Wet’suwet’en lay out opposition of Northern Gateway

By Cameron Orr - Smithers Interior News

The Wet’suwet’en are outright opposed for the proposed development of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines.

That was the message from David deWit, the Wet’suwet’en’s Natural Resources Manager, who was on the panel of speakers at last Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole meeting, where representatives from Northern Gateway, Pembina Institute and and the National Energy Board were on hand to discuss the proposed pipeline project.

“The Wet’suwet’en do not support the Enbridge project,” said deWit, “This project does not make sense for our communities.”

He had a series of concerns and noted that they have spoken with neighbouring nations and people of First Nations around the tar sands.

What they’ve heard on the tar sands is that people in the area are experiencing elevated levels of rare cancer and fish are being contaminated.

The concern on the pipeline also extends into the marine aspect where tankers will be shipping the oil out on the ocean.

The Wet’suwet’en also believe that the construction of the pipeline itself will cause harm to salmon bearing rivers and that no clear risk threshold has been established.

“How can we plan long term if we don’t have a concept of a threshold?” asked deWit. “When are we going to be crossing that line that we’re going to jeopardize the salmon from coming back?”

Following deWit was Greg Brown with the Pembina Institute who put to question pipeline security in Canada as a whole, not just Enbridge’s own, and cast doubt over a spill-free lifespan of a pipe.

On average, said Brown, pipelines fail after 28 years of operation.

Between 1971 and 2004, he said there were 17 breaks in a PNG pipeline, mostly occurring between Telkwa and Prince Rupert.

Benefits from the Northern Gateway pipeline would be minimal, said Brown, who said that out of permanent operational jobs, 54 would go to Kitimat and 17 would go to the interior.

“I think we should support economic development that don’t threaten existing economic activities,” he said.

The President of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, John Carruthers, said the pipeline needs to be built safely.  “That’s clear in everyone’s mind,” he said, noting that it can be built safely.

He boasts Enbridge’s extensive network of liquid pipeline systems and the company’s 60 years of experience.  Part of the way the company has worked to reduce risk is to avoid unstable areas by tunneling through mountains, totaling 13 kilometres of the pipeline route.  While noting the amount is still unacceptable, he said of the 800 million barrels of oil the company moved in 2008, 2,700 spilled, a fraction of a per cent.

“We do need to have a common understanding of the basis of the information and then reach common agreement,” he said.

He also hopes to have dialogue with affected First Nations to reach a common agreement and have talked about opportunities for First Nations such as equity in the company and employment.

“There is huge, significant job opportunity from this project,” said Carruthers.

deWit pointed out later that involvement in the company is not what the nation is after.

“The Wet’suwet’en aren’t taking an opposition position to hold out and increase leverage in negotiating better benefits,” he said later in the meeting.

There were a plethora of questions lobbied to the visiting representatives, mostly to Carruthers with Northern Gateway.

When asked about what acceptable risk is, Carruthers said it’s not so easily defined.  “I think what is acceptable would be different from every person in this room,” he said.

He was also asked what strong opposition means to the company, after Enbridge’s CEO was quoted at the last company general meeting saying the project wouldn’t go ahead if there was strong opposition.

“We expect a project this size will have a lot of views about it ... certainly you don’t want to go in the face of significant opposition,” he said.

That being said, it isn’t all opposition against the project and there is support throughout the communities they visit.

The public also had some questions, including one woman who asked to what extent the NEB looks at the route, saying that there is a much “saner” route that Enbridge has never put on the table.

Margaret McQuiston, with the NEB, said that the company is required to submit their alternate routes when they file and also an explanation why they settled on a particular route.

Carruthers also noted that they would like to hear all concerns about a route and said that routes do get changed for specific concerns.

And then there was the final question of the evening: “What part of ‘no’ do you not understand?” someone asked, to roars of laughter.

Carruthers said that they’re working to make sure it’s an informed debate and that not every community is in strong opposition.

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