Illustration shows how a tunnel is bored underneath a watercourse. (Illustration courtesy Coastal GasLink)

Work underway on tunnel underneath Morice River

One of ten such tunnels along the Coastal GasLink pipeline

Coastal GasLink has resumed work to run its natural gas pipeline through a tunnel underneath the Morice River, a project that became a flashpoint for protesters and others opposed to the construction of the pipeline running 670 kilometres from northeastern B.C. to the LNG Canada liquefied natural gas plant being built in Kitimat.

The company would not release details other than to say two “trenchless watercourse crossings” are underway underneath the Morice River south of Houston and at Crocker Creek in northeastern B.C.

Members of a Wet’suwet’en clan and supporters opposed to the pipeline set up a camp on a planned drill pad work site late last fall, resulting in the RCMP making arrests and the camp structures being dismantled.

And in February, a group of unknown people attacked the work site, destroying equipment and buildings, forcing workers and security guards to flee and causing millions of dollars in damages.

Those opposed to the pipeline say tunneling under the Morice poses an environmental threat to the river and fish.

Coastal GasLink said drilling horizontally underneath a water course, something it calls micro-tunnelling, is safe.

“The micro-tunnel method is a type of trenchless crossing method that does not disturb the stream or the bed and banks of the river and will protect the fish and their habitat,” said company through information provided.

“Using a hydraulic jack and a tunnel boring machine concrete casing segments are pushed through the soil deep under water bodies in a way that minimizes risk and disposal volume. The pipeline is then safely pulled through the tunnel created by the concrete casing.”

The Coastal GasLink pipeline will have 10 tunnels under watercourses by the time the project is finished.

Speaking to board members of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako this summer, RCMP Inspector Ken Floyd, the commander of the specialized RCMP contingent created to deal with resource use conflicts, said the February attack on the drilling site resulted in $8 million in damages.

Minutes of the meeting kept by the regional district indicate that as CGL increases activity, there will be a requirement by the police to escalate care of the workers and to improve response times “in the area to accommodate the risk”.

Once preparations have been completed, the actual tunnelling time is expected to take two and half to three months.