Slide rules

Exactly two years before another cataclysmic 9/11 twisted the course of history, a cliff toppled into a glacier sitting high in the rugged Howson Range that presides over the headwaters of the Zymoetz and Telkwa rivers.

Exactly two years before another cataclysmic 9/11 twisted the course of history, a cliff toppled into a glacier sitting high in the rugged Howson Range that presides over the headwaters of the Zymoetz and Telkwa rivers.

The rock slid over the ice field then poured into a gully, gaining momentum as it gathered more debris and soil before it smashed into the natural gas line. When it came to a halt almost three kilometres from where it began, the slide had entrained over a million and half cubic metres of rock, dirt and debris, enough to form a dam and create a lake after water backed up behind the newly formed dam.

On the seventh of June, 2002, a chunk of mountain broke off some 4 kilometres above Glenn Falls and almost two million cubic metres of rock rocketed down the narrow valley transforming itself into a massive torrent of debris that ultimately dammed the Copper with material that included chunks of rock up to 7 metres in diameter.

While the trees next to the slide that had caught fire during the slide smoldered, the river backed up more than 2 kilometres. Once again the much abused PNG gas line was a casualty as was the forest service road that provided access to the upper Zymoetz basin. It was a year before the Copper Main was opened again.

A primitive road was cut up the steep valley and bridge built across the stream a week after the slide.

I wonder how long would it have taken the Enbridge response team – the one they tell us will be stationed in Burns Lake – to attend the spill that would have occurred had the same fate befallen their poison packing pipelines. Probably a long time, considering that the proposed Enbridge line wouldn’t have road access, as the PNG line did, and that its route is to be located in even more rugged country.

It took Enbridge a lot of time to respond to its spill in Kalamazoo, which can hardly be considered rugged inaccessible terrain. The Michigan spill was just a leak in a corroded pipe located in a section of its line that Enbridge had been told about yet hadn’t repaired. That’s right, a leak, not the complete KO a rockslide can deliver.

If you think these rocky disasters are rare, ponder the fact that there have been six large rock slides near the area of the proposed pipeline since 1978 and that five out of the six have happened since 1999. These large events and rock slides of the same scale on the Sutherland River, the Harold Price, and the Verney watersheds are the largest but by no means the only slides in this area over the last few decades. Numerous smaller slides occur annually many of these are capable of rupturing a pipeline.

To make matters significantly worse, rock slides are not the only creatures ready to pounce on a pipeline. Shallow, lightening quick debris slides and avalanches are frequent in our part of the province and particularly common on the coast where shallow soils carpet steep rock slopes. And then there are flow slides.

These phenomena occur where there are slippery glaciomarine sediments, The Thunderbird logging site on the north side of the Lakelse River is one of those places. In 1995 a worker repairing the rail line was swept away and died in a landslide that carried him, his coworkers, and heavy equipment into Mink Creek. The largest slide of this kind took place in November of 2003 when almost 5 million cubic metres of debris travelled a couple of kilometres, whacked the PNG pipe yet again, and dammed almost 2 kilometres of the river. On that occasion the natural gas service to Prince Rupert was disrupted for 10 days.

Salt left in these areas after the retreat of ancient seas is the glue holding the land together. Over time, rain leaches away the salt and the land slumps. This September we had more rain in three days than we normally do in the entire month. There is a simple explanation for this. Thanks to byproducts of our hydrocarbon economy and the greenhouse gases emitted by garbage dumps, human rumps, coal mines, and projects like the Tar Sands, the seas are warming up and the climate is a-changin’. As a result, the polar icecap is melting along with the Greenland ice sheet, glaciers, and permafrost.

This means that a lot of moisture is escaping into the environment. Climatologists reckon that we add 3% more wet stuff into the atmosphere for every degree of global warming. That means more rain and more snow. More rain and more snow mean more avalanches and more flow slides.

Now, given all these indisputable facts, I’m prepared to say that anyone who wants to build a petro line through this country is a lunatic.


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