Tomas Borsa wants to know why the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is generating so much controversy.
Since July 2012, Borsa, a recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan’s political studies program, has been hitting the road in B.C. and Alberta to see first hand what the potential impacts of the proposed pipeline would be. The project is tentatively titled Line in the Sand.
Over the last 15 months, Borsa and his team have collected 11,000 photos, over seven hours of video footage and scores of audio recordings and physical notes. He hopes that the project will eventually lead to a book and a short documentary film by next summer.
Northern Gateway is a proposed 1,170 kilometre oil pipeline from central Alberta to the B.C. coast. If completed, the pipeline would carry 525,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Alberta’s oil sands to the coastal city of Kitimat for export to Asian markets.
But Borsa says Northern Gateway is not just another pipeline. With the passing of Bill C-38 — an omnibus budget bill — by the Harper government in June 2012, the environmental review process for developments like Northern Gateway was significantly weakened, making it easier for future projects to pass regulatory bodies.
The proposed route goes through some of the most pristine wilderness in B.C. and tunnels through two mountains. Additionally, the pipeline would require oil supertankers to navigate coastal waters known for rough conditions and unpredictable weather.
“It would not be a matter of if an incident were to occur; a spill will occur. It’s just matter of when and where,” Borsa said.
The route also crosses a number of important aboriginal hunting and fishing grounds. Unsurprisingly, Borsa said that the highest opposition they encountered came from B.C.’s aboriginal communities.
“It’s about a lot more than economics or the environment for them,” Borsa said. “Their entire traditional cultures are at stake here.”
According to Borsa, one of the most meaningful experiences in the project so far was when he and his team were invited to go fishing with several First Nations, including the Wet’su’wet’en, the Nakazdli and the Nadleh Whut’en. Borsa said this allowed them to see first hand the way of life that is potentially threatened by Northern Gateway.
An overwhelming number of people that Borsa encountered in B.C. were against Northern Gateway. However, in Alberta the prevailing attitude was quite the opposite.
It’s about a lot more than economics or the environment for them, their entire traditional cultures are at stake here.
“Everywhere we went in Alberta, there was at least some degree of support, but more often than not, it was just total indifference,” said Borsa.
When the project began, Borsa was accompanied by U of S students Tristan Becker and Skylar Flavelle. Since then, Becker and Flavelle have developed other commitments and have left the project. However, Jean-Felipe Marquis, a graduate of Concordia University and a contractor for Vice magazine, has joined with Borsa.
With the addition of Marquis, Borsa has hopes that the final Line in the Sand project could be translated into French to reach a greater audience.
The initial plan for Line in the Sand was not to prove any specific point of view. Instead, Borsa said that they set out to see what was behind all the “imflammatory reporting” about Northern Gateway and to see if the controversy was really pitting the economy against the environment.
Since the project began, he said his perspective on the pipeline has changed.
“When we first started out, I was naive to the reality of the project’s implications. Now, I would say that there is no way I could possibly support the pipeline going forward. There’s just too much at stake,” Borsa said.
Going forward, Borsa has big plans for Line in the Sand. With a Kickstarter campaign beginning soon, the dream of a book and documentary film could become a reality sooner rather than later. Borsa added that for every two dollars donated to Line in the Sand they would plant a tree along the proposed route of Northern Gateway.
On Sept. 27, Borsa will be speaking at the Cultures of Reconciliation conference at the Mendel Art Gallery. The conference is co-sponsored by the Mendel and the U of S and covers a range of artistic, academic and activist approaches to contemporary aboriginal issues.
After the conference, Borsa will be heading back out on the road for October and most of November to continue his project in B.C.’s interior.
Anyone interested in keeping up to date with the project and the issues it pertains to can follow Borsa’s blog at lineinthesand.ca.
Photo: Tristan Becker