Intimate look at proposed pipeline route
Vancouver filmmaker walking, biking from Bruderheim to Kitimat
By Conal Pierse , Edmonton Journal, August 2, 2010
EDMONTON- - -Vancouver filmmaker Frank Wolf biked out of Fort McMurray 22 days ago to trace the proposed path of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline project.
Ten flat tires and a few golf ball-sized blisters later, Wolf has finished traversing Alberta's heartland and now is venturing into British Columbia's grizzly country.
"We're definitely getting out of the land of man and into the land of animals," he said.
Wolf is completing the journey as part of a documentary film project, interviewing locals along the way to gain a ground-level perspective on the pipeline's potential impact.
Along with friend Todd McGowan, he's covered close to 1,100 kilometres. He biked through the barren moonscapes north of McMurray, down through Fort Saskatchewan, and is now resting briefly in Tumbler Ridge, B.C., after walking nearly 180 km from Grande Prairie.
The proposed pipeline will stretch 1,172 km from Bruderheim, just north of Edmonton, to the B.C. coast at Kitimat. The $5.5-billion project will pump an estimated 525,000 barrels of petroleum per day. Prehearings by a joint review panel evaluating the project begin Aug. 10 in Whitecourt.
First Nations groups and environmental activists are vociferously opposed to the project, while oil company executives tout potential economic gains. Wolf said his project aims to get beyond canned media messages and learn what ordinary Canadians think of the pipeline.
He's chatted with farmers, fishermen, cab drivers, welders and a host of others living in the shadows of oil derricks, chronicling what he says is the industry's stranglehold on Alberta.
The petroleum industry "has absolute control of the province," he said. "If they discover oil on your land, they can basically take it."
He said he stayed at one family farm that had a giant rig on their land. The mother, who had lived there 40 years, couldn't stand the squeaking noise the machinery made and moved into a makeshift campsite down the road to escape the noise.
In areas where pipes have already existed for years, he said locals aren't bothered by the prospect of new lines. Those who make their livelihoods off of the oil and gas industry also strongly support continued growth because it means greater wealth and a better future for their families and communities.
Enbridge says the project will generate around 1,150 long-term jobs and bring in $4.3 billion in labour-related income during construction. However, Wolf said people living along the pipelines often receive little in the way of compensation. And while the construction project provides jobs, work dries up after the pipe has been laid and only the end points continue to experience economic benefits.
There's also growing concern over environmental hazards after an Enbridge pipeline leaked over three million litres of oil into Michigan waterways.
"I went fishing yesterday with a local man in Stony Lake," Wolf said. "Him and his family were saying, 'Imagine if that happened here.' It would go into that lake and into the rivers it connects to and it would destroy the reason they live up there. You can see the way it can affect all of the wilderness."
Wolf still has 700 kilometres of walking before he reaches the pacific coast at Kitimat, and is interested to see how British Columbian perspectives differ from Albertans.
"We're getting into an area where there are no pipelines and people are living here to be outdoors and are much more hair-trigger about it."
This is Wolf's third feature film and 15th major expedition. He plans to finish the project by the end of 2010 or early 2011.
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