Friday, July 18, 2014

Two Cent Rant: Pipelines

Hey Sarita: you wanted to know my opinion on the Northern Gateway pipeline?

Here's my two cents.


You may have seen this commercial on TV recently. It offers stunning vistas of pine-cloaked hills, azure waters, and pristine coasts.

If you didn't know Enbridge, you'd probably think they were an environmental group.

Not so.

Enbridge would like to pump thousands of gallons of bitumen (dilbit) from the desolate wastelands of northern Alberta to the BC coast where it would be loaded into tankers and shipped across the Pacific Ocean.

You probably heard that Uncle Stephen recently approved the construction of such a pipeline. You may have also heard about the supposed economic benefits of such a project.

So what do you make of it?

Are you comfortable putting the safety of our beautiful coastline in the hands of Enbridge, a corporation whose sole purpose is to turn a profit? And don't you find it strange that, as much of the world scrambles to beat its addiction to fossil fuels (all the cool kids are doing it!), our government is doubling down on this destructive substance?

You shouldn't. Uncle Stephen's cronies declared Green Peace "a multi-issue extremist group," forbade meteorologists from uttering the words "climate change," and muzzled scientists whose findings contradicted the party ideology.

Then there's this Conservative MP who claims that the science behind climate change is inconclusive.

When 97% of experts in a certain field agree on something, it's tough to argue. It's especially tough if you have no credentials in that particular field. Yet that is precisely what James Lunney is doing. Who elected this clown?

If you read my post about the NNP you will recognize the stark contrast between evidence-based decision making and decisions based on pseudo-religious fundamentalist ideology.

Do you believe in climate change? I don't believe: I look at the facts and I know.

Florida is drowning. What was once considered a storm of the century now occurs every few years. The arctic ice is melting so quickly that atlases are being redrawn.The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has reached highs unseen in the last 2 million years.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be talking about the pipeline. Haven't you caught on yet, friend? Everything is connected. You can't approach a topic on its own. You have to look at the big picture, which is this: no amount of profit can reverse climate change.

Why not invest in green energy? Won't that create jobs and stimulate the economy too?

Let's set climate change aside for now and talk about the other reasons you should oppose this silly pipeline and any others like it.

Reason number 1
I'm not fear-mongering here folks, just looking at the facts.

Who is designing this pipeline? Who is building it? Who is responsible for maintaining it?

Who is manning the tankers that will crowd our coast eagerly?

Oh yeah, people are doing all that! Flawed, imperfect people who get tired, distracted, have bad days, and make mistakes.

And make mistakes they will. Let's take a quick stroll through memory lane, shall we?

On March 24th, 1989, a tanker called the Exxon Valdez struck the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil that went on to cover 2,100 kilometers of coastline and 28,000 square kilometers of ocean. 

Guess what caused this disaster?

Human error and negligence.

25 years later, scientists estimate that between 16,000 and 21,000 gallons of oil remains on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles away. All of it was easily preventable.

The best part? ExxonMobil still owes Alaska $92 million for the disaster.

Prince William Sound is so remote it can only be accessed by helicopter, plane, or boat. Its inhabitants are salmon, sea otters, seals, and seabirds. Imagine now if such a spill occurred on the West Coast. Imagine the damage to our tourism and fishing industries.

So long as humans operate the companies responsible for shipping oil across the world, we will continue to experience disastrous spills. Don't believe me? Here's a list of all the known spills since 1907 for your perusal. Hope you have some time on our hands: it's a big list.

While you're looking at it, I'd like to draw your attention to the three spills recorded for September 16th, 2004, and the eight spills recorded for August 30th. These weren't due to human error. You can thank Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Katrina for those.

Humans might have a knack for messing things up but it pales in comparison to mother nature's wrath. Think about all the "unusual" weather we've been seeing these past few years (due to climate change). Think about BC's location in the Ring of Fire, where 75% of the world's seismic activity takes place.

Does that sound like a good place for a pipeline?

"But aren't pipelines supposedly the safest way to transport crude?"

Allegedly! But that doesn't change the fact that a lot of pipelines burst. Go back to the list and start at the top with the most recent spills. You'll find a shocking number of pipelines spewing their contents into nearby rivers and creeks.

Here's one story of a pipeline gone sideways:
On July 25, 2010, a 40-foot pipe segment in Line 6B, located approximately 0.6 of a mile downstream of the Marshall, Michigan pump station, ruptured. The rupture caused a 877,000 US gallons spill of diluted bitumen into Talmadge Creek in Calhoun County, Michigan, which flows into the Kalamazoo River. On July 29 2010, the Calhoun County Health Department asked 30 to 50 households to evacuate, and twice as many were advised not to drink their water.

The oil was contained to a 40 km stretch of the Kalamazoo River as several hundred workers took part in the cleanup. Originally estimated at $5 million, by September 2011 cleanup costs passed $585 million and were expected to rise by 20 percent more. The cleanup expense by summer 2012 had totaled $765 million.
That sucks.

We shouldn't have to worry about that with the Northern Gateway pipeline, though. I mean, Enbridge isn't some reckless company putting profit before the environment. Watch their commercials! They're dedicated to protecting nature and exceeding all safety regulations. They even threw in an additional $500 million to make the pipeline safer!

Why don't you guess whose pipe it was that ruptured into the Kalamazoo River?

Who else but our good friends at Enbridge! More on that:
Though alarms sounded in Enbridge's Edmonton headquarters at the time of the rupture, it was eighteen hours before a Michigan utilities employee reported oil spilling and the pipeline company learned of the spill. Meanwhile, pipeline operators had thought the alarms were caused by a bubble in the pipeline and, while for some time it was shut down, they also increased pressure for periods of hours to try to clear the possible blockage, spilling more oil.

I could go on and on but I've already exceeded my 1,000 word limit so I'll leave you with some parting thoughts.

Taken alone, the issues listed above are manageable. Taken together they paint a clear picture. Climate change, Enbridge's gross incompetence in Michigan, the likelihood of a spill, and the harm such a spill would have on our economy and environment, make this proposal a no-brainer.

Does our hunger for money overshadow our love for the land and sea that feeds, sustains, and houses us? How long are we going to listen to the lies and disingenuous reassurances of politicians and tycoons before we learn?

There are other ways to stimulate the economy and create jobs but the same ideology that causes the Conservatives to deny and disregard climate change also prevents them from exploring more holistic options. They would rather continue along our current path, which 97% of climate scientists assure us leads to our destruction, than rely on evidence to make informed decisions.

So to the pipeline, I say "No thanks!

/rant over

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