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BC’s ‘other’ multi-billion dollar energy projects


Most Canadians are vaguely aware that Enbridge is planning a massive pipeline expansion through northern British Columbia. A little homework reveals the conditionally-approved $7.9 billion Northern Gateway project won’t carry refined oil, but a much more potentially damaging combination of heavy Alberta crude and diluent chemicals. A recent government study found “in waters where fine to moderate-sized sediment is present, these oils are at risk to sink.”

This is especially a concern because, as it turns out, 64 percent of British Columbians aren’t into 525,000 barrels of “dilbit” traversing 800-some rivers and streams on the daily. Indigenous nations along the proposed pipeline and tanker route are filing lawsuits and building encampments in defense of their largely-unsurrendered lands. It’s kind of a big deal.

While Enbridge soaks up all this heat, two other BC mega-developments are winding their way through the National Energy Board’s review process. Both have some vocal opponents, sure, but based on the national media chatter, you’d never guess one is actually more environmentally risky than Northern Gateway, while the other tops Canada’s list of largest infrastructure projects.

Possibly the least-known energy megaproject in the province is somewhat ironically the biggest infrastructure project in Canada. The proposed Site C dam across the Peace River near Fort St. John is also one of the oldest development ideas kicking around—first proposed by BC Hydro in 1983. It’s estimated cost is the same as Northern Gateway: $7.9 billion, except this one will be supported by taxpayers and their hydro bills.

The scale of the thing is kind of nuts: 3,000 hectares of arable farmland will be flooded to make way for 1,100 megawatts of electric capacity. “If it were constructed—it’s a proposal right now—Site C would be for domestic use; mostly commercial and industrial customers,” explains BC Hydro spokesperson Dave Conway.

Premier Christy Clark has hinted those industrial customers would include nearby liquefied natural gas companies—which, by the way, are sucking up water and new development permits without the pesky public hearing process. “We haven’t received a formal request from an LNG project yet,” Conway says of BC Hydro’s industrial prospects. Maybe for the best, since Conway says one fracking operation actually requires more power than Site C can muster. “We would expect such a request would be ancillary.”

Public hearings for the project wrapped just over a week ago, and while the Site C dam may not be nearly as risky or climate-averse as a pipeline expansion, the panel heard all about the economic loss caused by drowned farmland, the indigenous treaty rights being violated, and the impacts of replacing fish stocks. Already an impacted area, a recent report by Global Forrest Watch and the David Suzuki Foundation found 16,267 oil and gas well sites, 8,517 petroleum and natural gas facilities and 45,293 kilometres of roads within the Peace region.

The second BC energy project we should all be worrying about is the lesser-known Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. When compared with Northern Gateway on Google Trends, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline doesn’t even register one percent. Yet the expanded Trans Mountain project would ship 890,000 barrels of unrefined bitumen and chemicals from Edmonton to Burnaby, BC, increasing tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet six times over.

You might be Kinder-surprised to know that’s 59 percent more crude than Gateway, dangerously crossing more waterways and placing Metro Vancouver in the spill-zone. Let’s break that down a bit more, shall we? Gateway will send 220 tankers per year through a town of a few thousand people, while Morgan is proposing to send 408 tankers a year via a metropolis of 2 million. The risk is bananas.

Burnaby was the latest to join Vancouver in applying as an intervener in the Trans Mountain review hearings. With only a week left to register using the NEB’s revamped application process, the $5.4 billion project isn’t likely to face the same amount of opposition as Gateway. So far 476 applicants have registered to participate, compared to over 4,000 individuals and groups who spoke at Enbridge’s public hearings.

The attention that the Northern Gateway is getting in the media is clearly a good thing. However the risk here is that with the media furor surrounding it, other projects like the Site C dam and the Trans Mountain pipeline, that are both unjust and potentially more catastrophic, could slip into existence without much resistance.

This article was originally published in February 2014.

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