Oil pipeline not worth the risk

Paul Smith
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about moose hunting; that’s not much of a surprise for this time of year.

Moose have been astronomically successfully since they were introduced to our fair island more than a hundred years ago. There is absolutely no doubt that the Newfoundland habitat must suit their needs very well — near perfect, I’d be so bold to suggest.

Moose meat has filled many bellies when store-bought meat was scarce or unaffordable. Nowadays, most of us hunt moose for recreation, an excuse to spend time in the woods, exploring unpaved and uncultivated lands, tracts of Earth that are wild, left intact, unscathed by the infrastructure of human civilization.

I suppose there’s hardly a square inch left on this planet that we humans haven’t meddled with to some degree. A place that might be missing a few molecules of our exhaust and offal, from this or that, whether from car fumes, ATVs, oil spills or melted down reactor cores.

Even in isolated regions, you will still find transmission lines, communication towers, pipelines, hydro dams and other implements of the infrastructure that fuels the modern world. Evidence of human activity is just about everywhere.

Nothing is pure and perfect; but we must embrace the best that’s left. The Earth will never be as it was between the dinosaurs and us. We have made our mark.

Nowadays, as we hopefully become more conscious of our environment and collectively try and preserve the land that sustains us, we must protect the few and dwindling “nearly” wild places that remain. We must support political groups and parties that share this worldview.

People who love wild places and feel the need to walk in the woods, or wade a free-flowing river, must take a stand against companies and corporations who want to develop and capitalize every last inch of the planet.

We must oppose governments that make laws to perpetuate the profit-at-all-costs philosophy. They will tell us that it is too late, that the mark of civilization is everywhere.

Why worry about it? I’d say this. To walk in the forest and happen upon an old, dilapidated trapper’s cabin is different than having to climb over an oil pipeline in the middle of nowhere. Wilderness destruction is not inevitable, or even necessary.

I am not against industrial development per se. It is not possible to go back to a hunter-gatherer society. There are too many of us.

I’m just saying that surely we must be able to conserve a few wild places where we can hike, fish, hunt and explore.

At least we will be able to experience life in the woods as it once was, an oasis from concrete, steel and asphalt, an escape from modern madness. It’s still a big planet we live on. There’s no need to hand the works of it over to industry and developers.

In Newfoundland, we are lucky to still have lots of room to run around. We just need to be aware of what’s going on and keep it that way.

Folks have plenty of wild places in British Columbia, as well. But there’s an industrial threat to one of the absolute wildest places in North America. I suspect most of you have heard of this on the news, but you might not have a full appreciation for the magnitude of what’s actually at stake.

The gateway

Enbridge Inc. is a Canadian company that builds pipelines. They are proposing one of their biggest projects ever, The Northern Gateway Pipeline. Twin petroleum product pipelines will be constructed, spanning 1,170 kilometres between Brudenheim, just north of Edmonton, Alta., and Kitimat, B.C.

Alberta tar sands crude will flow westward through some of the wildest, roughest and most pristine terrain in all of Canada. If a break never occurs, everything will be rosy and Canadian oil will be sold in the lucrative and growing Asian market. But if an accident or rupture happens, lethal oil will leak into the environment, polluting some of the most productive salmon and steelhead waters on the planet.

The Skeena is one of them, and so is the Frazer, two of the largest rivers in British Columbia and home to millions of fish. In my view, this is an unacceptable risk.

There is also news about protection of fish habitat in Canada. Federal government changes to Canada’s fisheries legislation have crippled the ability to protect habitat for most of the country’s fish species.

According to biology professors at the University of Calgary, the changes were politically motivated, unsupported by scientific advice, contrary to existing government policy, and inconsistent with ecosystem-based management.

Before changes to legislation, the law protected all fish habitat in Canada. This was a very good thing; habitat is everything, like the Newfoundland moose story.

Now, only stocks with economic value are protected. I smell something rotten here. Might there be a connection to oil pipelines? A streamlined process has also been put in place for development proposals. This all sounds pretty fishy to me.

Derek Barber, a friend of mine who guides for steelhead and salmon on the Skeena River, is very involved in the fight to keep oil pipelines out of the Skeena’s watershed. He sent me a link to a recent film on the issue. Many of you might enjoy watching it — https://vimeo.com/78876102. You will gain an understanding of what is at stake if the Enbridge pipeline is built.

As I said before, I’m not against development, but we have to draw the line somewhere. We Newfoundlanders know all too well the end result of all out profit-driven industry. I’m referring to our cod stocks, the greatest protein source on Earth, destroyed by greed and unsustainable development

If you feel so inclined, do what you can to help out our fishing and outdoorsy friends in British Columbia. Post the film on your Facebook, or simply tell a friend about it over coffee.

You might also get a hankering to cast a fly in the Skeena, the last stronghold of wild steelhead. I’ve done it and it’s right up there with Atlantic salmon fishing. It is a massive fishery, almost beyond comprehension. The Skeena is 350 miles long and with its tributaries drains 21,000 square miles of wilderness.

There’s no trouble finding a place to cast a fly and boil the kettle in peace. Think about putting a steelhead adventure on your bucket list, a trip of a lifetime sort of deal. I’ve been out there once, but I’m definitely going again.

I’ve been a tad political this week, beating the environmental drum. I understand that we need economic development, and we have to sell our oil.

The Asian market is massive and growing. I understand the temptation to pipe Alberta oil to the Pacific and beyond at the least possible cost.

It is up to us, the engaged  and voting public, to ensure accountability, and remind our leaders of the dire consequences that can result from chasing profit margins and industrial developers while wearing economic winkers.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay,

fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted

at flyfishtherock@hotmail.com.

Organizations: GatewayEnbridge, The Northern Gateway Pipeline, University of Calgary Enbridge

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Canada, British Columbia Skeena North America Edmonton Skeena River Alberta Pacific

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Recent comments

  • Oisin McMahon
    November 18, 2013 - 07:01

    Mr. Smith, hopefully you can take some more time to be political. Under both COSEWIC and the Species At Risk Act there is a proposal to close recreational salmon angling on the whole of the South Coast of NL. One of the identified threats to this population of wild Atlantic salmon is fish farming with their open pen feedlots. ISA here is the culprit. This is a serious problem which is close to home. I'm hoping you could take the time to address this in a future article.

    • Paul Smith
      November 19, 2013 - 08:00

      I'm on that one --- coming soon

  • John Farrell
    November 17, 2013 - 20:46

    What do we use instead of oil?Is there a rechargeable battery that we can use to drive and fly to our destinations?Maybe we can use a long,long,real long extension cord connected to the electric cars.Like it or not there is no substitute for oil to run the world economy. Its interesting to see protests in Vancouver against pipe lines.Those same people drive to the protest or fly into town for it,using the oil products that they hate so much ,to get there.I saw no flying carpets or brooms near by.Oh my,what hypocrites.

    • Paul Smith
      November 19, 2013 - 08:05

      I did not say anything in this piece about not driving cars or stopping the use of oil products. I'm just against installing oil pipelines in the headwaters of salmon rivers. This pipeline has nothing to do with us using oil and gas. It has to do with selling oil in Asia. And I'm not against that either, again just the rish associated with this particular transport option