Coastal GasLink has resumed preparations to tunnel under the Morice River south of Houston as construction of its natural gas pipeline from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas facility now underway at Kitimat continues.
Work stopped late last year for the holiday period and also because pipeline protesters erected makeshift structures where the drilling would start in an attempt to halt the work.
The protesters made up of Wet’suwet’en and their supporters said tunneling under the Morice posed an environmental threat to the river and fish.
Coastal GasLink said drilling horizontally underneath a water course, something it calls micro-tunnelling, is safe.
“The micro-tunnel method is a type of trenchless crossing method that does not disturb the stream or the bed and banks of the river and will protect the fish and their habitat,” said company through information provided.
“Using a hydraulic jack and a tunnel boring machine concrete casing segments are pushed through the soil deep under water bodies in a way that minimizes risk and disposal volume. The pipeline is then safely pulled through the tunnel created by the concrete casing.”
“Trenchless crossings do require a larger footprint of activity on either side of the water body (drill pad) and are used in cases where typical methods are not practical due to constructibility, terrain, feature or environment drivers.”
Protesters were first cleared from a road blockade and then from the drilling site in mid-November, resulting in arrests and charges for violating a court injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink preventing them from interfering with the project.
Protesters did return to the drill site just before the end of 2021 but then left shortly thereafter, saying they did not wish to be participants in more arrests.
“Our warriors are not here to be arrested. Our warriors are here to protect the land and the water, and will continue to do so at all costs,” said Molly Wickham who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en members who have been at the forefront of protests south of Houston.
“Every time that the RCMP …. has come in to enforce CGL’s injunction they have done violence against our women. They have imprisoned our Indigenous women and our warriors. We will not allow our people to be political prisoners.”
The Morice crossing is one of nine such projects, seven of which have already been completed. That list includes a tunnel of approximately 500 metres underneath the Kitimat River, a project completed in 2020.
The longest of the tunnelling projects was 1.3 kilometres, going underneath the Murray River in northeastern B.C. The pipe length for the Morice project is 888 metres.
“We have successfully completed trenchless crossings of the Kitimat River, Crooked River, Stuart River, Salmon River, Murray River, Sukunka River and the Burnt River and are now starting the Parsnip DPI,” said Kiel Giddens who speaks for CGL.
“There were limited activities over the holiday period, but preparation work has resumed over this past month. We expect that the micro-drilling will take place starting this spring,” he said.
In preparation, a drilling company is getting ready to install a starting shaft which is a deep circulation excavation acting as an entry point on the east side of the Morice.
The active tunneling work is expected to take two and half to three months.