The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project, which would run from the Albertan tar sands to the coast of Kitimat, came under heavy scrutiny from the members of the North Central Local Government Association (NCLGA) in Smithers last week.
Karen Campbell from the Pembina Institute started the discussion, saying that accidents do happen, it’s only a matter of when. Taking examples from as recent history as the Apr. 20 BP oil spill off the coast of Louisiana to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Campbell pointed out that with the number of water system crossings the Northern Gateway project has, we cannot afford to take these things lightly.
“One thing we’re learning is environments never really recover from a spill like this,” Campbell said.
However, in a time where Northwest B.C. has been suffering from a low economy, how can we refuse the economic development opportunities that Enbridge has to offer, asks Tim McEwan with Initiatives Prince George.
“It will help diversify us … and it will stabilize our regional economy over time,” McEwan said.
Not only that, but there is a national interest in this as well, he added. It’s a way of developing a stronger relationship with China, and will complement our exports to the United States, he said. However, due diligence does need to be done when it comes to the project, something that the Joint Review Process will take care of.
“It shouldn’t be construed as a blank cheque,” McEwan said.
But ignorance can’t be used as a defence, Haisla First Nation’s and Friends of Wild Salmon representative Gerald Amos said.
“The time to speak up is now, not after an accident,” Amos said. “The people of Alaska probably wished they’d spoken up.”
And when it comes to whose interest it is, it’s the regional communities whose interest should be heard, loud and clear, he said, as that’s whose landscape is being so altered by this project.
“I understand that it’s a 50 to 75 year window,” Amos said of the Enbridge project. “We have to think, after that, what do we have left?”
Countering Campbell’s argument that an accident is guaranteed, Ray Doering, project engineer with Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline said that they’ve got that covered. With their 24/7 monitoring system, they know the moment there’s something strange in the system, he said.
“We always know the anomalies of the pipeline, before it develops into a failure,” Doering said.
The first response plan that they’ve compiled is 100 times that of the regulations by the Canada Shipping Act, he said. And they’ve worked hard with specialists in geology, fish and wildlife habitat and others to determine the best place, and method, of crossing the 773 waterway crossings that the double-pipeline project would cover.
Pending the approval of the Joint Review Process, the earliest that Enbridge is expecting construction to begin is 2013, he added.