Enbridge visits with skeptical North Coast audience

The Enbridge “what if” tour of northern B.C. continues, and on Wednesday afternoon (October 20), Enbridge made a stop in Prince Rupert at the monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon, held at the North Coast Convention Centre.

There continues to be a contingent of northern B.C. residents who are concerned with the proposed Enbridge Gateway project, which, if accepted, would see an oil pipeline constructed from just north of Edmonton to Kitimat, where the oil would be sent via tankers to international destinations through Douglas Channel.

The “what ifs” are regarding the possibility of potential accidents that could cause an oil spill, either on land to the pipeline itself, or on the water to the oil tankers.

With that in mind, Kevin Brown, manager of community relations, and Marine Advisor Chris Anderson were on-hand representing Enbridge, and they did their best to alleviate the number of “what ifs” on everyone’s mind.

“It’s all about what happens if, what happens if,” said Brown. “That’s why we have all the engineers, all of the experts on this, and their job is to come up with an answer.”

One of the concerns for northern B.C. is the mountainous terrain the proposed pipeline will pass through. Jennifer Rice, energy campaigner for the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, pointed out that Enbridge’s current pipelines are located in rather stable terrain.

“It’s hugely concerning, because most of their pipelines are built in the prairies,” she said. “It’s different to build in this type of terrain.

“They’re going to blast through two mountains? That’s a lot different than going through a farmer’s field. I’m kind of surprised at their confidence.”

But Brown said that tunnelling through two mountains is one way where they can avoid potential accidents to the pipeline, such as landslides. Plus, Enbridge had a look at potentially using Prince Rupert as its port of choice, but decided the coastal mountains between Rupert and Terrace were too unstable.

“That was a big factor in our choosing Kitimat,” he said. “So, there will be two six-kilometre tunnels through the Kitimat valley through the mountains, so then it doesn’t matter what happens on the surface.”

He added that new technology will be used to ensure the pipelines will have a little bit of movement and flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing environment around them.

Anderson, meanwhile, addressed the marine concerns, especially since many of the tankers will be passing through on the North Coast – potentially the Dixon Entrance – if the project is given approval.

He said Enbridge has employed many outside engineering companies to come up with methods to make marine travel safer, and the current safety methods used in Europe appear to be a good template.

“What they do in Europe, is they support the tankers with export tugs,” he said. “So the tanker can be taken down the path with these tugs.”

Enbridge, he said, is proposing to have two tugs alongside every single tanker that departs from Kitimat, and if any mechanical failure were to occur, the tanker can be taken down the path with these tugs.

“If waves are at a rate the tugs can’t handle, we won’t go out in the channel,” said Anderson. “Eight to 12 knots – that’s the tailored speed a tug can handle.”

Once the tankers are in open water, like Dixon Entrance, the tugs will no longer be employed.

Anderson said Enbridge is looking at adding a coastal response network on the North Coast. Currently, response teams are only located in Vancouver and Victoria, meaning a response time for any accident on the North Coast would be 72 hours.

“Obviously, that’s unacceptable,” he said. “We’ll reduce North Coast response time for all vessels.”

Meetings like Wednesday’s go a long way in helping the public understand, said Rice, but she’s concerned that if the project gains approval, the list of Enbridge’s promises suddenly may not seem relevant, especially when it comes to marine traffic.

“Once they’re approved, their responsibility ends at the terminal,” she said. “And there’s no legislation that guarantees that they’ll keep their promises.”

Perhaps that’s another reason why last month, at the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention, northern communities voted for two resolutions against the Enbridge project: increased oil tanker traffic on the North Coast, and the effect of pollution from the Alberta oil sands.

Brown said he is aware of both the resolutions. “Now, we’ve been told that only half the delegates were still in attendance when they voted on these resolutions,” he said. “Of those who voted, it was close. They had to stand and count those votes, but we still understand the process.”

In addition, Enbridge’s hope at perhaps gaining partnership with Hartley Bay and Kitkatla and setting up potential coastal response team in those regions has also fallen on deaf ears.

“The goal would be to have facilities in Hartley Bay and Kitkatla, but currently, they’re not willing to speak about that, so we may have to look elsewhere,” said Anderson.

Brown acknowledged that Enbridge still has a lot of work ahead to restore the faith of the public, especially after two recent accidents in the U.S., and more recently, fallout from the BHP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But he also sees a bit of a split in northern perception: not everyone, it seems, is against the project, as the usual tug-of-war between saving the environment and job creation for a struggling economy plays itself out.

“This means continuing to meet with all levels of government, the Chamber of Commerce, and to continue to do whatever we can to build confidence in the project,” said Brown.

~Written by Patrick Witwicki. The image above is from our archives; it was not taken during the recent visit to Rupert’s Chamber of Commerce.

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