Our Take of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Proposal
The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project would create a pipeline link between the Alberta oil sands and Kitimat, passing through the headwaters of the Morice and Bulkley Rivers. The 36” pipeline would allow the export of crude oil to refineries on the Pacific Rim. A second, parallel pipeline would import condensate, a gasoline-like product, required to dilute the tar-like oil. An estimated 225 supertankers per year would navigate Hecate Strait and Douglas Channel. The potential for a catastrophic oil spill in our pristine northern waterways has our coastal neighbors deeply concerned.
The pipeline route crosses hundreds of streams in the Morice-Bulkley watershed. The proposed route crosses Owen Creek at FSR km 28, and then parallels the Morice, crossing numerous feeder streams. It crosses the Morice River downstream of Morice Lake near the 60 km bridge, and then continues west along Gosnell Creek. In the headwaters of Gosnell Creek, two mountain-top tunnels are planned, crossing into headwaters of the Zymotz (Copper) and then the Kitimat watershed.
The Salmon and Steelhead Resources
The Morice River has excellent water quality and very clear water, because of large headwater lakes that moderate temperature, flows, and sediments. The Morice is one of the most important salmon producing tributaries of the Skeena, producing four salmon species as well as steelhead trout. The Skeena Fisheries Commission estimates that the Morice produces about 30% of Skeena River chinook salmon. The Morice-Bulkley is the largest steelhead producer in the Skeena watershed.
The pipeline route runs parallel to 34 km of the most important spawning and rearing habitat in the watershed for chinook, coho and pink salmon, as well as steelhead trout. The river here is a braided complex of log jam-created channels, which stabilize flows and provide sheltered rearing habitat for juveniles. It has been described as 30 km of mainstem river with well over 100 kms of additional spawning and rearing habitat in the sidechannels. Most chinook juveniles rear in the Morice for one year, coho for one to two years, and most steelhead remain in the system for four years. Steelhead adults overwinter, particularly in the section downstream of Gosnell Creek, prior to spawning in the spring. If a petroleum spill happened in this section of river in the winter, steelhead adults, as well as four age classes of juveniles could be substantially impacted.
Pipeline Failures Are Inevitable
A review by the National Energy Board found that large diameter oil pipelines fail from corrosion and stress after 28 years on average. Pipelines can also fail suddenly from third party damage or natural events such as landslides. Experience indicates a failure at some point is inevitable. The proposed pipeline route along the Morice passes through unstable glacial lacustrine deposits with large dormant and active landslides. Along the Gosnell, the route crosses active fluvial fans and, near the Crystal Creek crossing, the terrain is highly unstable. Enbridge has experience constructing pipelines in relatively flat terrain like Alberta and the American Midwest, but not in mountainous terrain with steep unstable slopes prone to landslides, avalanches and earthquakes.
Questions from a Recent Enbridge Pipeline Spill
July 26, 2010, an Enbridge pipeline leak spilled oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. An Enbridge spokesman said the leak was caused by a malfunction in the 30” pipeline, and that the pipeline was shut down as soon as possible. Despite their best efforts, at least 4 million litres of crude oil flowed into the Kalamazoo River. It is the largest environmental disaster in U.S. Midwest history.
What if a similar pipeline malfunction occurred under heavy winter snowpack along the Morice River? A technician at a control center in Edmonton would likely receive an automated loss-of-pressure warning. How could he be sure the warning signal wasn’t an error? How quickly could a technician get to the site to confirm an actual spill? Once the isolation valves are closed, how much oil would still drain into the river?
Condensate and lighter petroleum fractions are more acutely toxic and can impact long distances of river, causing fish kills and contaminating water supplies, before evaporating after several days. Heavier oil sinks and collects in log jams and along shorelines. It settles into the cobble riverbed, slowly releasing toxins for years. The cobble along the stream margins is exactly where juvenile salmon spend the winter.
Could a Spill be Cleaned Up?
We have a recent BC example One million litres of petroleum spilled from a pipeline into the Pine River upstream of Chetwynd, causing a massive fish kill that extended for over 20 km downstream. Despite $30 million spent in clean-up efforts, the river is still not oil-free. Could a cleanup ever be achieved after an oil spill into the active and braided channels of the Morice?
What Do We Have To Lose?
First Nations Traditional Use: The Wet’suwet’en have occupied the Morice watershed for at least 5,000 years and have outstanding aboriginal title issues.
Drinking and Agricultural Water: Numerous households and farms withdraw water from the Morice-Bulkley for domestic drinking water, stock watering and irrigation. The Village of Telkwa relies on the Bulkley River for its municipal water supply. These systems could all be contaminated in the event of an oil spill, as was the case in the town of Chetwynd.
Revenue from Commercial and Freshwater Fisheries: An independent evaluation of the revenue generated by Skeena River wild salmon through commercial and freshwater fisheries is approximately $110 million annually. The Morice-Bulkley system is a major contributor to this wild salmon economy. An oil spill wiping out four year-classes of juvenile salmon and steelhead would impact the regional economy, and particularly Houston and Smithers businesses.
Sport Fishing and Recreation: The Morice-Bulkley is heavily used by local anglers, paddlers and naturalists. With an international reputation for high quality fishing, the Morice also draws fishermen and tourists from the United States, Europe and Asia. Will an oil pipeline destroy the Morice’s reputation as a wild and scenic river? Or, as fishing guide Tony Harris, who raised his family guiding on the Morice, says “There is no way to clean up an oil spill on the Morice. It’s a no-win situation.”