiful province. I have lived and travelled from Prince George to Haida Gwaii, and from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. Last spring, my partner, Michael Reid and I, moved aboard our sailboat, Skomalt. Our destination was the North Coast and we were fortunate enough to spend the summer months exploring, working and living between Bella Bella and Hartley Bay.

You have now visited both of these communities and know that they are each unique blends of human and natural ecosystems, modernity and tradition. But where you haven’t been are the places in between. And these places, I assure you, are some of the most sacred in the world.

British Columbia is a province that prides itself on its’ natural heritage and has invested a huge amount of resources into diversifying its’ extraction based economy through developing the tourism and eco-tourism sectors. We have done this successfully, welcoming an average of 5.6 million visitors per year, generating around 12 billion dollars and over 120,000 direct jobs to help foster a sustainable economy. People are drawn to B.C. from all over the world to experience what is a true wilderness.

B.C. is home to the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. You might have heard of it, it’s come to be known as the Great Bear Rainforest. But, as Helen Clifton, matriarch of the Gitga’at Nation once said: “what will be great about it when there are tankers here?”

And this is a question we must ask ourselves. Turning one of the world’s most pristine and wild ecosystems into a supertanker freeway would be detrimental to the social, environmental and economic systems that maintain our ways of life.

The recommendation you make on the proposed ENGP matters deeply to me and the direct and indirect impacts that this proposed project may have would be devastating. Devastating to me as an individual, to my family, to our community, and to all of our neighbours up and down the coast.

Personally, the impacts of supertankers running through Douglas Channel and out to the open ocean would first off deter me from visiting areas along, and within view of, the tanker route. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one avoiding the route. I’ve spoken to tourism operators in the Great Bear Rainforest and that’s exactly what they’ve said: If Enbridge comes here, we’ll just have to go someplace else where our guests won’t see the tankers.

Playing with Porpoises.Photo by Michael Reid.

Playing with Porpoises.
Photo by Michael Reid.

When living, travelling and working aboard Skomalt, there are many things that I have come to love doing that would be directly impacted by the introduction of oil supertankers to the Great Bear Rainforest. It is rare to go a day travelling the waters of the Central and North Coast of B.C. without seeing some species of cetacean, whether it be porpoises, white sided dolphins, the endangered orca or the threatened humpback.

The deep fjords and narrow channels of the Great Bear Rainforest are some of the quietest oceans in the world, creating acoustic sanctuaries where these cetaceans can echolocate, feed, socialize and practice their mating songs.

When we sight cetaceans from our sailboat, one of the first things we do is drop our hydrophone (a portable, underwater microphone) so we can listen to the whales or dolphins communicate. There is nothing more phenomenal than hearing a school of dolphins giggle away underwater as you watch them splish, splash, jump and twirl on the waters’ surface. The main thing that interferes with us listening to cetaceans via hydrophones, and thus interferes with cetaceans being able to communicate, echolocate and feed is the sound of ships. You can hear a ship underwater long before you can see it approaching. The sound emanating from a ship’s engine uses the same frequencies that cetaceans use, thus blocking any clicks, pings and songs coming from the many species of cetaceans that use acoustics for survival on a daily basis.

Another past time we have come to love while living aboard Skomalt is to hike

Photo by Sarah Stoner

Photo by Sarah Stoner

up and explore the many estuaries that intersect the coast to view wolves, grizzly bears, black bears and the illusive spirit bear. All of these animals rely on salmon as their primary source of food and in the late summer and early fall, you can easily find bears and wolves fishing in the rivers of the Great Bear.

This is how I came to meet my first Spirit Bear. It was mid-August and the salmon were congregating at the mouth of the river, waiting for a big rain to bring the water levels up so they could begin their migration upstream. We crept up the side of the creek bed and after walking for only a few minutes, I spotted his glistening white fur through the salmon berry bushes that separated us from the creek. I watched in awe as the giant creature loafed around, unsuccessfully looking for a tasty salmon breakfast. We observed this bear in peace for some time. He was aware of our presence, but was not concerned by us in any way. My first experience with a spirit bear was absolutely magical. This creature is a true gem, unique to this part of the world and just like the Dogwood is B.C’s official plant, the Spirit Bear is our official mammal. What will happen when a pipeline leak or oil-tanker spill decimate salmon habitat on the coast or in our inland rivers?

Exploring and learning about the natural wonders of the Great Bear Rainforest is indeed one of my favourite past times and I feel so blessed and honoured to be able to have spent time in this part of the world and to call this place home. But what is truly unique and inspiring is being able to spend time listening to and learning from the First Nations’ people that have called this coast home since time immemorial.

We have spent time in Gitga’at, Kitasoo and Heiltsuk territories learning from elders, leaders and community members what it means to really live on this coast. Being most familiar with the Gitga’at nation, I can say with confidence that their culture is rooted in the natural world, that the natural world is what provides sustenance and health to the Gitga’at people and that their traditions are dependent on what the natural world is able to provide. The inter-connections and inter-dependence of the Gitga’at Nation with their surrounding ecosystem is so deep that an oil-tanker spill of any substantial size along the proposed tanker route would cause a cultural genocide of the Gitga’at people. And we all know that it’s not a matter of if an oil spill were to happen, but when.

That leaves me with a question: how many years will the Gitga’at nation continue to thrive in the territory that they have occupied for thousands of years before they are forced to leave, to abandon their culture and ways of life.

And it’s not just an oil spill that will erode the culture of the Gitga’at nation and other First Nations along the Central and North coast, but the very proposal and this associated review process have already begun to have detrimental effects on coastal peoples. The very introduction of the proposal and the extensive and expensive JRP process has manifested into a source of stress for Gitga’at people and their families and has instilled a sense of “uncertainty about the future” (Gill & Ritchie, 2011).

And then there’s the expansion. Currently, ENGP is being assessed at 525,000 bpd, but what about Enbridge’s four-phase expansion plan that would increase throughput of 850,000 bpd? As currently proposed, the pipe would be built to accommodate this increased capacity. Will the risks ever be considered and adequately assessed, especially on the marine side?

And it’s not just ENGP that we are concerned about, here. In addition, five proponents have already, or are in the process of, filing applications to develop LNG export terminals out of either Kitimat or Prince Rupert on the North Coast. I have a deep concern that the cumulative social, environmental, economic, health and cultural impacts of these 6 major industrial development projects are not being adequately considered, as part of this environmental assessment process.

The proposed ENGP project, which seeks to export raw bitumen through one of the most unique, pristine and sacred parts of the world at the expense of entire societies and ecosystems, is absolutely not in the national interest. As a citizen of Canada, and a resident of the Great Bear Rainforest, I urge you to give the proposed ENGP project a negative recommendation, for the future of our nation, our economy and our planet.

I fell in love with the Great Bear Rainforest. We fell in love in the Great Bear Rainforest. We recently got engaged in the Great Bear Rainforest and we would do anything to ensure that we will one day be able to share this sacred place with our children and our grandchildren.

Thank you.

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