Landslides will eventually cut any pipeline routed through west central B.C., says a report submitted last week to the Bulkley Valley Research Centre.
The report looked at how landslides and erosion form along a proposed pipeline route that runs from Burns Lake to Kitimat.
“It is a highly unstable area, and the likelihood of a landslide happening is extremely high,” said James Schwab, who authored the report.
Schwab retired three years ago after working 30 years as a research geomorphologist in the BC Forest Service. His report draws primarily on his own published work and experience in northwest B.C.
While the report does not specify any one pipeline, it does looks at the same east-west corridor where Enbridge, a Canadian oil and gas company, proposes to build two parallel pipelines.
One would carry crude oil west from Fort Saskatchewan to tankers in Kitimat. The other pipeline would carry a thinner that energy companies use to extract oil from sand in Alberta.
If approved, the two pipelines would cross three distinct geographic areas west of Burns Lake: the Nechako Plateau, the Hazelton Mountains and the Kitimat Ranges.
The Nechako Plateau south of Houston has sites of spreading bedrock that show active landslide movement, said Schwab.
And along the Morice River, he said, glaciers have deposited lake sediments that caused large landslides as recently as the 1950s and 1960s.
West of there, the proposed pipeline corridor moves into the Hazelton Mountains.
“They are a real problem,” Schwab said.
With so much volcanic rock lying on top of harder granite and other materials, he said the Hazelton Mountains are covered in landslide sites.
And in the last 30 years, he added, rockslides in that area have cut a natural gas pipeline three times.
Finally, in the steep valleys of the Kitimat Ranges, Schwab said debris flows have caused many landslides, as have the glacial marine deposits in that area.
Schwab and his colleagues have already published reports that highlight similar issues in professional journals like Landslides and Natural Hazards.
But the former researcher said he intended this report to be read by a wider public, and to inform the debate over pipeline proposals in B.C.
“I knew there was a need to put something out there, in terms of the geomorphology of the route,” said Schwab. “The information was just not there.”
Schwab said he also expects his report will be presented at the joint review panel that is considering the proposed Enbridge pipelines. He has registered as a speaker in the upcoming public hearings on the project.
The Bulkley Valley Research Centre, which commissioned the report, is a non-profit society based in Smithers. The society’s stated goal is to promote environmental science in the public interest, and it includes more than 100 members who are involved in natural resources research.
A copy of the report is available on the BVRC website.