Five Houston residents spoke against the proposed Northern Gateway pipelines at federal review hearing held in Smithers last week.
Of all the speakers, Sofia Eberman lives nearest to the route that Calgary-based energy company Enbridge has proposed to build twin pipelines carrying bitumen and condensate between Kitimat and the Alberta oil sands.
“The proposed pipeline will be 500 metres away from my home and the idea of this suffocates me—it makes me sick,” Eberman told the three-person review panel.
Eberman said that since 1975, she and her husband have lived about 25 km south of Houston in a home they built along Buck Creek.
Along with the four other Buck Flats residents who spoke at the hearings, Eberman says she draws water from Buck Creek and worries that an upstream oil spill will ruin it.
Eberman said she remains unconvinced that Enbridge can engineer pipelines to withstand landslides and other disasters, noting that engineers at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor thought it was prepared before a 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused it to melt down.
Carlie Kearns, another long-time Houston resident, also spoke against Northern Gateway.
Kearns said that even with the 99.99 per cent safety record Enbridge reports for its pipelines, the volumes proposed for Northern Gateway are such that it would spill or leak almost 100,000 barrels of oil over the next six years.
Kearns also said she is aware that Enbridge had a 28,000-barrel oil spill northeast of Peace River, Alberta last May, and another 1,500 barrels were spilled from its Norman Wells line last June.
“The Normal Wells pipeline spill was discovered by Dene hunters—a pinhole leak, apparently,” she said. “It wasn’t noticed by Enbridge’s up-to-date monitoring technology.”
Houston Residents Andrea Newell, Simone Groth, and Egon Rapp echoed similar environmental concerns about the project.
Rapp also opposed Northern Gateway on economic grounds.
He said the pipeline is likely to spur faster development of the oil sands, a resource that former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed has said should be developed more slowly to bring on more Canadian refining.
Speaking outside the hearings last week, Enbridge communications representative Todd Nogier said it would be a mistake to judge public opinion on Northern Gateway by looking at the hearing process alone.
“Clearly, most of the submissions to date have been in opposition,” he said, noting that the same is true for most land-use and project reviews.
“But that’s not an accurate snapshot of public opinion on the project in general.”
Nogier said Enbridge will continue to publicly address environmental concerns about Northern Gateway, but the company will also speak to its benefits.
In B.C. alone, he said the project means 3,000 construction jobs, 560 long-term jobs and $1.2 billion in B.C. tax revenue over the 30-year life of the pipelines.
Regarding the economic case for Northern Gateway, Nogier said that its proposed oil pipeline can carry both bitumen and refined, synthetic crude.
“An argument in favour of value-added refining or upgrading capacity in Canada is not an argument against Northern Gateway,” he said.
“We’ll ship both—it depends on the marketplace.”
Currently, Nogier said there is a supply glut in the North American oil market because Canada doesn’t have enough outlets for Western-produced oil. Along with Northern Gateway, Enbridge has applied to reverse one of its existing pipeline to carry Alberta oil to eastern Canada.
Asked whether former Premier Peter Lougheed was right to call for slower oil sands development Nogier said, “That’s a big philosophical question. He’s always been a proponent of upgrading the resource in Alberta.”
Nogier also said Canada can find better prices for its oil in Asia—a move that’s become increasingly important as new hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” opens the door to more U.S. oil production in the Bakken rock formation that underlies Montana and North Dakota
“Nothwithstanding the climate-change concerns here, the energy sector and oil comprise a very, very large part of the economy,” Nogier said, noting that oil was Canada’s top export in 2010.
“It’s an important part of the Canadian economy, and a growing one as other sectors lose their relative weight.”