Kitimat and Enbridge

Don’t normally post about BC, because I generally consider myself still very much learning the ropes over here. However, there are things that pique one’s attentions, so I thought that instead of running off at the blog, I’d find out what was really going on in the Northwest corner of the province where a lot of people are up in arms about the proposed terminus / refinery for the Enbridge pipeline. According to the Wikipedia entry, Kitimat is a company town built by Alcan Aluminium in the 1950’s with a population of just over 8,300 people. I’ve looked at it from Google Earth, and as far as I can see, there isn’t much of the pristine wilderness about the area.

The town of Kitimat was designed as a ‘garden city’ back in the 50’s and looks quite spacious while some of the actual industrial facilities have a run down look about them, even though RTZ, the current owners, are putting a new smelter in place as part of a modernisation project. It’s a heavy industrial site. Go look for yourself.

Google Earth shows a first nations community down the fjord from the Alcan works, and a sheltered deep water channel with existing deep water port facilities open to the Pacific. These are already in use by shipping.

Terrace, and Burns lake are two other towns which are slated as points of interest for the Enbridge project. These are ex logging towns which could both do with a serious economic injection. Neither of these areas are ‘pristine wilderness’ as claimed by some eco-worriers. ‘Thousands of lakes’ are not even in the same valleys that the proposed pipeline will pass through. Wildlife tends to recolonise as soon as all those pesky two legs and their noise have moved on and left this big long shiny thing which is about as threatening as a Ground Squirrel.

Man made pollution has been a problem in the past, but modern technology is a lot less leaky and far cleaner than the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The proof is all around us. Hell, I live less than five kilometres from a massive pulp mill, and the only time you know it is there is when the wind shifts to the North. Locally, no one pays it much mind, and even when the gluey cabbage pickling smell does pop round like a visit from an ageing tramp, it’s taken more as a weather omen. Locally the Harmac mill has just been given a grant of nine million bucks to clean up its act and reduce the stack emissions amongst other things, but even so, when the smell finally goes I think we’ll actually miss it.

Regarding past pollution; the city where I live and work is half built upon coal mine tailings. Yet Nanaimo is known as a very clean place to live. Twas not always thus. Mid 19th century photo here, and a helpfully annotated picture of the same area from 1858, here. Likewise, the Departure Bay coal wharves of yesteryear, and the same general area now (ish).

Isn’t a little industrial archaeology interesting? Go check out the local coal mine exhibit at the local museum. Read books like ‘Boss Whistle’ then have a walk around downtown for the landmarks. See any? They’re quite easy to miss, even though in plain sight.  This place used to be filthy.

I’ve also been looking at the causes of pipeline spills, and in the main these tend to be accidental due to a combination of poor contractor information and accident, with a little sabotage (people making their own taps into large pipelines to steal the oil), and even dynamiting installations thrown in for good measure. Ironically often by people who claim to ‘care’ about the pollution threat from any given pipeline.

Another area for concern is in older pipelines (around thirty to fifty plus years old) where the corrosive nature of oil and water vapour have corroded weak spots / welds in the lines, connections to valves and similar locations.

So, pipelines do leak, but how do they compare with road accidents? Or rail? There is little available data apart from news items on rail derailments and road tanker crashes. Yet the oil has to move, to be sold, or it can be left in the tar sands as part of the biggest natural oil spill in the world. But hey, that’s Alberta’s problem, right? Or if BC doesn’t want the jobs a new pipeline, refinery, and attendant extra shipping can bring, it can continue to hemorrhage skilled people and their taxpayer dollar.

My conclusion?  BC needs the pipeline as much as Alberta and the rest of Canada.  BC needs the jobs and the income, as does Alberta.  The pipeline and refinery should be built because comparatively speaking, the environmental risks and impacts are fairly low compared to the economic impacts of not selling a resource to an available market with real money; a.k.a. the Chinese.  We can clean up any spills because we know how, and there’s another employment opportunity.

*I’d like to point out that I have no association or affiliation, paid or not, with any of the interested parties, apart from being a payer of Canadian tax dollar.