Posts Tagged Nature

Pipeline to Paradise? Not Even Close.

If Canada has not yet been formally inducted into the elite roster of global petro-states, where a country’s democratic rights and economy are run by oil interests, then Thursday’s National Energy Board decision assures it honorary membership

The federal cabinet now has 180 days to make a final decision on bringing tar sands oil to the Great Bear Rainforest. As one journalist recently summed up this phase of the process, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper now has 180 days to choose which rubber stamp to use.“

Like a group of hyenas shredding a carcass, Enbridge and the Federal government will be working tirelessly to twist the 209 conditions attached to the JRP report into a confusion of meaningless, discretionary and unenforceable measures until the phalanx of big oil lobbyists is placated.

If this sounds overly cynical, I urge you to scan the 400 plus page report: http://gatewaypanel.review-examen.gc.ca/clf-nsi/dcmnt/rcmndtnsrprt/rcmndtnsrprt-eng.html. In the meantime here are a few nuggets I have come across:

On page 18, the panel states that in the event “…of a large oil spill, we found that there would be significant adverse effects on lands, waters, or resources used by residents, communities, and Aboriginal groups. We found that the adverse effects would not be permanent and widespread.”

An oil spill clean up is considered ‘successful’ when 10-15% of the spilled oil is recovered. This means in a best-case spill scenario approximately 90% of Enbridge’s tar-like oil will be left for nature to clean up.

The proposed tanker route is arguably the most important critical habitat for humpback whales on the entire B.C. coast. On page 242 this is how the NEB proposes mitigation for whale disturbance: “Feeding humpback whales occur in other locations along the coast of BC and feeding habitat is available to individuals potentially displaced from the project area.”

Nice one, the whales can just move north where there are multiple LNG tanker projects proposed around the Prince Rupert area or perhaps they could move south to see how they fit into Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker expansion plans.

A humpback whale flukes in Whale Channel, along the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker route.

A humpback whale flukes in Whale Channel, along the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker route.

On page 17 of the report, the JRP denies a significant connection between the proposed project and any upstream or downstream impacts. This means that the effects associated with expansion of the tar sands or the refineries in Asia that would be a significant contributor to runaway climate change were not considered in their analysis:

“Many people said the project would lead to increased greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental and social effects from oil sands development. We did not consider that there was a sufficiently direct connection between the project and any particular existing or proposed oil sands development or other oil production activities to warrant consideration of the effects of these activities.”

Yet the JRP gave plenty of space to the economic benefits that expansion of the Alberta tar sands would generate. It is clear that the NEB is a facilitator of oil projects and not a regulator as it was once meant to be.
Is there good news? Yes, definitely. The painful and insulting charade of the JRP public process is finally over. We also no longer have to delude ourselves into hoping that the panel would reach a democratic decision, one that would respect aboriginal rights, public interest and the environment.

I imagine when people get a chance to digest the content of the JRP report, they will get angry, really angry. Over 10,000 people contributed letters of comment or oral statements to the JRP process, an overwhelming majority (over 96%) of whom spoke out against the proposed project. According to the JRP report, their voices were heard, but not significantly incorporated into the final analysis. On page 14 of the report, the JRP states:

“We considered all the information and views filed on the public record. Our process was designed to receive all perspectives. Our recommendations are based on technical and scientific analysis rather than the on number of participants sharing common views either for or against the project.”

Yet they go on to declare that this project is “…in the Canadian public interest.”

Page 21 is a dandy where the panel states: “We were not persuaded that construction and routine operations of the project would have a negative effect on the social fabric of communities in the project area. We also were not persuaded that the project would adversely affect the health and wellbeing of people and communities along the route or in coastal areas.”

This one will haunt them. The panel is basically dismissing an unprecedented number of submissions, including 1,179 oral statements, 175,669, pages of evidence and 884 hours of hearings. Perhaps they should have told Canadians a few years ago that public participation would ultimately be ignored.

It is clear that this facade of a process was scripted many years ago by oil interests, but if this is Enbridge’s best foot forward we should be heartened. The gaps in this report are big enough to drive an oil tanker through, and what is going to follow will make the 40 year (and counting) Mackenzie valley pipeline process seem streamlined. Environmental and constitutional legal battles, pending elections and an increasingly concerned and committed citizenry will ensure that this pipeline is never built.

As we lament for a Canada that we once knew, let’s take heart in knowing that all cards are now on the table. No more waiting for government or anyone else to protect our coast and chart a sustainable future for us. That responsibility is clearly on our shoulders and we will be doubling our efforts to realize this dream for our coast.

As Haisla spokesperson Gerald Amos stated in the media yesterday when asked if he would consider civil disobedience in the future. “I don’t consider it being disobedient when I am obeying my elders and traditional laws while protecting my home.”

I like that and as this last roller coaster of a year comes to a close, I also pledge to be a little bit more obedient in the times ahead.
Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Ian McAllister

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Brig.-Gen. M.G. Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image

Zalinski – Cleaning up Oil or Image

Last winter I found myself descending slowly down a black wall, my dive partner Tavish Campbell, somewhere off to my left is only recognized by the narrow beam of his dive light.    The depth gauge registered 100 feet so I figured I must have missed the shipwreck.  I kicked off into the water column and suddenly found myself face to face with a towering wall of steel; long lines of rivets disappeared into the dark.

I was staring at the shipwreck of the the 250 foot-long USAT Brigadier General M. G. Zalinski, a U.S. army transport ship that sank in the Grenville channel north of Hartley Bay in 1946.

Just on the other side of the steel hull it is reported that 12- 500 pound aerial bombs and countless smaller munitions lay undisturbed.    Surprisingly, late on that wet and windy night so many years ago the ship rolled down the steep wall and landed on a very narrow ledge.  By all accounts it should have kept rolling to the bottom, another 250 feet.

Fast forward to today, and the Zalinski is back in the news with the Canadian Coast Guard planning to remove the 600 or so tonnes of bunker oil (unclear if they plan on removing the bombs) that lay entombed inside.

The media is reporting that this will help bolster the government’s claim that the Canadian Coast Guard’s oil spill response capability is “world class” and can handily deal with ever-increasing LNG and bitumen tanker proposals facing the Great Bear Rainforest.

But I don’t follow.

First off, the Coast Guard had 70 years to figure out how to clean up the Zalinski wreck, yet suddenly they are spending a reported $50 million (and probably substantially more) during the winter storm season?   The cleanup of the Zalinski is conveniently timed to coincide with the December decision by the National Energy Board on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker proposal.

The other issue that raises eyebrows is Canada’s choice of hiring the Dutch company Mammoet to do the cleanup.  This seems to tell us more about Dutch capabilities than our own.

And what does the Zalinski have to do with modern Canadian oil spill clean up capabilities?   The ship is sitting in one hundred feet of water in the relatively calm and protected waters of Grenville Channel.  These are dream maritime conditions for an oil spill clean up by any standards on this coast.   If the ship had kept rolling on that late night so many years ago, more than likely the Coast Guard would have continued to ignore the problem similar to its ongoing response to the Queen of the North wreck.

The Grenville Channel does get strong current but it cannot be compared to the treacherous waters that the 1500 foot long, 2 million barrel capacity VLCC tankers that are proposed to ply our coast, just a few miles to the south, would have to face each day.

The best thing that this $50 million dollar cleanup will achieve is something that should have been done years ago and at the expense of the U.S. government (it was their ship that sank after all) yet somehow Canadians are supposed to feel comforted by our Coast Guard’s ability to conduct serious oil spill response and cleanup?  And that’s assuming they actually succeed in sucking the oil out of this wreck.

While the Canadian Coast Guard and their Dutch-for-hire spill recovery company fiddles around with the Zalinski, the real and more pressing issue of oil spill response capabilities continues to build with the onset of winter weather and the looming decision by the National Energy Board.

The waters just to the south of Grenville Channel have been listed by Environment Canada as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world with recorded waves close to 100 feet in height.  This is where a major shipping disaster would most likely take place.  It is here that Canada will have to prove its ability to respond to an Exxon Valdez size –or much greater- oil spill disaster.

Not in the quiet waters of Grenville channel – 70 years late.

Ian McAllister is the Executive Director of Pacific Wild, a BC-based wildlife conservation organization. 

ian@pacificwild.org

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From NYC to the GBR

by Elliot Bok

As the New York City skyline faded in the distance, I closed the airplane window cover over the reddening sunset in favor of a nap on my way to Vancouver. Upon landing, I rode on a couple of increasingly tiny planes, going farther and farther into the Great Bear Rainforest, a wilderness oasis that few people know exist. The plane pulled into the tiny Bella Bella airport, and Diana and Max, two people on the team I would be working with for my time in the Great Bear, greeted me.

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They got me settled in and quickly set me up looking over spectrograms for whale and dolphin sounds. Those hazy, blue graphs along with a range of other tasks became my life here. The work was satisfying, and I enjoyed the frequent spurts of wildlife action – from eagles to orca whales – that come with living here.

The local community was also a source of fascination for me. The small town experience was brand new, and it held much more appeal than I ever would have imagined. Despite the intrigue that I found during my first week of life in the Great Bear Rainforest, however, it was not until our trip to the outer coast that I began to understand the value of my adventure.

A boat ride of a few hours brought Ian McAllister and me to a small island on the edge of the Pacific with only one other sailboat resting in one of the beautiful lagoons. We dropped anchor and prepared for our mission the next day when the rest of the crew would join us to plant a hydrophone deep in the water and build infrastructure for wind mills, solar panels and a host of other equipment.

Later that day, I had the opportunity to take a canoe around the many beaches that glittered in the afternoon sunshine. The water was remarkably clear, and the pristine beauty of my surroundings truly struck me. I have always given the required “wow” at a beautiful sunset, but this island was the first time that I ever felt truly taken aback by scenery. I landed on the beach and walked through some woods to the other side. I reached a beach and, dipping my feet in the water, brushed a couple tiny pebbles off a big rock so that I might sit. It took a few minutes before I realized that these were not pebbles, but baby snails.

Suddenly, my surroundings seemed to come to life; fish swam through the water around my feet, and I finally noticed the crabs that I’m sure had always been running about the beach. Eventually, it became time for me to return to the boat, and, following my footprints back to the area in the woods I had come through, I realized that I had stepped over almost a dozen clear trails of wolf tracks. I returned to my canoe, and, after venturing among the tall reeds for another half hour, I made my way back to Ian. Those few hours gave me a new perspective to all of our work. My life trajectory may not have changed all that much because of this afternoon, but I am sure that on the plane ride home I will not close my window to the sunset.

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Setting Up the Herring Cam

By Claire Hume, Pacific Wild Intern

Photo by Max Bakken

Photo by Max Bakken

En route to set up the remote camera for the herring spawn, I quickly forgot about my cold fingers and toes when Max spotted a dolphin porpoising nearby. I struggled to count the fins as they briefly broke the surface. “Seven!” I shouted, there were at least seven. Starting my count again I adjusted that estimate to twenty-five. Then fifty. And, upon realizing the pod of dolphins had us surrounded, my excitement reached an all time manic high and I abandoned the count altogether. Max, who had remained calm and collected, later informed me there were at least a hundred and fifty white-sided dolphins in the group, probably more.

As the dolphins cut gracefully through our waves, there was one who was much smaller than all the rest, who flung himself clear out of the water in a spectacular jump. I could practically hear him saying “weeeeeeeee!” as he flew through the air. Eventually the dolphins headed on their way, off to search for herring I suppose, and we carried on ours – off to install a camera that would monitor the behaviour of animals feeding on the herring spawn.

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Photo by Max Bakken

After scouting for the perfect camera spot on various beaches and points, we found one that we thought might work. The criteria, though simple, were proving quite difficult to fulfill. The camera needed to be mounted in a stable location, such as up a tree, that gave an unobstructed view of the beach and intertidal zone while receiving transmission signal that would allow us to send the video back to Pacific Wild headquarters via our mountaintop relay site. Max clambered up countless trees, reporting spectacular views from each, but none of them were receiving strong enough signals from our radio tower to justify its use.

Eventually we found a spot that seemed to work and Max and Diana unloaded the boat – a feat in itself as we were anchored on a patch of steep and seaweed-covered rocks. The rest of the afternoon was spent installing the camera and wiring it to send its footage in the right direction. We’re hoping the camera will allow us to watch wolves, bears, whales, and birds as they feast on herring and their eggs. We are streaming this footage live into the local school to help give youth a view into their surrounding environment. If all goes well, everyone will be able to watch the herring spawn excitement from miles away! For now, it’s a waiting game to see if the herring will decide to spawn in this location – which was teeming with life last year – again this season.

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Hydrophone Scouting in the Great Bear

by Claire Hume, Pacific Wild intern

With herring season upon us, a small group of us here at Pacific Wild took advantage of a break in the weather and took a trip along the outside of the Great Bear.  Our mission was to identify new locations on the windswept and rugged outer coast for the next hydrophone and remote wildlife camera installations planned for Heiltsuk territory.

Little did I know that this one trip would introduce me to sea otters, humpback whales, signs of an outer coastal wolf pack, and the incredible sight of a group of transient whales surfing through breaking swells as they preyed on Stellar sea lions.

As we crossed miles of open ocean swells and entered a rocky outcropping of islets downwind, I was hit with the smell of 500 Stellar sea lions. They watched us curiously as we pulled the boat along shore. As we slowed to a stop, Ian and Tavish slipped into their diving gear, grabbed underwater cameras, and hopped into the water.  Finding a suitable underwater crack in the rock to lay the hydrophone cable is essential if we expect to keep the cable intact through the winter. The sea lions, comically sluggish and clumsy on land, clambered over their sleeping neighbours and grunted in each other’s faces. But the moment they hit the water, after dragging and wobbling their way to the rock’s edge, they moved easily with an incredible combination of power and grace. I wondered, as we bobbed around in the sunshine, what, exactly, our plan of action would be if the divers were met with a less than friendly response from the giant creatures swirling below. With no way of knowing how the underwater world was treating them, we just continued to bob and hope for the best.

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A short while later the divers resurfaced, all smiles. Swimming with the sea lions, they informed us, didn’t make them nervous at all. They compared it to visiting a gang of playful, albeit massive, dogs. It wasn’t until I saw their footage later that day that I really appreciated their analogy. The sea lions kept their distance as they calmly circled the divers, curious to see these strange new beings from all angles. Occasionally coming closer to blow bubbles at their masks or to look at their reflections in the camera, the sea lions came across as beautiful and inquisitive animals.

On our way back from diving, Max thought he spotted something up ahead. Eagerly scanning the horizon for a dorsal fin or spout, our concentration was interrupted by a killer whale breaching clear out of the water. A group of transient mammal-hunting whales was heading right for the sea lion rock.

We dropped the hydrophone overboard and listened as they called to one another and then fell silent, a sign that they were going into hunting mode. Turning the boat around, we raced back to the sea lion rock and waited, with a quiet engine and cameras ready, for the killer whales to come our way. Minutes later they arrived, six adults plus two calves, and began tearing back and forth through the surf as sea lions barked and bawled. The tension was incredible both on the island and on board as everyone scrambled to get ID photos and footage.

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Then, just as quickly as it had started, they were gone, moving south, most likely to the next sea lion haul out.

Back on solid ground we compared our whale pictures to DFO’s killer whale catalogue and identified the individuals we saw as members of the T55 Group. The largest male in the pod was born in 1972 and goes by the ID label of T54. Clearly the next location for a hydrophone station had been found – now it’s just a matter of waiting for the right weather window.

When the hydrophones and camera are installed this summer, Pacific Wild will transmit the audio and video streams live through their website, allowing people all over the world to monitor the behaviour of the animals in this incredible ecosystem and appreciate what a spectacular place this really is.

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Diving with Sea Lions in the Great Bear Rainforest

Ian McAllister being filmed photographing a playful group of sea lions along the proposed Enbridge and LNG tanker route in the Great Bear Rainforest. This group of sea lions lives less than one kilometer from an estimated 2000 tanker trips being proposed for the BC north coast. Footage supplied by Tavish Campbell 2013.

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