It was a resounding no to the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline in Kelowna Monday.
Speaker after speaker who appeared before the National Energy Board’s three-member joint review panel expressed their opposition to the pipeline across Northern B.C., citing concerns about a possible devastating leak from the pipeline itself and the threat of a catastrophic oil spill from the increased tanker ship traffic of B.C.’s northern coast carrying the diluted bitumen from the pipeline.
The pipeline, between the oil sands in northern Alberta and Kitimat, B.C., would bring the diluted bitumen —a viscous form of petroleum— west to be loaded onto tankers and shipped to Asian markets.
After a year of public hearings, support for the project has fallen substansially in B.C., despite the federal government wanting to see the project go ahead based on economic reasons.
“The Enbridge pipeline will not bring happiness. It will bring great environmental destruction,” said Golden resident Rachel Darvill, who along with her partner John Jenkins were allowed to make their submission by teleconference. They had planned to make submissions at two earlier public hearings but the dates of those meetings were changed and the pair could not travel to them or to Kelowna to present in person.
Another speaker, Okanagan resident Sheila Polito, said she considers herself an average British Columbia, who loves the Coast and wants to protect it from the danger of an oil spill. Despite her great fear of public speaking, she said she felt compelled to present her voice to the panel.
And she urged the panel to consider the voices of the many others who have not made presentations but who she said are also opposed to the pipeline, particularly First Nations people whose communities lie in the path of the proposed pipeline.
Karen Siemens, who described herself as a nurse, a grandmother and person with a great passion for the outdoors, told the panel many of her family members are currently making their living in the oil and natural gas industry in northern Alberta and she is not popular with them because of her opposition to the pipeline.
“But you have to do what you believe in,” she said.
She said Hecate Strait, which tanker ships would have to pass through to get to Kitimat to collect the diluted bitumen is not the place for tanker traffic. Earlier in the hearing, it was described as the sixth most dangerous waterway in the world, according to a 2010 UBC study. B.C. has had an informal moratorium on oil tanker traffic in Hecate Strait for the last 40 years.
While a few hundred protesters held signs, drummed, chanted and gave speeches outside the hearing denouncing the pipeline proposal, those inside noted widespread opposition from aboriginal groups as well as non-aboriginal Canadians for the project. But they were small in number because of a last minute change by organizers. Only the panel, support staff, presenters, invited guests and the media, were allowed,along with a large contingent of security personal.
The hearing was originally scheduled to be open to the public but NEB communications officer Kristen Higgins said that was changed Saturday when the panel became aware of “public safety concerns.”
While she said no threat had been received, she would not elaborate on what the safety concern was, where it came from or how it was learned. But Higgins did say organizers bumped up the amount of security as a result and closed the hearing to the general pubic. She said similar hearings held in Vancouver and Victoria earlier this month were also closed to the general public.
While some of the presenters who appeared before the panel during the morning session Monday criticized the federal Conservative government, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper in particular, for not only the pipeline proposal but also Canada’s approach to dealing with climate change, others addressed the potential for an oil spill or leak, both on land and in the water off the coast, was to big a price to pay for the economic returns.
They pointed to a recent serious leak in Michigan from another Enbridge pipleline that polluted a river. The scathing report issued by U.S. federal Environmental Protection Agency harshly criticized the company for its lack of action in dealing with the Michigan oil leak both at the time of the leak and after it. The clean-up in the Kalamazoo river is still not complete nearly two years later.
Despite the barrage of criticism directed at the company Monday and the lack of support for the Northern Gateway pipeline project appears to have, a spokesman for Enbridge said Monday the company believes it does have supporters in B.C.
Ivan Giesbrecht, manager of communications Western access said the company has hosted plenty of community meetings across the province and has heard plenty of support.
But, he said , he welcomed the opportunity to hear from people here, despite the fact the pipeline will not come anywhere near to the Okanagan.
“This is a really a helpful process,” said Giesbrecht, adding the company always encourages its supporters to speak up and they have done so in the past. He pointed to the Northern Gate way Alliance, a group of pipeline supporters who have produced television ads pushing the project.
The one-day Kelowna hearing was the 17th of 18 scheduled for the project. The next one will extend over 10 weeks and take place in Prince Rupert this spring.
The joint panel’s report must be completed by December and then it will be up to the federal government to approve or deny Enbridge’s application for the pipeline.
On Saturday night, a “people’s summit” was held in Kelowna about the pipeline proposal featuring opponents of the plan.
Close to 400 people showed up at First United Church to hear Green Party leader and Vancouver Island MP Elizabeth May, provincial NDP energy critic Rob Fleming, filmmaker and environmental journalist Damien Gillis and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and his wife Joan. Phillip is president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs all speak out against the project.