Oral presentation to NEB Joint Review Panel
April 24, 2012
Welcome Sheila, Hans, and Ken. Thank you for coming here to hear us. We appreciate the opportunity to take part in the review process.
I understand that you’d rather not hear things that you’ve already heard from other presenters, so I will try to tell you some things you haven’t heard yet.
My name is Paul Glover. I am 57 years old. I’ve lived in the Bulkley Valley for 37 years, and have raised my three daughters here. I plan to spend the rest of my life here. I chose this area for its wild landscapes, its intact ecosystems, and clean water. I have spent a lot of time in the mountains, forests, and along the streams and rivers throughout this region. I greatly value that I can safely drink from any mountain stream…and I do.
I know you’ve heard a lot about the instability of the land along the proposed pipeline’s route. You’ve surely heard of the dozens of incidents where landslides in this region have cut powerlines, closed roads, blocked rivers, taken out railways (even pushing a freight train into the Skeena in 1978),…and severed pipelines.
You know that we already have some pipelines in this area, that carry natural gas to the communities and industries across the region. And you’re no doubt aware that, since the time they were built in the late 1960s, these pipelines have fairly routinely been ruptured by landslides. These include incidents where gas was cut off to communities for days at a time.
You have probably heard that in late November, 2003, the natural gas pipeline to Prince Rupert was washed out by a mudslide. But I doubt that you’re familiar with the comments that Attorney General Rich Coleman delivered in the BC provincial legislature three days after the slide.
This is what he said:
“The landslide actually took place on Friday. It was about a thousand feet across — about 350 metres. It took out a natural gas pipeline. This is an event that takes place in this particular area of British Columbia about once every two to three years. There's a lot of unstable ground there, and it does cause some difficulties. The gas line was taken out.
“Over the weekend we were unable to actually get in there to repair the line, because the unstable ground was still there, and the weather was too severe for people to get in there. They are working on it now. They expect to try and get in there and finish this to get the gas line operating in the next three to five days.”
(From Hansard, Debates of the Legislative Assembly, MONDAY, DECEMBER 1, 2003, Afternoon Sitting, Volume 19, Number 5)
It turned out that Prince Rupert was actually without natural gas for 10 days. That’s how difficult it can be to get in and fix a pipeline.
When the gas pipeline was being planned, if someone had said (as someone surely must have), “I am concerned that your gas pipeline will be hit by a landslide and break,” do you think that Pacific Northern Gas would have replied, “Well, yes, that might happen—there ARE a lot of landslides around there.”?
NO, of course they would not say that. Any company in that position will assert that the very latest and best technology is being used; that thorough risk assessments have been done; that the route has been carefully chosen; that they can deal with any problems; that they care about the environment more than anything else…and so on.
They might even say, “We have lots of pipelines in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and they are NEVER hit by landslides!”
A company does what it needs to to meet its objectives—which are, primarily, to make profits. I have no doubt that this is Enbridge’s primary objective, too. And I believe that Enbridge is overlooking the obvious risks of operating in this terrain, blinded as it is by the pot of gold it sees waiting at the end of the rainbow, in Kitimat.
For this reason, I am not comforted by Enbridge’s reassurances of how its modern technology will make its pipeline safe through some of the most unstable terrain on earth.
You panel members might know Don Thompson, past president of the Oil Sands Producers Group. You probably don’t know, though, that he was scheduled to speak to the Smithers Chamber of Commerce on Oct. 21 last fall about the benefits of tar-sands oil production. We could expect that he would also have put in a few good words for the Northern Gateway pipeline. But we actually don’t know what he would have said because he didn’t get to make his presentation. He had to drive from Terrace to Smithers that morning, and the highway was blocked by a landslide.
This landslide was cleaned up within a couple days, but it came down the same path as a much larger one had in 2007, blocking the highway for days and burying two people in their vehicle, killing them. If you have driven that stretch of road as you carry out your work during this review process, you will have passed the large pile of stones at the side of the road that is their memorial cairn.
There is no warning that one of these slides is about to occur, except that precipitation is often a factor—something we have lots of in the Coast Mountains. And almost all climate models predict increasingly warmer and wetter weather for this area: More landslides can be expected.
Others have already brought up Enbridge’s pipeline spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, in the context of Enbridge’s record of 804 pipeline spills between 1999 and 2010. “Most of them very small!” Enbridge hastens to clarify.
But not the Kalamazoo spill, that the EPA estimates leaked more than a million gallons of Alberta crude into the river.
But you already know this. The point I want to make is that the spill occurred in flat country, easy to access, with many resources nearby to draw from. Yet it has still proved to be much harder to clean up than Enbridge or the EPA anticipated. By the time it is finally done to the satisfaction of the EPA, work will have been ongoing for more than two years straight.
EPA on-scene coordinator Ralph Dollhopf says that Enbridge has struggled to locate all of the oil. "Every time we go back to look, we find more," he is quoted as saying. "The river is causing the oil we are targeting to always move."
Please consider, Ken, Hans and Sheila, that our waterways are quite different than the easily navigable Kalamazoo. If the river there is moving the oil around, imagine what our whitewater streams and rivers would do with it.
And what else do I take from this? That Enbridge is quick to say how prepared they are in case there is a spill; how expert they are at cleaning one up. But really, it’s clear they don’t have much of a handle on what’s involved. No one does. It’s a nearly impossible task. If oil gets into our rivers, it will be there for a long time.
And finally, you have certainly heard about the Enbridge pipeline outside Chicago that was ruptured, and burst into flames, when it was struck by a force of nature that is perhaps even more unpredictable than landslides: that is, young men in cars. In this case they were drag-racing on a closed road. Most people don’t realize that this pipeline is buried for most of its length except for a 30 or 40-foot stretch that is above-ground. And this is the part that happened to be hit.
What are the chances of that??? Quite slim, certainly. Do you think this possibility ever crossed anyone’s mind during the risk assessment? It is very difficult to factor unpredictable human actions into these assessments, and yet it is often just such actions that cause problems.
My point here is that I take no comfort in a green-light risk assessment regarding oil pipeline infrastructure in an environment that WE KNOW is unpredictable and unstable. We CAN confidently predict that there will be floods and landslides. There may be earthquakes. What else could possibly occur that we cannot even imagine as we contemplate this project from our homes and offices, our coffee shops and our community halls, our riverbanks and our ocean beaches?