Kelowna: Pipeline research project gives citizens a chance to weigh in on Enbridge

With the impending Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline decision expected in June, a UBCO researcher is giving voice, and lending his images, to citizens' views

This could be the next Oka Crisis or the next War in the Woods, says Andrew Barton, relaying warnings he heard while travelling the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline route.

Barton launches an information portal, today showcasing British Columbians’ reaction to the $7.9 billion, 1,172-km dual pipeline in anticipation of the federal government’s decision on whether it can be built.

That verdict is expected in June, and from what Barton has seen, resistance will be swift and powerful.

“I think we’ll see a lot of groups rallying together (if the government says yes). Whether it’s the Pacific Wild, Dogwood Initiative or West Coast Environmental Law, I think all of these groups are about to move into high gear organizing protests and civil disobedience and blockades,” he said.

Barton noted the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs have already committed to a blockade near Hazelton.

His website is based off a research project he did over the last two years. With funding from the University of British Columbia Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber school, he travelled the pipeline route in 2012 and reviewed testimonies provided to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project Joint Review Panel in 2013.

The research culminated in a free E-book, interactive map for anyone to add  commentary, a video and, finally, a story map illustrating reaction from around B.C.

“Not everyone can interpret a satellite photograph or, you know, a terrain map and understand what it would be like to be there. So the idea of the project is to take people there,” he explained.

Northern Gateway is proposed as a dual pipeline beginning in Bruderheim, Alberta, and traversing the middle of this province to Kitimat.

It would run through the Great Bear Rainforest and culminate in a complicated Coastal wetland, world renown for its biodiversity.

The proposal has generated serious concern from British Columbians and Albertans who took the time to register an opinion, provide feedback or question the oil company before the Joint Review Panel.

The panel has since recommended the government approve the project, subject to 209 conditions.

Now the country awaits an answer from the federal government; although the province will also have to give the go ahead for it to proceed.

“Many, many of the testimonies were about the ecological value of the land the pipelines are passing through and that which the tankers could impact,” said Barton.

The Northern Gateway hearings mark the last time an average citizen could register to provide oral testimony, or intervene in the environmental assessment, and expect unfettered access, making Barton’s project a rare insight into public perception of oil domination and oil pipelines in general.

“With the rewriting of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in the summer of 2012, the National Energy Board has the ability to say who can give testimony whereas before it was open. If you wanted to register, you could,” said Barton, who took the opportunity.

Green Party leader Elizabeth May and economist Robyn Allan tried to open up the ability for intervenors to cross-examine the oil company when hearings on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion begin next month, but failed.

The decision has angered many, and Barton’s work illustrates why.

“I was amazed when I went through the Joint Review Panel hearing transcripts at how rich the testimony was from people who lived in British Columbia and how they expressed their love for, and connection to, the those places,” he said.

“…There was one guy who ran river tours. People come from all over the world come to see this place because it’s untouched and beautiful, he said. And there was another woman, in Terrace, who said the fishing industry brings them $100 million a year in revenue.”

Testimony emphasized the cultural and economic significance of what the environment naturally provides, like the critical need to protect salmon and eulichan fish for the people of Haida Gwaii.

As islander Leandre Vigeault put it in his testimony: “The reason that people come back again and again is that the islands are unique and provide an opportunity to enjoy something that’s becoming rare in the world, untamed nature.”

Reflecting on what he saw travelling the route, Barton said attitudes differed by geography, but also by life circumstance.

He was struck, for example, by how different the  views of First Nations people from treaty areas were to those where treaties had never been signed.

In Treaty 6 and Treaty 8—the only two on the route—he noticed people were far more likely to have legal representation and be more resigned to the fact that it was going to happen whereas in B.C. or West of the Rockies—non-treaty areas—attitudes were more defiant.

In Barton’s estimation the findings of the Joint Review Panel are flawed, skewed so easily to quantifiable economic markers, they seemed to miss the economic benefits unfettered nature provides.

“We need to see some kind of plan to move us away from our complete reliance on oil,” he said.

“And we need to see an improvement in confidence in the system. And we need to see our government actually caring for the environment and the people over and above the interests of the oil lobby.”

Barton’s four products are available free of charge on the website and include extensive nature photography illustrating  the environment at stake.

Baton's work is showcased: UBCO researcher explains Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project

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