The Northern Gateway Pipeline Project is a multi-sectorial project with Enbridge Pipeline Company as the main stakeholder. The pipeline that is proposed to run from the north of Alberta to the northern coast of British Columbia will facilitate the transport of crude oil from Alberta to the coast of British Columbia for shipping to the foreign markets. The following essay discusses the effects that the project will have to the First Nations people residing along is a path, and more particularly to the First Nation of the Gitxsan people. The perspective taken here is that of an outsider looking into the problem that is simmering.
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The Four Phases of the Pipeline
From the initial concept of the pipeline to its completion and service, the pipeline construction will take four phases. These are the planning and regulatory approvals, development and construction, operation, and decommissioning (Van Hinte15).
Planning and regulatory approvals phase
The planning and regulatory approvals phase are said to have started in the year 2005 when the project was defined. Preliminary engineering began and regulatory consultation activities were carried out (Van Hinte15). In this phase, the appropriate information concerning the scope of the project, the likely environmental effects, and outcome ought to have been discussed. Consultations with the First Nations also took place here with major disagreements with the first nations taking place. It is with disrespect to the Gitxsan First Nation people for not being adequately involved in the mapping and planning of the project from the beginning.
Development Construction Phase
This is the phase with the most significant effects on the environment in the shortest of all the periods. The construction company begins to clear the area earmarked for the laying of the pipeline (right of way). Construction was set to begin in late 2007 with the ordering of the pipes set to take place in the fall of the same year (Van Hinte 15).
For the sake of ease of construction and division of labor to accelerate the project, the pipeline would be built in 11 different segments (Van Hinte 15). Construction was targeted to take place for two years. This would involve clearing of vegetation along the ROW and displacement of the families living along the ROW. Digging for the pipes would also take place after the land had been leveled to make this easier. This process would affect many families in the Gitxsan community through loss of precious fishing grounds due to the interference with the salmon breeding grounds.
The number of years that the pipeline would be operational is not indicated in the company’s goals. Therefore, there is no indication of the amount of environmental damage expected from the project during this period. With the completion of the project, hundreds of ships and tankers are expected to come through the port that will be created. This is bound to pollute the seawater upon which the First Nation is dependent for her economic survival. The pipeline will serve as a transit point of the hydrocarbon crude oil from Alberta to British Columbia through the First Nation, which in itself is not an oil producer and therefore does not expect any benefits from it.
The decommissioning phase of the project will involve the eventual shutdown and abandonment of the pipeline. According to Von Hinte, the company had not provided information regarding the timing of the decommissioning and abandonment (15). With the departure of the company after the decommissioning and abandonment, the pipeline is likely to be left in the land of the First Nations thus continuing to be a nuisance. This is likely to be a subject of controversy even to the other First Nations on the route.
Impacts on the Environment
The pipeline is said to have significant effects on the environment and ecosystem through which it is anticipated to pass. The effects, which are long-term or short-term, may be beneficial. However, in most instances, are detrimental. Four phases of the effects of the pipeline on the environment have been identified as being the planning and design phase, the construction phase, operational phase, and the abandonment phase (Van Hinte 37). In these phases, the effects vary depending on the activities taking place. Most of the effects are in the last three phases, which are the main ones involving environmental changes.
Effects on the First Nations
People of the First Nations around the area have met the project with mixed reactions. There has been a disagreement on whether to oppose the project or accept the benefits (Churches Speaking out 2). Most people have however agreed that the project will interfere with their socio-economic activities. However, the project has some benefits to the communities affected by the main ones being the creation of employment. It is projected that “the average annual direct construction employment from start to the end of the project will be approximately 1,043 person-years” (Van Hinte 36). The permanent employment will only be 75 jobs in Alberta and British Columbia.
The ease of transport of crude oil will mean that more of it will be produced for export thus earning the country foreign exchange besides improving the living standards of the first nation’s people and the nation in general. In a newspaper article by the CBC, people of the First Nations are said to have come to an agreement with the company concerning owning a stake in the project (Majority of Aboriginal Communities Sign on to Northern Gateway 1).
They agreed to share the ten percent of the revenue earned by the project on the condition that the destruction to the environment would be minimized and appropriate measures put in place to protect their livelihood (Northern Gateway Pipeline: Benefits vs. Concerns 1)
The project has been predicted to have various negative effects on the land and the marine ecosystem through which it will pass. People who will be affected are the first nation’s people. In various newspaper articles, there has been an outcry by the aboriginal communities in the pipeline’s path with most of them being opposed to it (Hundreds Rally against Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline: Northern Gateway Pipeline: Benefits vs. Concerns.1). In an article in the Vancouver Sun, it was reported that the First Nations accused the British Columbia Premier of putting a price tag on the future of aboriginal people (Crawford, Tiffany, and Vancouver Sun1).
The group responsible stated that the project was estimated to cost about 6 billion dollars. It should have allocated more of the share of money to the British Columbia (NDP BC MPs Express their Concerns 2). In another article, there were demonstrations in the streets of Prince Rupert in opposition to the project. In the article, the demonstrations were said to be organized by the Hartley Bay First Nation, which resides at the Douglas Channel anticipating the effects of the increased tanker activity in the channel once the project is complete (Crawford, Tiffany, and Vancouver Sun 1).
In the same article, there are souring relationships between the Canadian federal government and the First Nations with Canada benefiting by a boost of 270 billion dollars in GDP as the First Nations get oil spills (Crawford, Tiffany, and Vancouver Sun 2). The main fear of the aboriginal communities is the destruction of the ecosystem, which they fear will eventually take place once the project is complete.
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Pollution: Air, Water, and Noise Pollution
The other concern for the people of the First Nations is the air pollution that is going to result from the building and operation of the pipeline. As the path of the pipeline is being cleared, the burning debris is likely to result in fumes being emitted by the fire similar to what happens in pumping stations. A large number of motor vehicles and powerful cranes transporting materials to and from the construction sites will also emit fumes that will pollute the environment. Noise is another form of pollution that is likely to result from the construction and the pumping stations.
Heavy machinery operating within the plants pumping the crude will interfere with the quiet neighborhoods of the First Nations. In his article ‘The Canadian Press’, Dirk Meissner reports about the Gitxsan First Nation members who camped for days in Kitimat Port in protest of the decision to back the building of the pipeline by the employees (Northern Gateway Hearings Move on, Aboriginal Blockade of Treaty Office Stays 3).
The protesters claimed that their community was not consulted in the signing of the agreement and that the pipeline was not their choice. They spent a total of 37 days in the camp trying to make a point that the pipeline would interfere with their way of life (Northern Gateway Hearings Move on, Aboriginal Blockade of Treaty Office Stays 3). The article also focuses on the divisions within the First Nations with the chiefs involved signing a deal with the company without their knowledge and behind their back (Northern Gateway Hearings Move on, Aboriginal Blockade of Treaty Office Stays 3).
Effect on Ecosystem
In a letter to the project managers, Adrian Dix who is a member of the British Columbia New Democrat Official Opposition reiterates the group’s opposition to the whole project (Dix 3). The group cites the environmental effect that the project will have on the ecosystem through which it passes (Dix 3) claiming that this will be in the form of oil spills that are inevitable from the tanker traffic along the coast towards the berths. The salmon fish has long been a delicacy for the First Nation tribes living along the designated route of the pipeline.
With the coming of the project, the fish also faces a risk of reduction in numbers due to contamination of the habitats (Dix 2). In the letter, the author argues that, despite the significant job opportunities that the project could create, a single oil spill of a significant magnitude could put a large number of anglers, marine workers, and workers in the tourism sector at risk (Dix 3). Despite the efforts of conserving ‘The Great Bear’ rain forest on the coast by the First Nations living there, the forest could also be destroyed (Dix 3).
Species of whales, seals, porpoises, and dolphins residing in the area face threats of contamination of their habitats and eventual extinction with the initiation of the project (Nikiforuk 3). The author compares the risks posed by the project to those of the Trans Alaska Project in Alaska, which brought about ecological and cultural disruption, persistent leaks, and massive spills with the worst spill happening in 1989, which released 240000 barrels of oil after a tanker accident (Nikiforuk 3). Worry in the article is the diversion of the income generated by the project to other areas, which are away from the First Nations despite the place being traversed by the pipeline.
The project has a potential risk to the environment and cultures of the communities through which it passes (Panofsky1). However, with adequate planning and consultation with the First Nation tribes, the expected benefits can be achieved and environmental destruction prevented. The First Nations should be consulted on the mapping of the route to prevent vital water sources from being contaminated. Efficient methods of laying down the pipeline and rehabilitating the land traversed should also be employed. As a measure, the government should come up with legislation on the long-term compensation methods for the groups affected besides enlisting their services for environmental protection.
The Impact of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Project is estimated to be largely negative to the First Nations living along its course. There is a widespread concern that the project will cause destruction of the habitat upon which thousands of the tribes depend for livelihood and food. The future effects of the pipeline could also be detrimental especially in the event of an oil spill in the vital water sources. The risks it poses outweigh the benefits. The First Nations have a right to demand compensation and better environmental protection strategies.
Churches Speaking Out. CBC.ca – Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV, n.d.
Crawford, Tiffany, and Vancouver Sun. First Nations Outraged by Clark’s Enbridge Pipeline ‘Sales Pitch. Vancouver Sun | Latest Breaking News | Business | Sports |Canada Daily News, n.d.
Dix, Adrian. New Democrat Official Opposition, 2012.
Hundreds Rally against Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. CBC.ca – Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV, n.d.
Majority of Aboriginal Communities Sign on to Northern Gateway. CBC.ca – Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV, n.d.
NDP BC MPs Express their Concerns. Randall Garrison, n.d.
Nikiforuk, Andrew. The Enbridge Oil Sands Gamble.sqwalk.com deals with energy issues in British Columbia and beyond, n.d.
Northern Gateway Hearings Move, on Aboriginal Blockade of Treaty Office Stays.CanadianBusiness.com, n.d.
Northern Gateway Pipeline: Benefits vs. Concerns. CBC.ca – Canadian News Sports Entertainment Kids Docs Radio TV, n.d.
Panofsky, Sarah. The Pipeline, n.d.
Van Hinte, Timothy. Managing Impacts of Major Projects: An Analysis of the Enbridge Gateway Pipeline Proposal. Gateway Pipeline Proposal, n.d.