BC Coast #5

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It isn’t all fun and games on the British Columbia coast. Hard to believe, but the threat of destruction hovers over all those miles of untouched beaches, steep spruce-covered islands, and the incredible abundance of marine life.The array of disastrous industrial projects proposed for the North Coast is staggering.

The Enbridge Pipeline, designed to carry up to 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the Tar Sands to the coast, and another 200,000 barrels of toxic, explosive “condensate”–a byproduct of the Asian oil fields used to melt the thick bitumen–from the coast to the Tar Sands, would run right down the landslide- and avalanche-prone Skeena watershed. It will cross the headwaters of both the Fraser and Skeena rivers, the two largest salmon rivers in Canada. Of course, Enbridge says it’s safe, but I imagine they said that about their pipelines in Wisconsin and Kalamazoo and every one of the hundreds of places on their spill tally. The hubris here–Or is it flat-out bald-faced lying?–is breathtaking in its audacity. Just check out the list of Enbridge accidents from Reuters HERE and decide how much faith you have in their claims.

All that oil has to go somewhere once it gets to the coast, too. Which means up to 220 oil-laden tankers navigating a treacherous maze of fjords, reefs and islands each year. Navigation here makes Prince William Sound look like a cakewalk. This is a region known for it’s extreme tidal currents and weather, with 100-foot waves recorded in the not-so-distant past. Just last week, in broad daylight and calm weather, a bulk transport ship about the size of an oil tanker, hit a rock in Prince Rupert harbor, breached its hull and nearly sank.

Then there are the 14 Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants currently proposed for the North Coast. Chevron has already cleared land and moved part of a mountain for their plant just outside Kitimaat, and Royal Dutch Shell is proposing one three times bigger in the same area. The Petronas LNG plant at the mouth of the Skeena would require dredging the vast eel grass beds that help make the Skeena such a productive salmon watershed. And yes, every LNG plant will require a pipeline to get their fracked gas from the interior to the coast, and more tankers to haul it away.

All that stands between this magnificent ecosystem and the disasters that would destroy it, should the oil corporations have their way, are the heroic measures of  local First Nations and a handful of overworked conservation organizations. David and Goliath come to mind. But the little guys can win this war; there’s simply too much at stake to lose, and they’re fighting as if their lives depended on it. Which in the case of the First Nations people, isn’t far from the truth.

Perhaps you will never visit the north coast of BC. Or it’s so far away, it has little impact on your life. But here’s what I think: When this piece of truly wild coast is gone, the last destination of our northward time machine will go with it. When we want to understand what our home waters were like 100 years ago, or see what natural abundance should look like, our only choice will be the local public library. And I’m not ready for that. The Haisla say this place is a gift to all humanity. I would add that it’s gift we all need to know is there, whether we ever visit in person or not.

For more info about the efforts to preserve the north coast of British Columbia, check out these organizations and consider making a donation: SkeenaWild Conservation Trust,  Pacific Wild, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.

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