Enbridge hosted a public community meeting at the Fort St. James curling rink on Thursday, Dec. 8.
There were around 40 community members at the meeting, with brief presentations by Enbridge, including one by John Carruthers, President of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines speaking to some of the motivation for the proposed pipeline to carry oil from the Alberta tar sands across Alberta and B.C. to a tanker terminal in Kitimat, B.C. on the west coast.
Carruthers said Enbridge will have spent almost $300 million by the time a decision is made on the pipeline, which he said are “the safest way to move large volumes of oil.”
He touched on safety aspects of the project, especially the marine safety and said the company has “raised the bar a lot” in terms of what they are doing in Douglas Channel.
“We’ll try and drive the chance of an incident to zero,” said Carruthers.
Many in the crowd did not appear to be pursuaded, as some questions addressed the very basis for the project, questioning the benefits for B.C. and specifically for the Fort itself, which would see no local direct jobs, but would be given some of the $10 million in property taxes which would go to the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.
Carruthers emphasized the pipeline is a large infrastructure project which will be assessed on its value for the entire country, not only B.C., and the benefits for the country’s economy would be significant.
The presentations began at 6:30 p.m. and the opportunity for questions came shortly after 7 p.m., but there were still many questions remaining from the audience when the tear down began of the presentation equipment so the group could move on to Prince George, where they would be hosting a community advisory board meeting the following day.
Inquiring about technical, logistical and even political aspects of the proposed pipeline, there were some tough queries from members of the community.
Most of the questions were asked respectfully and calmly, but some were a bit more to the point.
One woman said she felt the presentation and answers being given by Enbridge did not reassure her given the company’s track record in the past.
“Who in B.C. asked that B.C. be a handmaiden for Alberta tar sands economic infrastructure,” she said.
Carruthers pointed to the potential $81 billion in revenue which would go to the federal and provincial government from the tar sands and pointed to the long process required for approval, which he said is “stringent.”
“That’s the process,” he said.
One man asked “what part of no don’t you people understand?” given the public opposition in B.C. and the First Nations in the province who have said they are not going to permit the pipeline across their traditional territories.
Carruthers said the First Nation consultation is an important part of the process, but it is not the only part, and all aspects and benefits must be considered, and it is the job of the Joint Review Panel’s job to take all of these into consideration and make a decision whether or not the project can go forward.
There were very specific concerns expressed regarding the crossing of the Stuart River, previous spills associated with Enbridge pipelines and the location of the pumping station near Pitka Creek, and there was a great deal of technical information provided and details on some of the technology which will be used, both in the pipeline and the pumping station.
Included in the answers was one from Michele Perret, senior manager of community relations for Enbridge, when she answered a question regarding the estimated useful lifespan of the pipeline.
Given maintenance and demand, Perret said the pipeline could be operated indefinitely.
After the question and answer period, there were still a few minutes for people to ask questions of the technical team.
Councillor Riley Willick was at the meeting and asked a question about human error, saying the previous incidents such as the Exxon Valdez, the sinking of the Queen of the North ferry and the Michigan oil spill all involved human error.
He asked what Enbridge is doing to address the issue of human error.
In regards to the marine aspect, “really it comes down to redundancy,” said Carruthers. “Redundancy in terms of navigational equipment.”
As for the spill from the Enbridge pipeline in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Ray Doering with engineering at Enbridge, said he doesn’t doubt there will be a lot of things which are implemented into this and other pipelines based on the current investigation into the incident.
After the meeting, Willick said he found it “informative.”
While he said he knew how he stood on the issue, he wanted to see how the community felt and will use the community’s responses to the project to determine how to go forward.
Councillor Dave Birdi was also present, and said while he had met with Enbridge while on council on a number of previous occasions, it is “best for the public to get the information directly from (the company).”
Mayor Rob MacDougall was also present at the