'Over my dead body': northern BC residents overwhelmed by massive LNG push

“It’s the first time I’ve felt so pushed and powerless by a force outside of our area telling us what is to happen,” Kispiox resident says.

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Carolyn Himmelright - Kispiox resident opposed to LNG

Carolyn Himmelright, a Kispiox resident opposed to LNG. Screenshot from video 

Fears of water contamination

The Kispiox Valley Community Centre Association, founded in 1955, which previously had little history of noisy protests, recently staged a “No LNG” information blockade at Hazelton's suspension bridge.

“I used to have just compassion for the natives,” said retired teacher Carolyn Himmelright, in a video documenting the event. “Now I have empathy.”

“It’s the first time I’ve felt so pushed and powerless by a force outside of our area telling us what is to happen, and how it is to happen,” the Kispiox resident added.

The association’s president said residents feel “inundated” by big corporate conglomerates, pushing yet another fossil fuel project. 

“Originally, we’ve all been fighting Enbridge, which is about no more oil, or no more bitumen coming through the country. All of a sudden, we’re fighting six different or more LNG pipelines that are sort of showing up,” said Kathy Clay.

“You can bet your sweet biffy that we’re going to be having all kinds of fracking and wells happening in this particular area [in the Bowser Basin], which we know can contaminate water, although they’ll tell you it doesn’t,” she added. 


Drilling begun

Yet despite local concerns, the pipeline drillers have been arriving. Contractors showed up near Allen’s property with a permit signed off by two Gitxsan house representatives.

A helicopter flew in lumber and workers bored 50-metre deep holes near the Kispiox River.  The work is legally permitted, and TransCanada said the activity is environmentally safe.

“The testing is to determine the technical feasibility of safely constructing a pipeline at each [river] crossing,” wrote TransCanada’s David Sherman in Calgary. 

“The Oil and Gas Commission is the approving authority, and they carefully review each application to ensure it meets the appropriate standards before any activity can take place,” he added.

Spectra Energy is also drilling in the area for its $6 billion Westcoast Connector pipeline, but it did not respond to requests for comment.  

Altagas said it has been consulting with local residents about its $1.5 billion Pacific Northern Gas (PNG) pipeline.

"PNG has held two open houses. One in Terrace and one in Smithers. We cannot say for certain that the Kispiox attended either of those sessions, but they certainly had the opportunity to," wrote spokesperson, Fred Cheney in Calgary.

TransCanada LNG drill pad near Hazelton BC - Mychaylo Prystupa

TransCanada LNG drill pad near Hazelton BC - Mychaylo Prystupa

"Moose heaven" threatened?

Furious with TransCanada's test drilling, Allen invited a supervisor with the Oil & Gas Commission to the drill pad near his lodge. The commission's permit states the drilling site "is not a wildlife habitat or ungulate winter range.”

“I took that guy… and showed him all where the moose had eaten all the bark off the trees all winter, all the moose droppings, all the fresh tracks, and said, ‘This isn’t wildlife habitat? This isn’t a wintering grounds? Where do you guys get your f**king information?’

“I said, ‘Well, what do you think right now?  Give me your honest opinion.’"

"He said, ‘This is moose heaven.’ And [just then] as a helicopter landed on the other side of the river, two moose jumped up on to that meadow on the other side.“

Moose in Kispiox River

Moose calving in the Kispiox River - photo by Jim Allen

LNG has 'no social licence' says MLA

Echoing these concerns on Monday, local Stikine riding MLA Doug Donaldson told the Victoria legislature that LNG in B.C. does not have “social licence.”

“We’re not talking about people who are adversarial to development. These are folks who are used to hard work and living in remote, rural conditions. This is not NIMBYism. This is people looking after their own backyard,” Donaldson said. 

“Multiple pipelines, five proposed across [Skeena River], with no cumulative effect study, no requirement for a common corridor, no stipulation to use already disturbed transportation corridors, no guarantee that the gas pipelines could be used for oil transport in the future.”

“Based on this context, it’s easy to see that the sustainable livelihood carried out by many constituents of Stikine, one I support, will be destroyed."

But Premier Christy Clark has long said LNG is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get B.C. out of debt, and create 100,000 jobs. Her press release states B.C. will create the "most environmentally responsible LNG industry in the world."

Premier Christy Clark - LNG Canada presser - Shell Oil - BC gov't photo

Premier Christy Clark - LNG Canada presser - Shell Oil - BC gov't photo 


Environmental risks

So what are the potential environmental impacts? Broadly, residents worry about five things: frack drilling poisoning the watershed; pipeline construction effects; LNG terminals harming salmon fry; airshed pollution; and greenhouse gases.

UBC professor emeritus Michael Healey, who has decades of research experience with aquatic salmon, marine ecology, and watershed management, believes the climate-change effects are perhaps the most worrisome of all. 

“The impact that the bonanza in oil and gas that’s resulted from fracking will have on any attempt to manage climate change is serious and sad,” he said.

“And certainly substituting gas for oil is an improvement, but if you are continuing to multiply the amounts of fossil fuels used then the impact on the atmosphere is going to be dramatic.”

A Kispiox citizens group called No More Pipelines estimates that if the three major LNG plants go forward, greenhouse gases would soar 78 per cent in B.C. That development is at odds with the province's goal to reduce emissions by 33 per cent by 2020.

"It's colossal. Each one of [the LNG plants] would produce 20 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent," said paramedic Graeme Pole, with No More Pipelines.

"We're talking about one of these plants [being] equivalent to the greenhouse gases of Vancouver. One plant. And we're going to live downwind of three of them." 

Graeme Pole No More Pipelines No LNG sign - Mychaylo Prystupa 

Paramedic Graeme Pole holding a "No LNG" sign seen on lawns and road sides throughout the Kispiox Valley - Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa

On fracking impacts, Professor Healey said the scientific "jury is still out” on how the the underground explosion of petroleum-rock to release gas and oil might adulterate fresh water supplies.  

He also said the environmental risks of pipeline construction and operations can be relatively minor. Unlike bitumen spills, natural gas evaporates.  

But even if the risks are minimal, he said, the large number of LNG projects only multiplies that risk, and there could be serious effects on wildlife habitat. He added that he's not comforted by recent Harper government changes that have sped environmental reviews. 

"I think the changes the federal government made to the Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, put us back more than thirty years in terms of the level of environmental stewardship, and also their requirement that environmental assessments be completed in two years.”

Skeena River near Hazelton - Mychaylo Prystupa

Skeena River near Hazelton - Mychaylo Prystupa

Though TransCanada is just one of the three pipeline companies in the area, for its part, the pipeline company said via an email from spokesperson Davis Shermata:

“[Our company] conducted extensive environmental fieldwork on or near the proposed pipeline route to study aquatic habitat, wildlife, terrain, soils, vegetation and wetlands, atmospheric environment, hydrology, archaeological resources, traditional ecological knowledge and timber."

"TransCanada believes that natural gas transported in our new pipeline will help achieve sustainable long-term environmental benefits if this gas replaces higher carbon fuels at existing facilities or that are planned to be used at new facilities."

No LNG signs in Hazelton BC - Mychaylo Prystupa

No LNG signs in Hazelton BC - Mychaylo Prystupa
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