What people said at the Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel hearings in Vancouver
Enbridge Joint Review Panel once again heard from Vancouver intervenors today who spoke eloquently and passionately, making references to devastated livelihoods and coastline following the of Exxon Valdez oil spill, climate change and risks of a bitumen spill considered too large to take.
Repeatedly interveners called on the panel to reject the proposal, while at the same time, a number of speakers said they believed it was inevitable that Harper's cabinet would override the decision, if the Joint Review Panel were to vote to stop the pipeline slated to run from the Alberta tar sands across British Columbia to Canada's wild and pristine westernmost coast.
"I urge this panel to turn away form a path …that leads us to a path of climate suicide," said Ann Pacey of On Common Ground Consultants at the end of her statement.
Speakers who were watching the hearings in the next room
This morning's review by the Energy Board's panel took place in a quiet room, removed from crowds watching at a hotel many blocks away. The quiet was temporarily disrupted by the shrilling of whistles, as five demonstrators crashed the review panel meeting wearing t-shirts protesting the pipeline.
Laura Cornish described herself as an ordinary Canadian. She grew up in Toronto, went to school in BC. As a child she said she was awestruck by the British Columbia coastline and thought to herself she would move back someday and "make a life for myself."
She fulfilled her childhood dream and worked for the British Columbia provincial government, creating climate change targets, worked at UBC on climate change and said she takes every opportunity to get out on the coast. She still recalls the first time she saw her first salmon run with clarity.
In preparation for this hearing, she said she reflected on the project, on her future and on her children.
"It's an understatement to say I'm concerned about what would happen if this project goes forth."
"We all learned in kindergarten you can't put Humpty Dumpty back together again…" Cornish said.
Onni Milne: "One oil spill, and that's all its going to take, and there will be no supernatural BC."
Onni Milne told the panel she was proud to be on record to "say no to this proposal, to say no to Enbridge."
The BC government and Tourism BC have spent millions of dollars publicizing supernatural BC, she said.
"One oil spill, and that's all its going to take, and there will be no supernatural BC."
"My first concern is all about oops and incompetence on oil pipelines. I thought in business if you proved you were incompetent you were no longer in business. Apparently that doesn't apply to oil companies. That applies to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spioll, the BP oil rig, and the Shell oil rig that recently became loose in the ocean. Incompetence. The Michigan Kalamazoo spill and Enbridge's actions. Enbridge failed to adequately address well-known corrosion problems as far back as 1995. This is in competence."
"What more can you say? Incompetence," she said
Her second point was "in regards to money money money."
"I believe the agreements are not worth the paper they were written on. My understanding there are people who were affected by the Exxon Valdez who are still waiting for this rcompensaion twenty years later. This is an outrage."
Karl Jensen: "At this time of my life I have no time for your misleading statements."
Karl Jensen said he makes video games for a living. When he first began hearing about the Northern Gateway pipeline proposal he said he didn't know much about the project. So he began to inquire.
"I asked my colleagues but they knew about it in name only, as a result of the lack of information in the mainstream media. I approached my mother who is a retired economist. Initially, she didn't know much about it but she had the time to research it and we discussed it over dinner and I began to be able to form an opinion. In July of last year I was able to take a two week trip to Haida Gwaii with eight of my friends. This trip further reinforced my belief that we must protect the delicate ecosystem in that area."
Jensen cited the rising cost of oil in Canada if the pipeline goes through, job loss in Canada, dependency on foreign oil instead of using Canadian oil resources, and more for why he came to oppose the project, after learning about the economics of it.
"Enbridge advertises that they have world class safety standards. Based on evidence uncovered on Kalmaazoo spill by U.S. transportation board, their ability to cope with a spill is not in line with their claims," he said, adding that Enbridge had a "culture of deviance" from safety standards.
He was also concerned he said that Enbridge "has structured the Northern Gateway as a limited liability partnership in order to limit liability. Hasn't provided coverage for major oil spill. Enbridge has never operated a marine facility but it is their plan to build one in an area that will have oil tankers navigating one of the most dangerous waterways in the world."
"These five major issues are dangerous to Canada because they contribute to a project plan with no real economic benefit, and likely we will face an economic lost.
"I can't possibly support a project, Jensen said, choking up. He attempted to collect himself, but became too emotional to speak for a moment. A JRP panelist told him to take his time, "there's plenty of time."
Jensen continued: "I can't possibly support a project that does not support a better economic future in Canada for my family. I can't possibly support a project that presents an unmitigatable risk to the environment in British Columbia."
He took a deep breath. He said he would like to give this message to Enbridge: "Come up with a plan that reduces the cost of products for Candians, that creates jobs for Canada, that creates more security for Canada and puts that in front of security for other nations, come up with a plan that shows that there's not chance Canadians will be abandoned in case of environmental catastrophe.
"After that, we can come up with a plan, because at this time of my life I have no time for your misleading statements."
Alex Batko: "I consider the people behind these projects to be criminals."
One of the most memorable statements came from Victoria-based software developer Alex Batko, who lived in Prince Rupert during his formative years.
"Together with my brother, we had the times of our lives playing around in and around the ocean, lakes, rivers, forests and mountains stretching between (Prince) Rupert and Smithers," he said.
"I have traveled the inside passage many times both by ferry and sailboat. The entire region is deep in the heart of me."
"My dad was a captain and Master Mariner -- in his younger days, he navigated foreign-going vessels, massive tanker ships and cargo ships to many of the world's ports including oil ports in the Middle East.... He once mentioned to me that the Hecate Strait is among the four most treacherous bodies of water in the world," he pointed out.
"What is the value of a clean river, untainted by carcinogenic chemicals? Is it the sum of the cost of cleanup, and potential lost revenues? What is the value of a clean coastline? What is the value of clean air?" he asked the panel, continuing:
"The details of this problem are as follows. One, you can't include all the ecological factors involved, as there are simply too many, and if you were to include their interdependencies, the problem space would grow exponentially. Two, you don't have reliable historical environmental assessment data for the area. In fact, a high-level scientific panel, the Oil Sands Advisory Panel, sharply criticized the water quality monitoring system in the tar sands, going so far as to say, there is no system."
"You can't possibly include subjective values such as fishing for pure pleasure, fishing as a cultural identity or the Aboriginal peoples' dependency on the fish habitat."
Later, however, his speech turned to a searing J'accuse-style criticism of the oil and gas industry as well as the systems in place that support it.
"The tar sands project has already caused so much destruction, so much anguish, and so much death that to consider anything other than the immediate halt of its operations, and an engagement of nothing but reclamation is a mark of insanity. The thought of expansion, of doubling or tripling the size of this beast is so heinous that acting on this thought should be a crime."
The holding room buzzed with a few murmurs of agreement.
"I consider the people behind these projects to be criminals. One way or another, they will pay for their crimes against the earth....it infuriates me that the government entertains and promotes such backwardness," Batko continued, adding that were it not for the greed of the oil industry, people may have found a way to live without it by now.
"With your lack of care for humanity and your lack of vision, you have pinned us against a global oil-dependent infrastructure without a sustainable path forward, and I despise you for this. You have squandered..."
At this point, a member of the panel finally interrupted Batko, gently encouraging him to tone things down and present his message in a more "measured manner."
"Sure, I'm almost done," Batko replied.
He then resumed:
"As I said, I despise you for this."
The holding room exploded with laughter and loud applause from people watching the exchange on screen, rendering the final portions of his speech inaudible.
"To be honest, I just wanted to finish saying what I wanted to say, " he explained later.
"I recognize his point. I recognize who I was supposed to be addressing specifically, and the true, precise target subject matter. But I felt that the pipeline is not being laid just to lay metal across a province, and it's directly connected to the tar sands. The pipeline is there in order to expand the tar sands. So I think the entire context should be considered, including the fossil fuel system as a whole and whether our investment of money, time and effort should go in the direction of something which essentially should be obsolete. So in one sense, I also continued to say what I said as a critique of the greater system."
Eva Torn Thomas: "Canada gives the middle finger to the planet if we surge ahead in our tar sands development..."
In the holding room, people who would be speaking later waited their turn. Some made last minute changes to their statements, while on a screen at the front of the room, a webcast showed the events taking place in the hearing room.
Eva Torn Thomas spoke of the impact the pipeline would have on the people of Haida Gwaii, and what she described as "the unseen areas the pipeline runs through."
She spoke of the difficulty in "even knowing if there are leaks in remote areas." She noted Enbridge's safety record, which she listed as 800 spills, violations in Wisconsin, spills in Elk Point, Alberta and in Wisconsin.
"Studies in criminology have taught me that the best way to predict future behaviour is past behaviour," Thomas said. "I urge you not to believe the promises of Enbridge."
Those in the holding room broke into surprised laughteras Thomas said, "Canada gives the middle finger to the planet if we surge ahead in our tar sands development…"
"I feel embarrassed to be Canadian in this context." Then she made a statement that was echoed throughout the day by one speaker after another, that the Harper government might forge ahead with the Enbridge pipeline project, even if the Joint Review Panel recommends the project not go forward.
"It leads me to despair that despite the overwhelming opposition to this pipeline from First Nations….that this project will go ahead regardless of your recommendation."
Before the project should go through, Thomas said Enbridge and shipping companies needed detailed plans to prevent all possible calamities. They should use small tankers to navigate channel, she said, adding that Enbridge would need to be prepared to go to bottom of ocean to retrieve toxic spills with submersible vessels. And they would need to agree to compensate people as fully as possible in perpetuity if possible. The rehabilitation of the natural environment would also be their responsibility. The pipeline should not be buried…but built above ground….The pipeline should be protected from avalanches by avalanche sheds. As pipelines fail from corrosion and stress on 28 years on average, she said, entire pipeline would have to be replaced every 28 years.
Andrew S. Wright: "If an ecosystem collapses, so does the economy of the region."
"Enbridge has made it clear that once the oil leaves the pipeline, it is no longer their responsibility," said Andrew S. Wright, a philanthropist, photographer and ardent conservationist.
"This is of great concern to me, for there's is no proposal to my knowledge that builds an adequate inventory of vessels equipment for accident response and recovery. I fear that this knowledge, too, is buried and not considered," he said.
"This year, I funded a private expedition to travel along the land route from Kitimat to Prince George. We crossed visibly active fault lines and accessed every major river system that the pipeline crosses. The Nechako, the Bulkley...these rivers are the headwaters of the Fraser and Skeena basins, vast regions that support economies that are utterly dependent on verdant ecosystems to function. Logging, farming, international sport rivers in the rivers drive multi-million dollar economies.
"The coast alone has a billion-dollar economy and that has been evidenced by a recent UBC report. Again, economies dependent on healthy ecosystems. These rivers are fast flowing and extremely difficult to access. I can't tell you how many cuts and bruises I have from forcing my way into some of these places. If a spill were to occur in some of these places, cleanup in my mind is impossible, for the're not the slow, meandering Kalamazoo that Enbridge failed to restore. They're very fast, high-volume rivers.
"And being the headwaters of two major basins, the Fraser and the Skeena and the Fraser, a spill would kill the entire river system. If an ecosystem collapses, so too does the economy of the region. If it were your livelihood, would you put that on the line for a simple billion dollar share over a 30-year period?"
Philippe Le Billon: "We could very easily see shippers and investors suing the Canadian government..."
"I come from a region that has been very deeply affected by oil spills, I come from Brittany, France," Geographer Philippe Le Billon said when introducing himself to the panel. Brittany, facing the Atlantic Ocean, has been the site of numerous famous spills including the 1978 Amoco Cadiz spill, which was the largest oil spill in the world at the time.
"We often make a comparison, or you hear a comparison from Enbridge with Norway," he said.
"If you looked at maps of the terminals in Norway, what you will notice is that it's very different -- very few turns. Basically, it's pretty easy to get there. To compare those types of terminals...I'm a sailor myself, I know about the types of conditions there, and I've lived here for 10 years. And I'm frightened when I look."
Le Billon also criticized the project from an economic viewpoint.
"When the spills happen, they cost a lot. I'll give you just the statistics on the Prestige. The Prestige broke in two. It's not supposed to happen, it did. It cost about 2 billion euros, 5.2 billion dollars. We're now more than 10 years after, and the court case is just opening in Spain. Only three people are facing the court in the moment. Looking at the details will tell you who bears the consequences. Of course, international funds does not cover for this. The delays are devastating for the communities and bad for the taxpayers -- they don't get reimbursed, and for the people who need to be compensated, it takes a long time."
"If a spill happens, what is likely to happen is a closing of the pipeline, because the public will say, 'no more tankers, because we want to know what's going on here.'
"Well, what does that do to the pipeline infrastructure? When you are closing a pipeline, what do your say to the investors, to the shippers? When we're working in an international agreement framework, like an international foreign investment protection agreement (FIPA), who ends up paying? We could very easily see shippers and investors suing the Canadian government for stopping the operations of the infrastructure. And remember, we're talking about half a million barrels a day, these are huge sums, every day! Fifty million dollars, every day of delay is a huge amount that the Canadian taxpayer will have to compensate."
In closing, Le Billon pointed to the negative political impact Northern Gateway is having on Canadians.
"This is a highly politicized project. Just last year I finished a 360-page book on conflicts around resources with Columbia University Press and I can tell you there are few economic factors that crystallize the kind of tensions as this -- people put their histories, their identities, they put a lot of emotion into natural resource projects. Why? Because it's tied to the land, it's tied to the huge environmental consequences, you're talking often about large sums of money, big corporations, tensions are high.
"What I'm afraid for Canada is that this is going to be a very divisive project for Canadian society. You can already see the tensions between BC and Alberta, between First Nations and the federal government -- I don't need to remind you what is happening with Idle No More -- so my sense is that this project will hurt society in general, just by bringing tensions that we should hope to avoid in building a Canadian society that is inclusive, with the provinces and First Nations working together."