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COMMENTARY · 10th September 2010
Peter Ewart
One of the characteristics of crude oil, and especially some of its byproducts like diesel fuel, is that these chemicals are hostile to most or, in some cases, all forms of life. Indeed, diesel fuel has the toxicity of a herbicide. As anyone who works in the bush can testify, spill it on the ground and nothing will grow there. The soil will be poisoned indefinitely.

Thus, we need to be cautious with these substances. But we also need to be very cautious about "Big Oil". By "Big Oil", I mean, of course, the monopolies and multinationals that control the industry. As one First Nations speaker commented at the rally on September 8th in Prince George against Enbridge's pipeline proposal, "once you let Big Oil in, it's impossible to get it out."

Big Oil has a notorious reputation. In not a few places in the world, it is alleged that various corporations associated with Big Oil have corrupted politicians and government officials, divided communities and regions, and polluted - again and again.

Whatever the case, there are lessons to be learned from the experience of people in other jurisdictions, whether in the Southern U.S. states - which have just witnessed the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico - or Africa, South America, Middle East or Central Asia.

So the question arises, do we want a large volume, oil and condensate pipeline like the one Enbridge is proposing, to cross the Central and Northern part of BC to the Pacific Coast? This pipeline will traverse over 700 pristine, or relatively pristine, streams and rivers in some of the most difficult and tangled terrain in the world. It will carry 525,000 barrels a day of crude and 193,000 barrels a day of condensate.

Avalanches, rock slides, earthquakes, forest fires, and floods are not uncommon here. And the safety record of companies like Enbridge leave much to be desired. Thus we know that spills are inevitable, including major ones, such as happened recently with Enbridge's spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan (800,000 barrels), or relatively smaller ones like the Pembina Pipeline spill north-east of here on the Pine River back in 2000 (6200 barrels). Just yesterday (Sept. 9th), Enbridge had to shut down its “6A” pipeline in Illinois because of yet another leak.

The question also needs to be asked - if the proposed Enbridge pipeline goes through, what is to stop other similar crude oil pipelines from proceeding across the north to the Pacific Coast? If one is allowed, why not two or three or even more? Indeed, other pipeline companies have their own proposals and are waiting in the wings.

Furthermore, if this kind of pipeline infrastructure is in place, will oil & gas extraction be next on the agenda in the Nechako, Skeena, and other river basins, as well as up and down the coast? As the speaker at the rally said , "Once you let Big Oil in …"

Despite all the frenzy and fever that has been created by Big Oil, the plain fact is that some regions of our country are not suitable for either crude oil pipelines or oil & gas extraction. Northwest British Columbia is one such region.

And there is another issue. I am not against the production of oil and gas in regions that are suitable for it, where environmental risks can truly be minimized, and where the people are in favour of this production. That being said, there is another question. Why are we shipping so much out of the country raw and unprocessed? Why are we not using this resource to build up an advanced petrochemical industry? Governments and Big Oil spend endless days and years discussing how to extract the resource and ship it out of the country as fast as possible, but very little time on how we can use it to deepen and broaden our manufacturing base.

The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and the other organizations and individuals that organized the September 8th rally are to be commended for their work to raise awareness about the dangers of the Enbridge proposal to their ancestral lands, which, as they point out, they have never ceded to any government, let alone an oil monopoly . They are standing up for the region and its future. We should stand up with them.

Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, British Columbia.
Pipeline Comments
Comment by Dr. Bruce Bidgood on 11th September 2010
A very solid commentary Peter.