Natural Resources Rush!
Through newspapers, TV, protests, and recently the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, we hear a lot about mining, fracking, Idle No More, a web of pipelines, the Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project, future tankers traffic 10 times higher around Vancouver, huge mining exploration/extraction projects…
First, we have to assume that the world needs more and more natural resources to support its (unsustainable) growth. Especially gas. Then we can request from our governments courageous policies and investments to start a model conversion to use less and less oil and petrol. In parallel, mining companies have to provide such natural resources. A question can be where. Or how.
Under the tremendous pressure of global economy, investors and job creation objectives, enhanced by the current global economic crisis, many countries are more and more open to selling parts of their territory to the above-mentioned companies. Related governments, local authorities and Pros are proud to explain that it is a unique opportunity to create lots of jobs, to improve the living conditions of local populations, etc. But they are often neglecting to say the black side of the deal! Indeed, even if the (short-term) benefits are reached, the exploitation will have long-term effects on the environment:
- The water used for the production could be spoiled forever.
- The beautiful scenery and biodiversity could be damaged forever.
- The traditional living conditions of local people could be changed forever.
That is the current tense situation in British Columbia. Canada, and particularly Northern British Columbia, is full of natural resources. Nowadays, there are plenty of projects on the table.
The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline poses a massive new threat to pristine areas across central and northern BC, including the Great Bear Rainforest. The pipeline would bring over 500,000 barrels of crude oil from the tar sands in Alberta to super tankers in Kitimat, BC. Tar sands extraction is a very polluting process. It is pointed out as one of the sustainable development big issues in Canada. The transport to the US of those tar sands products is also under protests with the Keystone XL Project. You can hear many citizen movements and voices taking a stand against it.
The pipeline of the Enbridge Northern Gateway would cross more than 800 streams and rivers, endangering salmon spawning habitat in the upper Fraser, Skeena, and Kitimat watersheds. The proposal would also bring over 225 giant oil tankers to the north coast of BC, where an oil spill could cause irreversible damage to the pristine Great Bear Rainforest.
Overall, the potential economic benefit to British Columbians is maybe not worth the potential risk to their resources, especially given that the majority of jobs provided by the project are temporary and that it is not even to use the resource locally but to export it! If an oil spill were to occur, it would jeopardize thousands of jobs in other, more sustainable industries such as fishing and tourism.
Over 130 First Nations groups have signed the « Save the Fraser Declaration » against the transport of tar sands oil across their lands and waters, and a number of BC municipalities have passed formal resolutions opposing the Northern Gateway project. Polling consistently shows that between 60 and 80 per cent of British Columbians oppose the project. But it is still on the schedule.
Northern British Columbia is also concerned by huge gas exploitation projects. They are expected to use the very controversial Hydraulic fracturing or Fracking technique to extract and release natural gas from the deep layer of the earth by propagating fractures in a rock layer by a pressurized fluid. Pros of fracking point to the economic benefits from vast amounts of formerly inaccessible hydrocarbons the process can extract. Cons point to potential environmental impacts, including contamination of ground water, risks to air quality, the migration of gases and hydraulic fracturing chemicals to the surface, surface contamination from spills and flowback and the health effects of these. Indeed, in addition to the huge amount of water needed, 0,5% chemical additives (friction reducer, agents countering rust, agents killing microorganism) are added to the water to facilitate the underground fracturing process that releases natural gas. Since (depending on the size of the area) millions of liters of water are used, this means that hundreds of thousands liters of chemicals are often injected into the soil. For these reasons hydraulic fracturing has come under scrutiny internationally, with some countries suspending or banning it, like in France since 2011.
Behn, a young indigenous man from Eh Cho Dene territory in Fort Nelson, B.C., is featured in « Fractured Land (we saw the trailer during the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival), » an upcoming B.C. documentary that explores the practice of fracking and the strain it has put on the province’s First Nations communities and industry-government relations. Behn’s home is in an area of the province that has recently seen the most aggressive fracking development in the whole country.
Change Is Necessary
Sur la Route du Patrimoine’s Team believes that nothing is black and white. But British Columbians, especially First Nations (and more generally all local people impacted by such projects), have to know the truth about the project and its potential consequences on the environment for future generations. Then, they could have an informed opinion and elect what they want for the Beautiful British Columbia. Transparency is always worthwhile! In addition, this is an illustration of the effect of our daily consumption of oil for our personal car. If we don’t change little by little our habits of transporting ourselves and producing for less oil-consumption means and processes, we will indirectly cause irreversible damages in the environment in one place in the world. For some reasons, this place will be occupied by uneducated or poor or uninformed people!!! Guess why?
So let’s try to act responsibly and change progressively our habits even if they seem to have local-scale effects.