SHELL CANADA officials with a sample section of a 48-inch diameter pipeline. The company wants to build that size pipeline to Kitimat.

SHELL CANADA officials with a sample section of a 48-inch diameter pipeline. The company wants to build that size pipeline to Kitimat.

Toeing the line

Pipeline proliferation possibly first requires a very public debate

By Jim Culp

In reference to the proliferation of pipeline proposals that could be located in the Morice River watershed, the Burnie River pass, the Kitimat Valley or alternatively through the Skeena River corridor, through the Nass River watershed and along or over many tributaries of the two major river systems,  as well as the planning of new electrical transmission lines to service the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants.

The Northern Branch of the Steelhead Society of British Columbia is alarmed and shocked that neither our provincial or federal governments have made any effort to understand or even acknowledge the importance of the river watersheds (the pipelines will traverse), their fish, wildlife and substantial, associated economic and intrinsic social values that these historical, natural watershed resources have provided for First Nations, British Columbians and for visitors from around the world.

The Morice River is home to the largest population of chinook salmon in the Skeena  drainage and one of the most extensive in BC, the largest race of summer steelhead in BC, a huge population of pink salmon along with substantial numbers of other species which spawn and rear in its waters.

It is one of the most prolific and important recreational river fisheries in British Columbia.

The Skeena River is the mother river to all of those populations plus the myriad of  other runs, races, species and populations that are indigenous or migrate to and from other tributary rivers and streams.

The Nass River watershed is the third largest salmon producer in the province, with major and unique populations of steelhead including all of the other species that are found in the Skeena River system.

There has been no comprehensive, government initiated integrated resource planning process that  includes the input from the public or apparently from First Nations as has been suggested by those involved in the “Idle No More movement”. The Environmental Assessment process which is initiated by a proponent does not address many of the issues we are talking about.  In other words there has been no easy way for the public or average First Nation person to be able to talk with either Government about the importance of these river systems, there fish and other values before critical decisions have reached a point of finality.

The emphasis by both levels of government for economic development has been very one sided.  The lack of concern for other interests is distressing and disquieting.  Both governments have gone so far as to silence their scientists and managers.

The remaining few professional and technical staff in the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (MFLNRO), Fish, Wildlife and Habitat sections and similarly with a now much smaller Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) can now only carry out the most essential responsibilities.

Their budgets have been slashed and in some instances have been entirely eliminated, preventing both government agencies from carrying out meaningful stock and habitat assessment, research and studies to address the importance and value of the fish species that both Governments are responsible to protect and to manage.

Those mandated to carry out environmental assessment are taxed with interpreting meagre and or often no data that is realistic, meaningful or quantifiable.  There for it is impossible for them to make fair and responsible, stand alone decisions, based upon solid and substantive science.  What has and continues to unfold is reprehensible and must be challenged.  If our watersheds are going to be shredded and their fisheries and associated values squandered than all of our citizens must know what the consequences are going to be.

The construction and operation of as many as six pipelines will have an enormous impact upon the spectacular scenery of our region which seems to no longer matter or to be a serious consideration.

The history and  connections to this very special part of our province is being ignored and pushed aside for hasty, panic and corporation driven, gigantic industrial development, sadly so similar to that which has taken place worldwide for generations with so many very unhappy and disastrous consequences.

It is the responsibility of senior governments, not corporations to undertake the initial integrated resource planning for large industrial projects and activities in terms of where project works can or should be located and how they and existing economies and resource values can co-exist.

Rather shockingly Spectra is moving into the assessment stage for its huge 48” diameter natural gas pipeline. In comparison, this proposed pipeline will have a diameter that is almost five times the size of the existing 10” diameter PNG pipeline which at one time provided enough natural gas for three pulp mills, a methanol plant, the Rio-Tinto Alcan smelter as well as for residential consumption and all of the other commercial and industrial users in Kitimat, Prince Rupert and Terrace with extra natural gas to spare.

This very large company has said on many occasions to those of us who live in the northwest that they would consult broadly and not leave a stick or stone left unturned.

We guess their giant phone conversation during last autumn was in their mind their idea of carrying out sufficient due diligence.

What is unfolding in front of our eyes is the largest combined group of industrial projects in the history of British Columbia.

One would assume that such a mammoth industrial development plan would  trigger an apolitical community/provincial dialogue so that all concerned could learn and understand the consequences of what is being proposed.

There should be discussion over where or if LNG plants and energy corridors should be located in a particular area  If there is community, regional and provincial consensus for LNG plants and corridors to be established than consideration of location options should be discussed.

Upon determination where the corridor(s) are going to be located than a discussion over how many pipelines should be allowed in a corridor, either deciding in favour of a number of smaller pipelines or possibly one or two larger pipelines in an effort to minimize the environmental footprint might be an idea.

It should be the rule that natural gas is provided to all British Columbians in communities located along or close to a new pipeline, such as to the Hazeltons and Kitwanga where natural gas is not now available.

There are other issues such as the petrochemical industry concerns over the declining availability of natural gas derivatives such as ethane as well as price implications over the export of gas.

One of the larger corporations in the business is so concerned over the large scale export of natural gas, it has commented in a roundabout way over the rational, or if we can use the word “threat” to the domestic supply of natural gas and the availability of the by-products from it.  There is little doubt that this is a very complicated subject that our organization may not clearly understand but at the same time is of the opinion that a clearing of the air and open discussion is very important for the industry as well for all Canadians.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing of geological formations to allow the escape of natural gas and replace it with water is a huge and controversial subject that cannot be ignored.

The implications from such a divisive way of extracting natural gas needs a full public airing.

There must be a dialogue over carbon dioxide emissions from LNG production, creating electrical power from natural gas and from the extraction of natural gas. It is crucial to determine if there is a contrasting set of BC government principles and policies over the development of giant LNG plants, while on the other hand attempting to control and reduce green house gas emissions in BC.

We need to understand the consequences for the future of British Columbia, with the extraordinary, never before contemplated amount of electrical energy that will have to be used and produced for a single form of industrial development, creating LNG at four or more proposed conversion facilities.

As an example of the magnitude of these projects, it is our understanding that one large LNG plant could consume all of the electrical energy the proposed “Site C”  Peace River hydro development could produce.

A public dialogue must happen with British Columbians in a frank, open and thorough way, with no political or ideological baggage to confuse or distort the discussion.

This is not intended to be an election issue, but a responsibility for all the political parties to support, including the governing party.

No one party or government has the mandate to decide on such a gigantic policy shift and set a new direction with so many unknown implications without discussing the transformation with its citizens.

Sadly the discussion to date has been content to push the process and ignore, bury and hide the issues,  moving us in a totally wrong direction which could all be reversed if the process were carried out in an open and democratic way.

Jim Culp is a longtime angling advocate.

The above originated as a letter to Premier Christy Clark.