North Vancouver Men Stage 1300 km Protest
Hikers travel length of Enbridge pipeline to underscore risks
By Jennifer Luther, North Shore News August 20, 2010
TWO North Shore men are hiking along the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline to raise awareness about potential environmental disaster.
Frank Wolf, an adventurer and filmmaker, and Todd McGowan, a high school teacher and outdoor educator, are biking and hiking their way along the potential oil route between Fort McMurray and Kitimat, and will then follow proposed tanker routes by kayak.
The endeavour started when Wolf attended a talk given by Ian McAllister of Pacific Wild, an organization in northern B.C. that promotes wildlife conservation. After the presentation, Wolf explained his idea, and McAllister was intrigued. Pacific Wild ultimately agreed to back the trip. Armed with a sponsor, the pair set out on their adventure.
Wolf plans to make a film documenting the results, to be released at a fall film festival.
"I wanted to get a perspective that was more honest," said Wolf. "I mean, Enbridge has millions of dollars invested in saying whatever they can to get this thing put through, but you don't get the real story until you talk to people who work in the oil and gas industry, and people in the farmlands and people out here . . . who live in this beautiful zone."
McGowan and Wolf have been friends for years. Both white water paddlers, they are often to be found on the Capilano, Lynn, Seymour and other local rivers.
Wolf, who lives at the base of Mount Seymour and only a minute from the Old Buck Trail, is also a regular mountain biker. He said that the lifestyle on the North Shore prepared them for the rigours of the trip, or for "the rigours of pretty much any kind of long-term endurance trip."
Good company also makes things easier, he said: "I've gone on trips with various partners, but Todd just has a really good mental attitude; he's tough and he can handle the rigours of this, and he's just a good guy to have along on a trip."
The pair have traversed cities and forests, but they found the Rocky Mountains particularly impressive.
"It was like walking around in Jurassic Park or the Lost World. You really had to work your way up this steep creek, and there are no human trails at all. We actually had to find moose trails."
The moose tracks that McGowan and Wolf followed are used by other animals, including the bears who are their predators. Seeing this type of interaction between different species has shown Wolf the importance of preserving the ecosystem as it is; in his mind, the pipeline is a threat to a delicate balance.
"It definitely has a whole, very massive impact on the ecosystem chain, so everything from the fish all the way up to the grizzlies are connected," said Wolf. "They need these kind of big, wild spaces to be able to roam around in and exist, so it would have a huge impact going through that particular zone."
Seeing the irregular terrain, the North Vancouverite also has concerns about the threat landslides, rockslides and avalanches pose to the pipeline's stability -- especially since the line crosses major salmon rivers, including the Fraser.
"If you imagine crude bitumen flowing in the Fraser, it would potentially destroy what is one of the greatest salmon rivers in the world," said Pacific Wild's McAllister. "There's just no price tag that you could put on that."
McAllister predicts further, indirect devastation due to greenhouse gas emissions and tar sands' production.
Northern B.C. whales will be affected by the increased tanker traffic, he said.
"These are very acoustically sensitive mammals, meaning that they need quiet oceans in order to communicate, in order to forage, in order to travel -- basically to survive -- and when you introduce oil tankers . . . you are essentially acoustically polluting the marine environment. It's destroying critical habitat for whales."
And Bilge dumping threatens to introduce invasive species to B.C.'s marine habitat, he added.
McAllister views a disaster similar to the recent Michigan spill -- also an Enbridge pipeline -- as inevitable.
"It's a statistical fact that we would experience major oil spills both on land and in the marine environment over time," he said. "You can say that you have all of the greatest technology in the world to avert large spills, but as we know from all the recent shipping disasters that have happened in the last few years on the B.C. coast -- large freighters, tankers, tugboats, even the Queen of the North . . . it was all from human negligence. That's the issue that will never, ever be solved."
Enbridge spokesman Alan Roth has a very different view.
"People greatly tend to exaggerate the probabilities of there being an oil spill," said Roth.
Enbridge's goal is "to have zero leaks, obviously, but something like three ten thousandths of one per cent of that billion barrels is spilled and that . . . gets cleaned up. Enbridge, I think as you can see from the media, has done a very good job of the cleanup in Michigan."
Roth described B.C. as the gateway to Asia Pacific. He believes that it's important for Canada to have another market for its crude oil exports.
The pipeline will create 4,100 person-years of on-site employment in B.C. during construction, with a total of $2.5 billion in labour income, according to the company. It estimates $165 million in tax revenue will go to the provincial government during construction. Afterwards, 560 long-term direct, indirect and other jobs will be created in B.C., expected to generate $32 million per year in labour income.
Roth also pointed to various eco-friendly projects that Enbridge will run, including a program to buy up untouched wilderness (to equal the amount of land they purchase for the pipeline), plans to stay carbon-neutral with the use of wind farms and solar generators, a plan to replant the pipeline's wide right of way, and even a "tree for a tree" deal. Roth could not say where the trees would be placed.
In building and running the pipeline, Enbridge will be focused on prevention, he said. The pipeline will be patrolled on a "very periodic basis" (usually one or more times a week) on foot, on horseback, in low-flying planes, or even helicopters, by staff trained to recognize potential problems.
Nearby waters will be closely watched. Custom escort tugs will be built to guide tankers in and out of Douglas Channel, so that if tankers ever loses control, the small vessels will prevent a crash. The tankers themselves will be required to have a certified marine pilot on the bridge when they come in and out of the channel.
Norwegian marine risk-assessment group, DET Norske Veritas, has reviewed the project plants and delivered risk estimates. "Under the proposed marine safety program for the Northern Gateway Pipeline, the probability of a large spill . . . 26,000 barrels . . . is once in 2,800 years," said Roth.
He believes that criticism of the project stems from a lack of knowledge.
"Almost no one, I think, who's opposing the project has ever read any part of the application, so they are protesting based on a general notion that tankers are bad, and they will have problems and that kind of thing. The reality is different."
The two North Vancouver men hiking the GPS-mapped route say Roth's outlook is tainted.
"It's easy to sit in your office and look at GoogleEarth and say, 'Let's run it through there,' but if you're on the ground actually witnessing the environment and what is at stake, it's a far different perspective," said Wolf.
Though the two-year application policy has started for Enbridge, McGowan and Wolf think there's still time to make a change.
To follow the trip, visit pipeline-walk.blogspot.com or the pair's regularly updated Twitter account by searching user pipelinejourney.
© Copyright (c) North Shore News
Read more: http://www.nsnews.com/news/stage+protest/3422205/story.html#ixzz0y6VwfdVz