Must-See Video Reveals What’s at Risk With Canada’s Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline

Protests Increase Against Canada’s Alternative to Keystone XL

Photo: Ian McAllister

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently visiting China to forge alliances and open up the Asian market for Canada’s environmentally-disastrous tar sands crude.

Harper may be making friends in China. But he’s certainly not making any friends in the environmental and conservation communities in the U.S. or Canada.

As Americans fight an increasingly intense political battle over the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Canadian groups are stepping up their opposition to a proposed domestic pipeline that they say would destroy pristine wilderness and jeopardize the way of life of First Nations living in the path of the project.

This past weekend saw a new round of protests in British Columbia against the Northern Gateway project, a proposed 731-mile pipeline that would transport crude from a terminal near Alberta’s tar sands to the Douglas Channel — located in a sensitive rainforest — for export to China and other countries.

More than 1,000 people gathered in Prince Rupert, British Columbia to voice their deep concerns about the project. The demonstration was organized by First Nations and featured a variety of local politicians who said that the protests were “bringing people together” to protect British Columbia’s environment.

The groups were demonstrating against both the pipeline and the proposed shipping route that would allow hundreds of massive oil tankers to travel a treacherous path through pristine wilderness.

The Natural Resources Defense Council released a report last fall detailing the route:

At Kitimat, a tank farm at the edge of the water would facilitate the transfer of oil to holding tanks and then into large oil supertankers. These supertankers would then traverse 185 kilometres of inner coastal waters, including the Douglas Channel, before reaching open ocean in the unpredictably dangerous Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Dixon Entrance. There is a reason that large oil supertankers have not used these waters in the past: the route poses many navigational challenges for large vessels, even under ideal conditions.

…To export tar sands oil, supertankers called “Very Large Crude Carriers” (VLCCs), with a capacity of 2.2 million barrels of oil (320,000 tonnes), would be required on a much more frequent basis. There is already strong opposition to large oil tanker traffic in coastal waters among local citizens, First Nation communities, and organizations concerned about the potential impacts of an oil spill in the ecologically sensitive marine habitats of the coast.

The people of the Gitga’at First Nation who live in the area have expressed deep concerns about the shipping route. In 2006, a ferry transporting 101 people ran off course and sank while sailing these inner coastal waters, killing two people. The vessel was only a fraction of the size of the supertankers that would be carrying crude:

[Bob Hill, a treaty coordinator and negotiator for the Gitga’at] noted it was Gitga’at residents of Hartley Bay who rescued passengers off the B.C. ferry Queen of the North when it sank in 2006.

“And it’s an example of what a small community is faced with in regards to tanker traffic — and the Queen of the North is minute compared to the size of the tankers they’re talking about.”

Hill said the view of the Gitga’at is, “No matter how careful we are in improving technology, and the safety concerns we have, there’s always that chance that human error will enter the equation and do the damage to the environment.”

With the fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline uncertain in the U.S., the Canadian government is looking to increase exports of carbon-spewing tar sands crude in other ways — and the Northern Gateway pipeline is key to that strategy. But the project has been in the works for almost six years and continues to face long delays because of extended environmental reviews and a strong opposition movement.

If the tar sands opposition movement continues to expand like it did in the U.S. last year, then Northern Gateway may suffer the same fate as Keystone XL.

So what would the Northern Gateway project mean for British Columbia’s rainforest? Watch the amazing documentary below, called “Spoil,” to get a sense for the consequences. In the film, the International League of Conservation Photographers spreads out across the BC rainforest documenting the unique wildlife and the special relationship the Gitga’at First Nation has with the land.

The film is 45 minutes long, so be sure to make time to watch the whole thing:


SPOIL from EP Films on Vimeo.


8 Responses to Must-See Video Reveals What’s at Risk With Canada’s Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline

  1. Sasparilla says:

    Whether the XL was approved or not (and there’s no reason to think it won’t be approved after rerouting) I would have expected the conservative Canadian government to push for this pipeline regardless (which was in the works long before the expected rubber stamp of the Obama admin for the XL extension).

    The Harper government (& the oil industry interests most importantly) want both the Northern Gateway and the XL.

    Hopefully the Canadians can keep the Northern Gateway from happening (I’m not familiar with how corrupt their government is to Oil Industry Influence).

    With the two existing and operating tar sands pipelines (Keystone 1 and Alberta Clipper) that President Obama approved in 2009, it should be obvious that we’re going to suck all the tar out of the ground in Canada till its politically outlawed (anyone want to guess when that will be politically doable in the US or Canada?).

  2. knoxkp says:

    Good job of describing what’s at stake for Canada’s environment and the Aboriginals who live out that way. If you want to see the path that the supertankers will take 200 times a year go here

    Nothing but 90 degree turns – that first spill will destroy so much – as for the pipeline itself, well there has never been one built that didn’t leak, and this one will go over, under and through beautiful rain-forest and salmon streams – this is so depressing and just plain dumb.

    One caveat – the fight over the Keystone is not political though it has become that – it is over environmental concerns. Trying to avoid poisoning the Ogallala aquifer which supplies 3/4 of the state of Nebraska and 1/3 of all US irrigation is common sense and not political.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    Anyone who has visited Western British Columbia has to be horrified about this. It’s steep, volatile terrain, subject to flooding, slides, and much else. Pipelines will fail routinely, ruining parts of the most spectacular temperate rainforest on earth, and killing millions of salmon. And that’s before the sludge even makes it to the tankers.

    Canadians are going to have to step up in a big way. The government in Ottawa is now about like the one in Riyadh, and Alberta is like Yemen, full of delirious extremists.

    Letters to the editor and polite pleas for votes for the opposition- themselves compromised- won’t get it done. Our BC neighbors (Albertans are hopeless) need to do the right thing here, for all of our sakes. Let’s see if they’re up for it.

  4. prokaryotes says:

    WHen comparing Alberta Tar Sand environment with LOTR, this comes to mind: Canadian (new home to Mordor) Prime Minister Stephen “Sauron” Harper.

  5. James says:

    Maybe you can help spread the work that independent analysis suggest this pipeline is not only dangerous for the environment BUT not good for the Canadian consumer. “Robyn Allan, the former president and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, concludes that “Northern Gateway is neither needed nor is in the public interest.”

    Moreover the project, if built, would raise the price of every oil barrel by $2 to $3 dollars in Canada over the next 30 years, and thereby create an inflationary price shock that would have “a negative and prolonged impact… by reducing output, employment, labour income and government revenues.”
    see the tyee:

    Stop the pipeline.

  6. Lionel A says:

    Those backing efforts to extract these tar sands and ship them out using pipelines in this area are flying in the face of ecological preservation as the SPOIL film makes clear. Well done for bringing this to notice.

    I only wish I was young enough and fit enough to go visit those wilds with my cameras (good to see that my use of Stofen type flash diffusers is endorsed by these dedicated people).

    Are the proponents of pipelines so ignorant of the geological dangers presented by this area so close to the Juan de Fuca plate fault systems? Or are they simply criminally negligent about consequences? Probably a mix of both.

    Check out GeoMapApp for a useful visual aid to track seismic activity over recent decades. Since 1973 there has been a virtual swarm of recorded >Mag 4.5 events off the North West tip of Vancouver island with the line of events following up along the ocean side of Queen Charlotte Island.

    There was an 5.5 mag event located in the sound Long -131.42 Lat 53.9 on 12 January 1990.

    Building an oil terminal anywhere near this lot is just nuts and shows a total disconnect with the realities of this planet.

  7. JRB says:

    OIL and HERRING a double Wammo

    Photos from a UC Davis/NOAA study show the effects of phototoxicity in Pacific herring embryos. Embryos on the left are unexposed to oil; those on the right have been in oil and then exposed to sunlight and show cells destroyed.

    CAN WE
    B.C. OUTDOOR ODYSSEY WITH Barry M. Thornton
    “Pacific herring, a KEYSTONE species in our
    inland waters.
    It seems that their role is to be the breadbasket species for most marine mammals and fish species. Not an envious position, but, one which is vital to the health of our Pacific coast’s aquatic environment. I have often told my fishing partners that, above all else, when I return in my next life, I pray that it will not be as a herring.”

  8. jean says:

    I met a family who went to the Tar Sands to see for themselves.They said people from Ethiopia were being brought in(think Slave labor)Canadians do not want to risk their lives