A Grassroots' Perspective On The Pipeline

By Michelle Cyr-Whiting

Friday, August 13, 2010 04:00 AM, opinion250.com

Prince George, B.C.- As pre-hearings begin into Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, a B.C. filmmaker is doing his own labour-intensive survey of grassroots' sentiment on the proposal.
A joint review panel, involving the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, held its first public hearing on the proposed $5.5-billion dollar pipeline in Whitecourt, Alberta on Tuesday. A hearing is set for Kitimat on August 31st, and in Prince George on September 8th.
North Vancouver filmmaker, Frank Wolf, began his journey back on July 10th. His goal: to travel the entire route of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline by self-propulsion. Wolf and his friend, Todd McGowan (a teacher), have been walking, hiking, biking -- and will soon add rafting and kayaking to their list -- as close as possible to the GPS track of the line.
The pair actually began their journey biking through the barren tar sands in Fort McMurray and will end 1800-kilometres away in the tiny First Nation community of Hartley Bay in the mouth of the Douglas Channel. Wolf says the start point obviously signals where all oil production emanates from in Alberta, and Hartley Bay signals where the loaded oil tankers could one day move out to sea.
Wolf has entitled his film, "On The Line", and, for him, it combines his passion for adventure with his desire to get to the heart of a very contentious issue. "Often in these environmental issues, you have one side screaming at the other," he says.
"You get the spin from Enbridge and you get the spin from the big environmental organizations and when they're on the air, you know exactly what they're going to say," Wolf continues. "But if you have people living there and directly affected by it, they give you a more honest opinion. And that's how I think you're getting more of a real view of what's really at stake here and that's what the film's going to try and bring forth."
Wolf and McGowan have veered away from the direct route to talk to a whole host of individuals -- all with a stake 'on the line':
• a young worker in the oil patch torn between his high paying career and his fear of seeing a repeat of what's happened in the Gulf of Mexico, happen in the wilderness of B.C.
• a farming family in Fort Saskatchewan with opinions divided along generational lines: the father in favour of all industry growth, the daughter seeing how the ever-expanding oil industry is encroaching on Alberta's pastoral lands
• a long-time cab driver in Grande Prairie who says he's never seen any long-term benefits to communities along pipeline routes...he says there's an initial boom that fades out
And, after hiking a treacherous, but spectacular stretch from Tumbler Ridge through the Rockies, the pair made a Prince George connection. Todd McGowan says, "As soon as we came out of the Rocky Pass -- it was a really tough hike getting through there -- a father and son from PG were on their way fishing and they pulled over at about 11:30 in the morning and handed us a couple of beers out the window."
Wolf says an interesting chat ensued, revealing the man has spent his whole career involved in the industry: first, as a mechanical engineer; now, he works for the National Research Council, looking into industry projects in northern B.C.. Wolf says the man told them that a few years ago, he would have said, "Hammer the pipeline through and put oil rigs in the Hecate Strait", but since the BP spill in the Gulf and Enbridge's spill in Michigan, he's completely opposed to any pipeline going through B.C.'s most pristine areas.
McGowan says he came to a similar conclusion while trekking through the seemingly untouched watershed up in the Rocky Mountain pass. He says if the pipeline burst in that area, it would be close to impossible to get in to repair it, especially in any kind of timely fashion. Wolf points out that watershed feeds numerous rivers running down both the east and west sides of the Rockies.
The two men arrived in Prince George on Wednesday and met with members of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and a community group speaking out against the pipeline. Wolf says the message from all First Nations he's spoken with is simple: they are staunchly opposed to the pipeline because it poses too great a risk to their traditional fishing and hunting lands. Wolf says the Carrier Sekani have been saying no to Enbridge since an earlier proposal in 2006 and, he says, the band made it clear to him that if the government approves the project, that will just be the beginning of the battle, as they will seek out legal, political and international support to stop it.
It's opinions such as these, that Wolf says are, "the truest barometer of what's going on with this issue." The filmmaker and his friend packed up their gear yesterday and headed out on the next leg of their journey, biking to Houston. (Their mountain bikes, they point out, generously loaned to them from local shop, Koops Bikes) From there, they'll hike over the Coast Mountains to the Kitimat River, paddle down on river rafts to Kitimat, and kayak on to Hartley Bay. They expect to wrap up their epic adventure by early September. (For updates on their trek, go to http://pipeline-walk.blogspot.com/
Wolf hopes to have his film complete by late December or early January and says his first priority is to have it shown in communities along the route "where it matters most", before trying to get it into the film festival circuit.
Photo below shows Wolf crossing the Murray River near Tumbler Ridge, B.C.. All photos used with permission.

All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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