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The small northern B.C. town of Smithers, population 6,000, is thousands of kilometres from Battle Creek, Mich. But the spill from an Enbridge Inc. pipeline that dumped 840,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River on July 25, 2010 was very much on the minds of people in Smithers when Ottawa’s regulators came to town.
“There will always be a question in our minds,” Mayor Taylor Bachrach this week told the federal hearings on a pipeline to carry Alberta oilsands crude to supertankers on the B.C. coast.
“Will this be the day that we turn on the radio and hear that there’s been a pipeline rupture and that oil is gushing into the Morice River or the Copper River or the Kitimat River?”
“And people in Kitimat Village and Hartley Bay will wonder, is this the day that a tanker runs off course and hits the rocks?” Bachrach asked the three-person panel.
“For people in Cordova, Alaska, Battle Creek, Mich. and many other communities, this is no longer a question because, for them, that devastating day has already come.”
Cordova, an Alaskan fishing town, has yet to fully recover from the 11-million gallon Exxon Valdez oil spill 23 years ago.
Bachrach was one of hundreds of people to give evidence as federal regulators gather information for an eventual recommendation on whether Enbridge’s $6-billion Northern Gateway pipeline should be built. Of the 500 or so British Columbians and others who have appeared before the investigative panel so far, supporters of the controversial project have been few and far between, according to hearing transcripts.
That’s not surprising. An outpouring of concern about the pipeline at the heart of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s energy strategy has reached unprecedented levels, evolving in only a few months from a regional environmental concern to a source of national friction.
For Harper, who even during five years of minority government managed to drive forward with his main policy goals, the upsurge of opposition to Northern Gateway may prove the ultimate test of his ability to assert and control Canada’s agenda.
Northern Gateway is designed to carry 500,000 barrels a day of oil sands-derived crude from Edmonton across the Rockies to Kitimat on the B.C. coast, where about 200 supertankers annually would dock to take on the petroleum for export to the U.S. and Asia.
The 1,172 km line would pass through some of North America’s most prized wilderness areas and require oil tankers to navigate the dangerous waters of the northern B.C. coast on nearly a daily basis. Harper says finding a new route to ship crude to Asia is crucial to Canada’s national interest.
But B.C. greens and more than 100 aboriginal groups have come out strongly against the project, saying it is a threat to the environment and the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people. So has the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.
Opposition in recent months has been fed by coverage of the Michigan spill, bad news that peaked last month when the head of a U.S. federal agency said Calgary-based Enbridge’s response to the Kalamazoo leak was worthy of the “Keystone Kops.” The leak, at $800 million (U.S.) in damages, was one of the most costly onshore spills ever in the U.S. and led to a $3.7-million (U.S.) fine against Enbridge.
As presently conceived, Northern Gateway is a political loser, Mario Conseco, a Vancouver-based pollster with Angus Reid Public Opinion, said in an interview this week.
A new Angus Reid poll found 35 per cent of British Columbians completely oppose the pipeline, compared to 7 per cent who strongly favour Northern Gateway. The survey of 804 B.C. adults was taken between July 30 and Aug. 1.
For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/insight/article/1237880–growing-opposition-to-northern-british-columbia-pipeline-will-test-canada-pm-stephen-harper