26470'Overwhelmingly negative' response to Northern Gateway fro m people living along pipeline route
- Dec 18, 2013'Overwhelmingly negative' response to Northern Gateway from people living along pipeline route
Line in the Sand: Reporters speak to communities along the path of Enbridge's energy project
Out on the Nautley (Nadleh) river in the Nadleh Whut'en First Nation with Loretta Bird and Bryan Ketlo.
PHOTO: SUPPLIED/LINE IN THE SAND
Ishmael N. Daro
Published: December 17, 2013, 1:50 pm
Updated: 19 hours agohttp://o.canada.com/news/line-in-the-sand-northern-gateway/
With the Northern Gateway pipeline project inching ever closer to approval, there's a sense of inevitability about the whole thing. But often obscured in discussion of the economic benefits of the Enbridge pipeline - which would pump oilsands crude from Bruderheim, Alta., to a port in Kitimat, B.C. - is the perspective of the people who live along the proposed route.
In an effort to bring these stories to a larger audience, Vancouver-based journalist Tomas Borsa embarked on an ambitious reporting project a year and a half ago, along with Montreal-based filmmaker Jean-Philippe Marquis, Whistler-based videographer Skyler Flavelle and Vancouver-based web developer Bruno de Bondt. Their multimedia effort, Line in the Sand, includes scores of interviews from people living in communities along the proposed pipeline route.
Borsa says he had no prior agenda going into the reporting, but found an overwhelming reluctance from residents to accept Northern Gateway's path through their communities. Those few who support the project "tended to be much more quiet and felt that they had less to take to the streets about," Borsa said in an interview Tuesday. (Full disclosure: Borsa and I briefly worked together at the University of Saskatchewan student newspaper.)
Line in the Sand has coincided with the National Energy Board's Joint Review Panel (JRP) which has been conducting a public review since January 2012. The three-member panel is set to issue its final recommendation on Enbridge's multi-billion dollar pipeline project before the New Year. The first few videos from Line in the Sand are embedded in our interview below and a full-length documentary is coming soon. See lineinthesand.ca for more.
Hi Tomas. So tell me about Line in the Sand.
Line In The Sand is a collaborative multimedia project that was begun last summer, with the intention of providing an alternative vehicle to the JRP for the airing of concerns and perspectives on the Northern Gateway pipeline. To that end, myself and a small handful of others travelled from Bruderheim to Kitimat (and back again, and again) to meet with individuals living directly along the proposed route of the project, to ask whether they felt they had been adequately consulted, whether they felt that the JRP process had taken into account their concerns, and whether they felt that the localized risks which they were to assume were, on balance, a fair trade for the touted economic benefits of the project. The responses were overwhelming negative.
What would you say is the main objection from people you spoke with? Is it environmental concerns or simply a sense of being ignored as this massive project keeps moving forward?
I would say that the environmental argument is one which definitely pops up under different guises from time to time, but valid as it may be, there are two others which, in my mind at least, are the more persuasive, and which have come up just as much.
The first is the objection on the grounds that the risk of a spill (which several third party reports have pegged as high as 90 per cent over the pipeline's 30-year lifespan), would pose huge risks to First Nations' ability to continue their cultural practices and traditional lifestyle activities; all hyperbole aside, if a spill occurred in any of the many traditional territories along the pipeline, that nation's prospects of ever returning to the land would go out the window.
The second comes from an entirely different angle, and involves the feasibility of an Emergency Response plan along the length of the pipeline. We've spoken with Emergency Response personnel, and not one has expressed the slightest bit of faith in the proposed response plan, should there ever be a leak. You have to remember that these are deliberately remote areas where the pipeline would pass through, and getting a dozen personnel, plus equipment, to the side of a mountain to respond to a leak without endangering their lives simply cannot happen most of the year in many areas where the pipeline would pass. As one person put it: "No amount of money is going to make me strap up my boots if I know there's a 50 per cent likelihood my family won't be seeing me again."
There's simply a lot of money at stake here. Some disagreements between Alberta and British Columbia aside, is there really any chance the Northern Gateway won't be built? How do the people along the route who are opposed to the project feel about their chances of stopping it?
If you had asked me this at the beginning of the project, I would have been of two minds as to whether or not the pipeline would proceed. When we began the project, the JRP's public hearings were ongoing, and there was a general air of optimism and belief that through demonstration and vocal protest, the final outcome could indeed be influenced. That's not to say, by the way, that we didn't meet people who were in support of the pipeline being built - just that they tended to be much more quiet and felt that they had less to take to the streets about.
At this point, however, and having just concluded two months on the road, I would say that I feel there is a general sense of inevitability regarding the pipeline's construction, and that the JRP was, in the words of one individual we interviewed, "nothing more than window dressing." Precedent would certainly seem to back that sentiment up, because the National Energy Board (the body which oversees the JRP) has approved all but one development proposal since its founding in 1959; it is less a body concerned with actually taking public opinion into account as it is interested in finding ways to mitigate environmental impacts of development. Add to that the fact that the JRP's recommendation is being issued at a private media event in Calgary, the fact that the federal government have made their intentions very clear (and hold all of the decision making power as to whether the project will proceed), and I think the chances of it proceeding far outweigh the chances of it being rejected.
So what have you learned doing Line in the Sand? What were some surprises?
I suppose I was most surprised by how widespread and varied opposition to the project is at the grassroots level. The range of people who have objections to it is baffling - fishermen, loggers, hunters, anyone but the Mother-Gaia embracing archetypal treehugger. I would say that it's also opened up some outlooks on the state of provincial and federal relations with First Nations; many of the communities where the pipeline is slated to pass through have extremely high unemployment, but a discussion on how to address that without the need to place a pipeline immediately adjacent to their lands has, unfortunately, been lacking.
Is the economic argument just not convincing enough? Like you said, high unemployment is a problem in certain First Nations communities along the pipeline route.
Well, Enbridge has offered a 10 per cent equity sharing deal to First nations along the route. That works out to a projected $2.8 billion over 30 years, to be shared between all partnering bands along the route. Put differently, that works out to an average of just over $70,000 per band, per year, for 30 years.
In my eyes, and in the eyes of the vast majority of First nations along the route, that's not exactly a fair trade for assuming such a tremendous degree of risk.
What's your ultimate goal in getting these stories out to a larger audience? And do you have a personal perspective about Northern Gateway?
Our goal is to open up a larger audience to these stories and to put a face to a name of the people who would assume the risks of this project for the apparent benefit of people like you and me. By focusing on the personal commentary of individuals who live along the route we want to challenge Canadians to think critically about whether they are content knowing that these are the people who would be forced to take on the risks associated with the pipeline. And of course, we also would hope to serve as an alternative vehicle through which concerns and perspectives could be shared, without the rigid formality, time limits, and narrow focus of the JRP.
As for whether I feel we're mere observers: we began this project with the intent of giving voice to both sides of the issue. Unfortunately, we found it extremely difficult to recruit supporters of the pipeline to speak with us on camera. That is reflected in our footage. Our mission has never been to have to convince people to share their perspective on the pipeline, and I would be lying if I said that I hadn't been more than a little put off by the degree of indifference we encountered from those in support of it.
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