CTV Investigates-Part 3 of 3 of the series "Pipe Dreams"

Reporting from CTV BC News at Six by Jim Beatty
Thursday, September 16, 2010

Watch Part Three: Pipe dreams: Jobs Vs. Environment in Kitimat
Jim Beatty reports on the second of a three part series on the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

CTV News Extended: Kitimat residents
CTV News Extended: Hartley Bay speaks on pipeline
CTV News Extended: B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett
CTV News Extended: Pipe Dreams series

 Kitimat, B.C., is a town divided. Many want the jobs and prosperity that the pipeline promises, while others are concerned about the ocean and the land.

The proposal to pump Alberta oil to B.C.'s pristine northern coast is highly contentious. At the centre of the Northern Gateway pipeline debate is the town of Kitimat, a town that is divided between protecting the land, and securing its future.

The small, industrial town of Kitimat is a community that has been hit hard in recent years. When the Eurocan pulp mill closed last year, nearly 600 people lost their jobs. Since then there have been even more layoffs at the aluminum smelter.

Ron Burnett, longtime community advocate, will do anything to help Kitimat. He admits that times have been very difficult.

"We are suffering big-time," he said. "We used to have a vibrant community of 15,000 -- now we are down to about 8,000, so we're having trouble supporting the basic services."

But there is relief on the horizon. Enbridge's Northern Gateway pipeline project would pump money and jobs into the depressed region where the unemployment rate, at 12 per cent, is much higher than the provincial average.

John Carruthers, president of the project, says it will bring the kind of economic boost that Kitimat needs.

"Generally half the benefits come to British Columbia, so they'll see 30,000 jobs during construction and 560 permanent jobs once in operation," he said.

Kitimat would get 165 of those much-needed jobs. While they do need them, many residents, such as Shirley Hill, are wondering whether they come at the price of the environment.

"I think the risks are high or it's inevitable that there will be some sort of a nasty oil spill, maybe it takes 20 years. But the town does need new jobs," she said.

Longtime resident Bob McLeod is optimistic that the project doesn't have to harm the northern coast.

"I'm leery of it from the enviro side, but I think if it can be done so that you have controls on the environment -- you have controls on shipping -- it's something that would benefit the country," he said.

The issue is so controversial that Kitimat's mayor, who publicly supports the pipeline, wouldn't talk to CTV BC about it. Federal cabinet ministers are avoiding questions as well but B.C.'s energy minister, Bill Bennett, isn't shy about his support.

"It's a technical challenge but you don't totally turn away from something that is an economic opportunity for the people who live in the province and the people of Canada. Secondly, it's something that is probably going to happen because the world needs the energy," he said.

British Columbia could also use the tax money. This province was built on forestry but now its economic engine is based in the oil and gas fields. These revenues fund B.C.'s health and education systems.

Burnett admits there is definite support for the project.

"There's a lot of people that want to see the project go ahead," he said.

Supporters argue that oil can be pumped and shipped with the right environmental safeguards such as buried pipelines and double-hulled super tankers. However, a risk to the beautiful northern coast and its wildlife can never be eliminated.

Despite these risks and concerns, there is no doubt that the offer comes at a time when B.C.'s small towns are in desperate need of a new future.

Watch CTV News at Six on Thursday for the final installment of CTV Investigates: Pipe Dreams

All Photography © Ian McAllister unless otherwise noted.
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