Oil pipeline to Alberta tar sands must not cross B.C.’s north coast

By Ryan Vandecasteyen, Faroe Des Roches, and Curtis White

Surrounded by concrete towers swallowing the sky, noisy crowds of people milling in all directions seemingly unaware of those around them, the dizzying white noise of a screaming city, we cower in awe, stumble with vertigo, and are reminded of the distance between the city and the coast. In an environment that contrasts so completely with what we’ve experienced on B.C.’s north coast, it may be easy to see why such a crucial issue like Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline can seem so distant.

Having spent two months paddling the length of B.C.’s coast, we’ve been humbled by our complete immersion in what seems like a whole other world. From waters teeming with an astounding abundance of creatures, from the giant humpback whales to microscopic plankton, being embedded in and reliant on our environment has made the pipeline and tanker issue even more tangible and the battle to stop them from destroying our coast even more important.

We embarked on our 900-kilometre, two-month journey after hearing of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would connect Alberta’s tar sands to B.C.’s north coast and bring massive crude oil supertankers to our shores en masse. From our lives in the city, the decision regarding Enbridge’s proposed pipeline felt intangible and inaccessible. We were frustrated at our exclusion, the apparent exclusion of the voices of concern from communities across the province, and the daunting realization that corporate power and government bureaucracy hold the reins on decision making that would effectively force the citizens of coastal B.C. to take a risk they are not willing to take. This compelled us to take on our kayak expedition, which we have just now returned from.

Our search began at the first of Kitimat’s formal Joint Review Panel sessions. We quickly discovered many of the inadequacies in the formal process that has been established by the federal government to try to give the public a voice. Many communities, which are poised to lose everything in the event of a tanker spill or pipeline breach, expressed their concern that they have yet to be properly consulted, and that their fate rests in the hands of the appointed three-member panel that will be responsible for the final decision on the project. The more time we spent talking to communities along the coast, the more we realized that public participation in these types of decisions ends at providing feedback. Stakeholders and the public often lack any real decision-making power, leading to questions of how democracy fits into the important decisions that would have profound repercussions on a national level.

The more time we spent on the coast, the more we began to realize that we weren’t the only ones searching. Everywhere we turned we encountered expressions of similar quests for effective ways to become involved in the creation of our collective future. Situated within a so-called democratic system in which 80-percent opposition is not sufficient to halt a project backed by barrels of oily wealth, everyone seemed to be searching for ways, and creating space, to participate.

Despite the daunting and ongoing search for answers, the people of the coast have created a multitude of incredible and powerful ways to take their futures into their own hands. Perhaps embodied by the pristine, stunning, raw, powerful, and awe-inspiring beauty of B.C.’s coast, we found the humble strength and determination of the north coast communities essential in creating the space needed to be heard. As many of the people on the coast will tell you, a line is being drawn in the sand here—a line that these people, the stewards of this coast, will ensure is not crossed by those seeking to jeopardize one of the few remaining truly wild places on Earth.

We found hope in the strength of the communities we visited. They’re firm in their commitments, and it’s inspiring. But the pipeline, and other such projects, will only be stopped if we all join the struggle and defend that line in the sand, the line defining the future we are fighting for.

Ryan Vandecasteyen, Faroe Des Roches, and Curtis White are members of the Pipedreams Project, which aims to experience, connect, and engage citizens about the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

Comments (14) Add New Comment
don't be hypocrites
Couldn't you wackos concentrate on something like doing less driving or taking less tar sands fueled diesel bus transit rather than being hypocrites who drive out to the beach to protest a tar sands pipeline? If u are truly concerned about the environment, go after TransLink operating diesel buses underneath the trolley bus lines to UBC !!!
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three times lucky
no tankers no pipe no drilling no problem
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james green
Calling these committed young people who care profoundly about their country and the environment is so hurtful and mean spirited I wonder why the Straight published your comments.
We should all be proud of youth who care enough to get involved and take action that is peaceful and meaningful.
Good job to all of you.
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Dana V
These 'hypocrites' all ride bicycles and don't own vehicles. They would love to have skytrain go out to UBC. When is the last time you got involved in a cause to the point that you were prepared to give up work, friends, university, and family for 60 days to experience something far bigger than yourself? How many groups exist that are rallying FOR the pipeline....I'm guessing none.
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@Dana V and James Green
Yes, I have never aimlessly puttered about the ocean, you're right, and GS has an obligation to print both sides. For you information, I also ride my bike to work daily. If I lived in Edmonton or Calgary where the weather isn't conducive to cycling all year round, I'd be driving half the year.

Hopelessly attacking the tar sands as unsustainable is misguided and you people could better direct your attention to the unsustainable use of diesel buses in Vancouver because they are using diesel fuel produced in Alberta by Suncor and others, we don’t have much conventional oil left to exploit. Don't tell me that you don't drive or have never relied on someone who drives, that's crap.

We don't have to spend billions of dollars on SkyTrain transit which is unaffordable and a ruse by TransLink to stall and profit over the next 10 years operating diesel buses costing next to nothing. Simple trolley buses costing a fraction of the SkyTrain would do nicely to meet transit demand to UBC if TransLink opened up more routes to UBC for trolley buses along 4th and 16th avenues.

Of course, many including impressionable students have been brainwashed by TransLink into believing that SkyTrain is “it”. This is unfortunate but most people only know what others tell them and can’t think for themselves. Meanwhile, TransLink will keep milking taxpayers for its $10 million dollars (and climbing) to study transit options to UBC.

Keep puttering about the ocean, you aren’t accomplishing much and are still misguided hypocrites who cry about our dependence on oil. Putting the blame on Alberta is very hypocritical when you only have to look at TransLink in BC to find the people who are most to blame and the cause of our dependence on oil. Thanks for giving me the chance to enlighten you or others who might have a little more sense than you.
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NZ
I don't understand "hypocrite" why you spend so much time being negative and criticizing others. It's easy to put down people who are doing their best to bring a voice to an issue but how is that helping. They're trying to bring attention to the pipeline because that's a part of the bigger oil issue. By making people aware maybe the public will start looking at things like translink but if people like you put down and belittle every person who tries to draw attention to this issue nothing will be solved. Yes you ride your bike to work- big deal so do a lot of people. Lets be serious this attack on the pipedreams project is just about building up your ego. Negativity is nothing but a cop out. If you're really so concerned about translink then maybe you should be joining forces with people like the pipedream project not fighting them. Oh but wait then you wouldn't be the centre of attention. Grow up and realize that your negative attitude will get you nowhere in life.
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Dana V
To HYPOCRITE: That's ok you can aimlessly hide behind your laptop instead but if you paid attention to what was written you will find that it is the pipeline from the tarsands to the coast that is being questioned, along with the decision making process. The pipeline's main purpose is so that this oil can be sold to China, increasing the output at the tarsands by 30% which means even more pollution, more cancer in downstream villages, more dead water fowl (260 last week) and more depletion of clean water used in the process. Along with the pipeline there will be over 250 oil tankers per year navigating narrow passages on our coast and there will eventually be a spill. Google Exxon Valdez to see how over 20 years later you can simply turn a few rocks on the beaches to find crude oil. It's called crude for a reason. Another purpose of the trip was to try and bring these concerns forward, to get people talking about this issue. Guess what...it's working. If everyone simply took your attitude that you can't stop big business etc etc then not much would ever change for the better would it? It is people like this trio that may have a part in saving us from ourselves. It may take a few generations but it will happen.
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Avid Cyclist
If we all took transit and rode bicycles, we would not need an oil pipeline in the first place.

If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

Stop driving your vehicles and get on a bike... NOW.
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welldoneson
They aren't tarsands, they are oil sands.
The river downstream from that location had oil slicks on it a long time before anyone started mining for oil.
Those protesting it have no idea what they're squawking about.
They have been duped by a well-funded campaign to deny North Americans ANY domestic oil supply. It's so obvious as to be a joke!
The Obama admin has hobbled drilling efforts on dry land and offshore, while investing Billions of dollars in Mexican and Brazlian offshore oil.
Do the math, people, and realize how stupid you look protesting these efforts. You DO know that tankers have been sailing in and out of Burrard Inlet for generations, don't you? Come to think of it, you probably don't, and are now going to protest that! Too fun!
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@Dana V and NZ
You'll probably be surprised, I vote for the Green party. Nothing is fail-safe, still if you were talking about a nuclear reactor with long term dire consequences (millions of years), I'd be on your side.

We are talking about relatively benign oil (short term consequences). An oil pipeline is the safest way to transport oil and the tankers today are double hulled; we aren't going to have another Exxon Valdez disaster here and drunks don't get to be captains of oil tankers anymore. Your paranoia over the pipeline seems to me to be excessive and unwarranted.

If you want to redirect your efforts towards the users in BC, you might do some good going after TransLink which uses 40 million litres of diesel fuel every year for its eco-diesel buses on our trolley bus routes. We might meet someday if you do. Damaged lungs from breathing toxic diesel exhaust will do you more harm in your life than any pipeline across the Rockies.
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There is no safe way
And talk about toxic fumes the Oil sands operations currently consumes approximately a billion cubic ft of gas each day by heating thick bitumen so can be extracted from the ground. This consumes over 20% of Canada's natural gas demand and is expected to double if not triple while Canadians pick up the billions it cost to extract as tax breaks to Oil Companies..
While a spill of the proposed pipeline would not only immediatley cause major distruction and thing will never be the same.
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Dana V
I'm not sure why some of the comments keep going off on a Translink tangent. The article is about the pipeline. Yes the government now refers to that bald spot in nortthern Alberta as "oil" sands instead of it's original name Tarsands to try and put a false positive spin on it the same way they changed Unemployment Insurance to Employment Insurance thinking that it makes some kind of ridiculous difference. Yes I am aware of the tankers going into Burrard Inlet. I'm also aware of plans to increase that traffic tenfold. I'm also aware of long term constant oil leaks in Burrard waters that are only recently being recognized. Here's the deal.For now, we need oil so why are we shipping Tarsands oil and selling leases for the land to the U.S. and elswhere while we import oil for eastern provinces from Venezuala and the Middle East? Why ship crude oil out of the country to be refined and sold back to us? Why not refine it here, create some lasting jobs, turn the crude into a safer product for transport, and keep a larger portion of the profits, and product, at home. The more we give away the less we have for ourselves.Talk about being duped! This country is being duped by those who somehow have enticed us to screw up our environment while they reap the benefits at no cost to themselves. Why is the Minisrty of Environment responsible for determining the impact of proposed mines and it is the Energy Ministry with a 3 person appointed panel, with some members having former employment in the oil industry, asssigned the responsibility of reviewing the impact of the pipeline and potential impact from grounded or sunken tankers on the coast of BC? Who's being duped by that panel? Not me, and not members and supporters of The Pipedreams Project.
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Ryan J
I don't understand all of this finger pointing? We have all used oil products all of our lives. Some people make a choice to use less, others don't care, or are unable to use less. The reality is that we need to be working away from this oil dependance and looking to renewable, sustainable resources to continue forward on this planet.
I live on the west coast, on Vancouver island. I care deeply about the environment and our planet, and the ecosystem on this coast is an integral part of our oceans health, and ultimately, our health. the water on our planet is the same water that has always been here. We are drinking filtered T-rex pee. There is no more coming. This is all we have, and it is getting too dirty for many species to survive as it is. Add to that, the massive overfishing of our oceans, without any time or space for fish populations to recover, and our oceans are in big trouble.
We would have to be pretty naive and really freakin stupid to think that disaster would never happen here. It WILL! It is simply a matter of when. This amazing ecosystem is far to fragile to deal with more toxic spills. Spillage isn't even the entire problem. Marine research stations along the coast are listening with hydrophones day and night, to the movements of marine mammals along the inside passage. Orcas, humpbacks with their young, grey wales, seals otters, traveling up and down their migratory paths. They have observed that the always singing, constantly communicating, humpback whales, don't make a sound as soon as a large vessel is heard on the hydrophone. Whales quite often fall victim to ships propellers, hurting them badly, and leaving them vulnerable to predation from orcas or dying from their injuries.The number of ships traveling the coast would disrupt migratory patterns for all marine mammals down the entire west coast of the Americas.
We are pretty lucky to be Canadian right now. We aren't in shambles financially or socially. Our position in the world is near the top. We have a responsibility, as future leaders to pave the way out of this horrible mess, where banks and corporations run the governments, and have free reign to destroy economies and environments for their own personal gains. There are solutions to these problems we face, we can do it.
We are still using oil, but we can't much longer, we need to be looking to bio fuels, electric, solar, wind, any other ideas? Lets hear it! We need innovation, and we need to have people in power who aren't afraid to pull off of the big oily tit, and let us move forward.
This pipeline is only a step backward.
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rose g.
The problem is we cannot imagine a future without oil. We have to begin to think of living without oil before we can plan to live without oil. We need to make an imaginative leap into a future that can actually tolerate our existence instead of the future we see ahead of us now - a future that we are destroying and that will destroy us.
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