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Faced with Northern Gateway pipeline, no siren can be sounded too loudly.

I addressed a public meeting last week to hear myself accused as a liar, an alarmist and a bad Canadian.

At least that was the gist of serial remarks made by a staunch supporter of oil pipelines and tanker traffic generally, but especially in B.C. Having been called these things before, I was neither upset not offended. Years ago in fact, a Tory cabinet minister in the Mulroney government John Crosbie called me “Canada’s most dangerous man” while prime minister Mulroney made the case more simple by just calling me a “traitor.” High praise like that is bound to turn the head of a B.C. lad trying to ply his trade as a political skeptic.

The “liar” epithet cannot be taken seriously coming from a staunch and uninformed oil man. But I think “alarmist” demands a response.

I plead guilty to the plain meaning of that word. I have indeed been ringing the tocsin against the Enbridge pipeline since its conception. I hope I’ve done it with some success, for British Columbians have every right to be as alarmed as hell. Around 1,100 kilometres of pipeline through the Rockies, Coast Range and the Great Bear Rainforest over 1,000+ rivers and streams should be enough to scare the liver out of any who love this province. I’ll go further on this point in a moment.

Treason? If you say so

The “bad Canadian” charge is interesting and here’s the evidence. I reject the idea that we must help Alberta and Ottawa with the worst environmental project in the world. I reject the notion that my province must take the hits from the statistical certainty of devastating spills. I object in the strongest terms to B.C.’s coastline being used to transfer this dangerous gunk by tankers that, again, most certainly will have calamitous spills. If standing up for British Columbia’s right to protect its world renowned environment is treason, take me to the scaffold.

The Enbridge Kalamazoo fiasco, two years later, achieved the status of a “story” only now that the mainstream media had its nose shoved firmly in the bitumen by a U.S. authority that compared Enbridge’s handling of that July 2010 spill as like the “Keystone Kops.” Environmentalists — forgive the use of a naughty word — have been on this matter for a year and a half but unless you read “papers” like this one it was a non-event. It’s sort of like the falling tree makes no noise if there’s no one in the forest to hear it.

I was pleased to see my old friend and Vancouver Sun political columnist Barbara Yaffe do a U-turn and declare the proposed Enbridge Gateway line as too great a risk. Others have made the same U-turn but the only mainstreamer who had it right all along — though he wasn’t as noisy about it as he should have been in my view (a highly prejudiced view I admit) — was the Globe and Mail’s Mark Hume.

Hume’s column last Monday outlined just what those risks are, in graphic terms. I suggest you read it carefully in light of the fact that it’s not just the risk (in reality a certainty), but that the damage caused is final and devastating. I’ve likened it to the revolver with 100 chambers. You can calculate the risk, but the important fact is that when you do get it, you’re a goner. On the other hand, if the chamber only contains marshmallow, who cares?

That stuff in the pipelines ain’t marshmallow, folks.

Thus, it is not a matter of assessing risks as part of a management exercise, because of those two basic underlying reasons — the “risks” are statistical certainties and the damage uncontrollable and irreparable. This is where Hume parts company from other columnists. I, however, take it a step further and say that no pipeline, whoever builds it, can guarantee safe passage of tar sands gunk through our province and down our coast. It cannot be done, which is the danger of assuming that while Enbridge was bad someone else will be good. Moreover, to say that nothing is risk free is hardly an excuse to do it, as proponents say, but precisely why it shouldn’t be done.

Bitumen is its own gunky thing

Here, as we law students used to say, is the matter in a nutshell.

Bitumen is combined with other chemicals so it can move down the pipe. When a spill occurs it’s but a short time before the bitumen separates itself from the additives and sinks like a rock and becomes, for all intents and purposes, incapable of being cleaned up.

Kalamazoo is part of a populated area and Enbridge had no trouble getting workers and equipment to the site. It was still a calamity. (It’s interesting to note that at time the company assured all that it was not a major spill, making one nervous to ask what Enbridge’s definition of what a major spill looks like.)

How the hell are you going to get men and equipment to places where only helicopters can (barely) access?

Then, the clincher. Even if you could get men and equipment in, what good would that do if the spill can’t be cleaned up anyway?

These are the problems facing those who would look for another pipeline company. Enbridge has about one spill a week. Any pipeline will have spills and they sometimes will be a calamity because of what they are carrying and where they will take place. To assume that someone else will be able to do the job better than Enbridge is folly. Any improvement would be in degree only. No other company or consortium can guarantee its service, and given what happens with a spill, certainty must be the standard demanded.

The Enbridge spill was because of a flaw in the metal. Even with the ability to check this, it wasn’t done, leading to the Keystone Kops allusion. How is a pipeline company going to inspect 1,100 km of pipeline through northern British Columbia?

And there’s another point that seems to have got under the radar. Never mind spills, what about the upset to both fauna and flora just by reason of the pipeline alone? How many trees must be hacked down for access during the building stage and what interference would the line itself pose to animal migrations? Surely the very least that can be asked for the more than 1,000 rivers and streams along the proposed route is that special arrangements must be constructed for each crossing.

Vulnerability to sabotage

I raise another point that is all too rarely voiced. What about terrorism or plain vandalism, as we have seen, for example, in B.C.’s northeast sector with natural gas?

I have never seen an issue get the sort of traction with the public this one has. The pipelines and consequent tanker traffic is simply not acceptable in any form to, I believe, a majority of British Columbians.

I wish I didn’t have to say this but it must be faced — if a pipeline is approved there will be trouble big time which, of course, the governments will say is all the fault of foreign funded environmental organizations and other lying, treasonous alarmists.

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