For 14 days in late July and early August, two University of Saskatchewan students travelled the 1,772-kilometre route of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. During this time they took photos, captured video and documented the personal stories of residents of the communities along the pipeline’s projected path.
Tomas Borsa, a political studies and psychology student, and Tristan Becker, a recent political studies graduate, made the trip from Bruderheim, Alta. to Kitimat, B.C.. Teaming up with Skyler Flavelle from Whistler B.C., the group set out to create a multimedia project titled Line In The Sand.
Borsa blogged their travels at lineinthesand.ca while Becker and Flavelle took care of the photography and videography, respectively. According to their website, the project will culminate with a published book “comprised of images, essays and commentary from those affected by the pipeline.”
The Northern Gateway pipeline is a project by Enbridge Inc. — a Calgary-based energy company — that would carry an estimated 525,000 barrels of heavy crude oil a day from Alberta’s oilsands to Canada’s West Coast. The project is intended to open up access to emerging Asian markets, where demand for oil is at an all-time high.
Many communities nestled around the Northern Gateway’s planned pathway feel that the pipeline’s construction is beyond their control as efforts to protect their land have so far been futile, Borsa said.
He said the passing of Bill C-38, a 425-page omnibus budget bill that, along with several other new laws, allows the government to exempt federal projects from environmental assessment, greatly limited those who could speak at public hearings regarding the pipeline. In addition, Enbridge has provided strict mediation that has reduced the topics open for discussion and limited a speaker’s time to 10 minutes.
Borsa said creating Line In The Sand was necessary to help share the opinions of those who are most concerned with the proposed pipeline.
What he found surprising was the clear-cut difference in public opinion between B.C. and Alberta. In B.C., where a vast amount of the pipeline will cut through First Nations territory, some communities oppose the pipeline so strongly that they have rallied together for a ban on oil pipelines and tanker projects within their territories. The majority of these communities depend heavily on already fragile ecosystems for their livelihoods and cannot afford the risk of an oil spill endangering the environment.
The militance shown in communities facing serious risks was shocking to Borsa, who said that people will go as far as lying down in front of bulldozers to protect their land. The greater the risk to a community, the more open and willing the community members were to share their stories, he said.
Enbridge has offered communities along the projected path a 10 per cent equity stake in the project in an attempt to increase support for the pipeline. The company recommends that this money be used to fund cultural centres and build schools in their communities.
Borsa said that many communities have refused the offer and remain opposed to the pipeline.
He said that there is no middle ground to be found for communities that support the pipeline but still harbour concerns for the environment.
The few people that the Line In The Sand group found who are in favour of the Northern Gateway project in B.C. were Shari Green, mayor of Prince George, and Joanne Monaghan, mayor of Kitimat. Both were unavailable for comment when Line In The Sand requested an interview.
Borsa found that Albertan communities were generally accepting of the pipeline, due to what he believes is simply more familiarity with the mining and oil industries. Economically speaking, Alberta has more to gain than B.C., with more job creation and much more money going directly to the province — Alberta will receive 30 billion dollars over a period of 30 years while B.C. will receive six billion.
Borsa said that Albertans were more concerned with whether or not Canada should wait for the price of oil to rise before opening up to international markets or if the Asian markets are the best place for Canadian resources to be exported to.
He added that if the project does move on to the construction phase, Line In The Sand must return.
“It ramps up the urgency of us going back.”
Photo: Tristan Becker/Line in the Sand