I gave a ten minute oral presentation to the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel this morning. I was VERY nervous and a bit shaky in my address but I’d regret not standing up and saying something if the Northern Gateway Project were to be approved by the board or pushed through by the federal government if the board decides against the project.
I wanted to share Cam and my presentation here and also apologise to my friends and family who I’ve ignored this past week while I dealt with my nerves in writing and reading this presentation.
eta. I’ve just received the news that my Nana has passed away. I’m going to go ahead and post this anyway but will likely be a bit out of touch for a while.
I’d first like to acknowledge that we are speaking on Tsimshian territory.
My name is Annie Thompson. I live here in Prince Rupert with my husband and two children. My husband and his family have lived, and owned property, in the greater Skeena watershed for more than forty years. I have come here today to voice our emphatic and total opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project.
I’m probably not going to tell you anything you haven’t yet heard. I don’t have an unique or incredible story to share with you but I wanted to bring you a perspective from an ordinary person leading an ordinary life in Northern BC. This perspective is significant because there are more of us than there are of people living in exceptional circumstances.
There is a greater, collective community in “The North”. It runs east – west along the length of Highway 16 from Masset to the Alberta border. The highway connects the towns; each smaller place is connected to the greater community that defines the northern half of the province. Indigenous clans, families and friends are spread out through the various small towns and villages and people travel between them regularly forming a vibrant thriving network. Within this community there is a huge amount of culture and every person in each town is a part of it. I’m proud of the 130+ First Nations and BC Municipalities who have officially taken a NO stance on this project.
The ocean and rivers play a crucial role in the culture of our community. The Northern Gateway Pipeline will irrevocably damage or destroy these waterways and remove the central pillar from our culture. By now there can be no question that there will be problems and spills associated to the building and operation of the project. These spills will alter and very possibly end our way of life.
The planning and development of the pipeline has been done by people who have little understanding of the difficulties that will be posed by trying to build and maintain a pipeline through one of the most rugged, remote and unforgiving areas in the world. From the end of the pipeline the oil will travel by ship through the most treacherous and difficult marine environments in the Pacific Ocean. I can say that the planners of this project do not understand the difficulty of the terrain because anyone who is knowledgeable would clearly not choose to develop a project like the Northern Gateway. Anyone who has seen avalanches crash down the slopes of the Coast Mountains, or has hunkered in a protected ocean bay waiting for the storm to abate wouldn’t view the project as anything other than madness. When that water is poisoned and the fish are all gone there will be nothing left for us.
The officials of the time promised that the development of the Alberta Tarsands would not destroy the lives of the people living in the area. Those promises have been broken, over and over again, in the mad rush to produce oil. The statistics of the situation are a point of considerable debate but the undeniable fact is that those living downstream from the Tarsands are sick in great numbers and their ability to find food has been significantly reduced. Now the governments and corporations are trying to bring that dirty oil to market THROUGH BC. It is a forgone conclusion that the industry which is destroying Northern Alberta will show the same regard for British Columbia. This is our home and our legacy to our children and we will not have it destroyed for the profit of a few large corporations or anyone else for that matter.
What must be realised is that if this pipeline is approved then a spill WILL happen. Either along the thousand kilometres of pipeline or in Douglas Channel or in the Great Bear Rainforest or in the outlying marine environment and the devastation will be massive and complex. It will affect the water ….and water is connected to everything else. It is possible to drive or fly along the path of the Skeena river from the ocean to the headwaters of it’s tributaries in a few hours. Spawning fish cover that same distance over a period of weeks to months. This demonstrates the convoluted nature of the river networks and the pace of organic, living movement within that network. The fish that swim in the Pacific ocean off of Alaska and BC are the same fish that spawn and fertilise the forest ecosystem inland as far as Houston, Dease Lake and Babine Lake. If the salmon cycle is broken the people, animals and even the trees will suffer.
I have spent time on many of these rivers and I can tell you from experience that there are NO stretches of any major river that are straight, all have bends, back eddies or major current disturbances that would trap oil and attenuate it’s destructive effects over decades. In the space of a day’s float down any river you will pass the confluence of many tributaries which are a further complication in a seemingly infinite complex network. The most significant problem posed by this complexity is: Once the oil is in the water it is IMPOSSIBLE to get it out. It cannot be stopped or cleaned from the system, it will spread uncontrolled and destroy everything down stream. Nature cannot absorb the destructive effects of oil in an aquatic environment and the oil will be stuck in the system for decades or even hundreds of years. The companies involved in this project would ask us to have faith in their assurances that they understand the complexity of this network and their ability to predict and mitigate every risk. Enbridge’s spill record shows that it is impossible to be one hundred percent safe everywhere all the time. They would ask that we allow them to bring their destructive project to our lands and waters; that we accept their disaster for their profit – That’s not going to happen.
The People of BC have been offered one small inducement to accept the Northern Gateway Project; jobs. Once again the problem of reliable statistics rears it ugly head, however I have not heard any evidence that the small number of BC jobs to be gained from the construction and operation of the project would come even part of the way to offsetting the livelihoods that will be lost when the spill wipes out fishing on the northern BC coast. I cannot quote any specific figures but the estimates seem to indicate that the collapse of fishing would obliterate several small towns worth of employment throughout the region. It is significant to note that virtually none of the fishing jobs lost after the Exxon Valdez spill have been restored twenty years later.
I recently watched the powerful film, Black Wave, documenting the story of the Exxon Valdez and it’s impact on the nearby town of Cordova Alaska. I noticed several striking similarities between the Trans Atlantic Pipeline project and The Northern Gateway Project. First both projects were developed during times of energy scarcity, when financial and energy demands held sway over sober rational thought. Both projects involved an extensive pipeline and transport of oil through pristine, delicate maritime ecosystems. The governments of the day were involved in pushing the projects along with little or no regard for the local population or environment. Finally both Exxon and Enbridge claimed that the risks have been mastered and the possibility of a catastrophic disaster were small. We are all aware of the crushing cost of the Valdez oil spill and that tanker was a fraction of the size of the ones proposed for the Northern Gateway. What I can’t fathom is how the significant similarities between the Exxon project and the Enbridge proposal have been ignored. There are those that will claim that “the industry is different now” and that technology has advanced to the point where the Valdez spill couldn’t happen. I’m certain that the people of Cordova Alaska, Kalamazoo Michigan or the passengers on the Queen of the North would not agree with this optimistic and some would say far-fetched appraisal of the technology’s ability to manage such a complex, unpredictable project. For me the final nail in the coffin of the Exxon saga was the realisation that Exxon had spent more time and money on fighting legal battles to get out of paying for the destruction caused by THEIR SPILL than they have paid to the victims of the disaster or to ecological rehabilitation. Yet Exxon remains in the upper crust of profitable corporations world wide. This is the shocking, APPALLING, money grubbing, irresponsible nature of big business. The skeleton is out of the closet and dancing around the room yet we are not acknowledging it.
According to the National Energy Board, the overall Canadian, national public interest is: “inclusive of all Canadians and refers to a balance of economic, environmental, and social interests that change as society’s values and preferences evolve over time. ” If this is truly the mandate of this board then all of the presenters have wasted your time; It is clear the people of British Columbia DO NOT want this project.
The financial interests of a few corporations, often with foreign ownership, in a distant province CAN NOT out weigh the importance of our way of life, our livelihoods, our environment and our future.