REPORTING · 9th December 2010
The ‘Think Pipeline Tour’ put on by the Friends of Wild Salmon visited most Northwest BC Communities last week. The tour featured two speakers from the United States who wished to share their experiences with Enbridge.
Every community saw a good turn out; particularly for Kitimat where Douglas Channel Watch was a co-host, as 6 out of 7 City Councillors were present. Greg Brown, Spokesperson for the Friends of Wild Salmon welcomed everyone.
“I have to admit [the Enbridge Pipeline Project is] one of the more complex energy projects. There are so many different ways to look at this project. You can look at where the oil is coming from, the Northern Alberta Oil Sands, you could look at the global impacts of oil sands, acid rain, the extensive energy it takes to get the tar out of the ground, climate change implications, what that means,” said Brown. “The 800 plus water crossings the pipeline is going to cross, the contribution it could make to our economies during the construction period if they build the pipeline, you could look at the introduction of oil tankers and the risks associated with that. You could look at where the oil is going and used for.”
He showed the route of the pipeline, which highlighted each of the water sheds the pipeline will cross. He spoke about what the pipeline will carry, bitumen diluted with condensate. He said the introduction of condensate was another topic which could be addressed.
He discussed several of the crossings and explained why each were significant. Some because they were salmon bearing, others because they connected right to a lake or municipal water supply.
The first speaker he introduced was Erin O’Brien from the WWA (Wisconsin Wetlands Association). She said she had experience with an Enbridge Pipeline project which was built in 2007 and 2008 in Wisconsin and her organization had an active pipeline oversight program.
The WWA is a state-wide conservation organization and she explained how wetlands were important as they provide barriers between land and water. They serve as filtration of water, are habitat for fish, wildlife and birds. Wetlands store water so they also prevent floods and are also important for fisheries and recreation.
She spoke about how her organization got involved in pipeline projects when a small natural gas pipeline went through the state. They were called out to examine the construction corridor by land owners and found it in disrepair and how the contractors were in gross violation of their permits.
O’Brian provided an example of an Enbridge Project which was planned to go through Wisconsin, an expansion of an existing corridor. The project was going to be approved. The WWA paid attention to what was being proposed, the rules Enbridge would have to follow, look over the permits that were issued and watch to make sure Enbridge followed them.
The pipeline is a part of the Lakehead system of pipelines and is one of the largest pipelines in the world. It has been operational for more then 60 years and imports almost 70 percent of Canadian exported crude oil into the United States. In Wisconsin, it crosses 537 kilometres with four pipes. The project had two names; the Southern Access Project and Southern Lights Project, as they were installing two more pipes. There were 242 rivers crossed, 119 kilometres of wetland and 185 kilometres of forest.
O’Brien explained a lot of planning went into the route. She explained the first detail was to clear and grade the land. After the pipe is installed, the land is restored and is maintained to be devoid of trees. She went through the effects of the pipeline.
The first problem from this process is habitat loss because a permanent corridor is cleared across the land. Wetland degradation occurs through soil disturbance and the removal of plants. While the project ends with the wetland remaining a wetland, its character has changed.
In January 2007, Enbridge received their fist notice of non compliance. In March of 2007, they received their 2nd notice o f non compliance. In September of 2007, there was formal notice of violation which precedes prosecution.
In May 2008, Enbridge was reported to the Wisconsin Department of Justice by the State for numerous and widespread permit violations. They were supposed to take steps to preserve the wetlands. They had been asked to practice erosion control and wetland protection. The latter of the two included preserving the topsoil and taking steps not to drive heavy equipment through the wetlands.
There were more then 500 complaints but it never went to court. There was $1.1 million settlement. This settlement was the 2nd largest in the history of the WWA and one of the largest environmental settlements in the state.
The next speaker was Beth Wallace from Ann Arbour, Michigan. She was representing the National Wildlife Federation and her presentation was on the Kalamazoo Water Shed Spill. Wallace is the Oil Spill Response Coordinator.
She said there were plenty of recreation organizations and activities in the vicinity of the Kalamazoo River. It is a landing point for migratory birds. On July 15th, Enbridge testified before congress that they were able to detect a leak almost instantaneously.
Wallace presented a timeline from a report to Congress on the Enbridge response.
On July 25th, the line was shut down for maintenance. Two minutes later, they received an alarm telling them pressure had dropped in line 6b and the Marshall pumping station was shut down. Later that night, firefighters responded due to the smell of gas in the area. 911 calls continued through the night.
On July 26th, Enbridge started up the pipeline and found it did not start up. The Edmonton Control Center spent four hours trying to figure out what was wrong. Around 8 am the next morning, the line was shut down. Around 10 am, an employee in the area reported he did not see anything and readings were 0. Downtown Marshall City smelled of gas and fire fighters were deployed. After 11 am, Consumers Energy tells Enbridge they had a spill. At Around 1:30 pm, Enbridge officially reported the incident to the National Response Centre; 18 hours after the alarms went off.
Wallace showed photos of the spill and said that 850,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of oil were released into the environment. Residents were not given an official response for days after the spill occurred. Enbridge was supposed to have emergency response set up before the spill occurred.
She showed a video and explained they were confused as to what had happened. There was no immediate response and the residents were overlooked. Some were not even spoken too.
“A lot of people live along the river. A lot of folks were worried about their health. The first thing I noticed when I came to the scene was the smell of Benzene which is the gas given off by crude when it first enters the eco system and Benzene in long term doses can be considered a carcinogen. A long term dose is considered two weeks by the health department and a lot of residents were living in their homes for more then that before there was an official response to them,” said Wallace.
Enbridge and the Environmental Protection agency had to clean up the spill. It took two weeks to have the clean up plan accepted. They promised to clean up every drop of oil in the first two weeks. This proved to be harder than they had planned and most of the oil will remain for a long time.
Wallace explained Michigan Governor Granholm found the response was not adequate and a state of emergency was issued. Wallace showed a map of the spill which affected four communities. Two dams held the spill in check. Enbridge offered home owners an opportunity to sell their homes to Enbridge if the home was within 200’ of the river.
The pipeline had to be refit before it was restarted. Then it was shut down again because there were still issues with it. Wallace said the pipeline was 40 years old and in middle age; Enbridge was not prepared for a spill of this size and there was nothing which could be done. Their phone number, which was to be called in regards to pipeline issues led to voice mail, was busy or led to a priority based response.
The wildlife response center was not staffed a week into the spill. They were cleaning their first bird 2 weeks into the spill. Residents took over the wildlife rescue but were shut down by Enbridge due to liability.
Wallace explained the cleaning of the river was declared successful after the wetland was destroyed and a plastic owl on a stick was deployed to keep wildlife away. There is still today a lot of contaminated sediment and oil on the shoreline. She said booms were not deployed, 2158 animals were released and animals within the vicinity at the start of spill were left to die.
Some low income community residents, where people did not have the means to leave, had to sign away their rights to further compensation to receive air purifiers that did nothing. The river will remain off limits; clean up has come to an end for the winter, and will begin again in the spring. Well water was also off limits during the summer but will be monitored to see if they become contaminated.
There was more to the presentation in Kitimat as well. Several questions were asked by people in the audience including a shouting match between Dieter Wagner and an individual identified as Randy. In addition, there was a conclusion video introduced and presented by Greg Brown.
Comment by Walter Fricke on 10th December 2010
I was at the meeting in Kitimat. It showed that the economics of the region are an emotional subject. The speakers were great, with documentation to back up their stories. I am definitely not ready to agree to a bitumen line that crosses too many streams and rivers. This proposal, if it is allowed, has the potential to negatively impact several watersheds. The Peace River, the Fraser River, the Skeena River and the Kitimat River. We, on the north west coast, could be allowing maximum potential for disaster with only a mediocre return on our investment. The jobs will mostly go to people not from the region. The high paying jobs we could get would be minimal, whereas the low paying service industry jobs would be abundant.