Posts Tagged Northern Gateway

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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Lost World, Below the Great Bear

Just before the holidays, as the northern Enbridge hearings were coming to a close for the year, I managed to untie our frozen dock lines to head out for a few days assisting with some routine hydrophone maintenance while searching out some new future locations for hydrophone stations.

Joined by my Bella Bella neighbour Jordan Wilson and Tavish Campbell from Diamond Bay, we were excited by the clear winter waters flowing under the twin bows of our sailing vessel Habitat as we charted a course south down Lama Pass.

Our first dive was off of King Island to investigate a strange clanking sound that this hydrophone station had been picking up periodically over the last few months.  This was the same station that first recorded extensive humpback whale song this past summer and the massive 7.7 magnitude quake off of Haida Gwaii.

Tavish dropped down to 80 feet but could find nothing out of the ordinary with the installation. This furthered his theory that the metallic noise was coming from a steel chain that anchored a navigation buoy off of Pointer light – a full three miles away.  A poignant reminder of the sensitivity of these hydrophones, but also of the unintentional noise pollution we are already committing to these quiet waters.

We continued south exploring steep walls, old cannery sites and lone pinnacles rising from deep black water.  At Koeye, Hakai and Kildidt the strong currents pushed and pulled us over kilometers of underwater wilderness.  Each dive was as unique as a river valley; the subtleties of current, tide, depth and other dynamics reminded us why this coast is considered by many as one of the top dive locations in the world.

It is challenging enough to describe the familiar terrestrial environment of the Great Bear, but attempting to put words to the very cold underwater world here leaves the English language unyieldingly primitive. There is simply no way to describe the diversity of life, the kaleidoscope of colours and the jaw-dropping exquisiteness that each dive presented to us.

On the outer coast dives, with the storm surge and strong currents it was a challenge to not get thrown into urchin and barnacle encrusted walls, but throw in a large underwater camera housing and strobes and it gets really interesting. Nevertheless, I managed a few new images and as we enter the year of an expected decision on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project, I hope some of them will serve as a reminder of why this coast must remain free of tankers.

Ian McAllister

P.S. Thanks to S/V Til Sup and Hakai Institute for the loan of tanks and an air compressor.

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