A panel of ecology experts gathered at UVic on March 15 to discuss the consequences of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project. Chris Darimont, assistant geography professor at UVic and Hakai-Raincoast Conservation Scholar; Natalie Ban, assistant professor at UVic’s School of Environmental Studies and Phil Dearden, professor and chair of the geography department at UVic, attested as to why they think the project should not proceed. First Nations representative Jessie Housty illuminated another facet of the issue, speaking about the First Nations’ struggle to protect their home. The evening also featured the short documentary Groundswell to showcase the natural beauty that would be threatened by the pipeline.
The 1 177-kilometre twin pipeline would traverse two mountain ranges. Approximately 525 000 barrels of oil per day would be pumped from Edmonton, Alberta, to Kitimat, B.C. The oil would then be loaded onto huge tankers and transported to the open ocean through the Douglas Channel. The channel is approximately two kilometres wide and 100 metres deep.
Enbridge maintains that only double-hulled tankers that meet the highest safety standards would be allowed in the channel. Enbridge also pledges that tankers would be accompanied by tugboats and have a B.C. Coast Pilot onboard to help the crew navigate. Despite its safety plans, Enbridge’s current projects have a record of more than 65 spills annually. Those opposed to the pipeline say Enbridge cannot be trusted. Around 16 000 square kilometres of the Great Bear Rainforest and B.C. coastline would be at risk if the project goes ahead.
A surfer in the movie Groundswell says, “I don’t think their fight is a blind opposition to progress. Their fight is an opposition to blind progress.” His point is reinforced by an experienced sailor in the documentary, who stated it would be impossible for tankers to navigate the strong tides of the Douglas Channel without an incident.
First Nations culture is still thriving in the Great Bear Rainforest. When Housty asked her grandparents what she should talk about at the event, her grandmother said: “Tell them there’s no way to separate us from our territory. We don’t just live here; the water that’s in those rivers is no different from the blood in our veins.” Housty brought a moving testimony from the people of the region.The highlight of Housty’s speech was the positive outlook of a young boy she’d spoken to. When she asked Anthony, a third grader from the Great Bear region, what message he would tell people about the Enbridge project, he said: “Tell them when I heard about oil tankers, I was scared, but we have so many friends now that I know it’s going to be okay.”
While Housty’s message is hopeful, UVic geography chair Dearden’s is a warning, imploring us to look at the bigger picture. “Scientists predict that by the year 2015, the Arctic will be free of sea ice,” says Dearden. “NASA scientists were astonished this summer to see the entire surface of the Greenland ice cap melting within four days.” The melting of arctic ice will cause immense sea level rises. Additionally, the World Bank Group predicts an average temperature rise of four degrees Celsius in the next hundred years, which Dearden says will be catastrophic.
In closing, Darimont concluded that “perhaps we should be using the last drops of fossil fuels in a wiser way to power ourselves to cleaner energetic futures.”