Volatile conditions would make a Northern Gateway spill ‘tricky’

KITAMAAT VILLAGE, B.C. • Environmentalists warned about the dangers of navigating British Columbia’s rugged coast and the difficulties of cleaning up a spill in hard-to-reach forests as federal regulators reconvened Wednesday for a second day of hearings here about the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline.

A thinner crowd than on opening day gathered in the Haisla Nation reserve community centre overlooking Douglas Channel as a joint review panel of the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency heard evidence about the potential impact of the controversial pipeline proposed by Enbridge Inc. that would open a new market in Asia for Alberta oil.

Murray Minchin, a member of Douglas Channel Watch, a group of local citizens formed a year ago to fight the pipeline, warned the area’s volatile weather and its isolation would make it difficult to respond to an oil spill.

“It snows like crazy here,” he said. “Four-foot snowfalls are an amazing thing to see. They are a force of nature.

“Snowflakes are twice the size of a toonie, which brings concern about access issues, particularly onto logging roads or on the wilderness, and even more so in emergencies when equipment needs to be moved.”

Dieter Wagner, a sail boat owner and another group member, said it would be very tricky for large ocean tankers to manoeuvre in the channel, where the weather and the ocean can quickly become dangerous.

“When this shipping happens, it’s not just the crude oil tankers, but other ships that are being planned for liquefied natural gas and freighters; volume is increasing. Where is this all leading?”

The panel is expected to hold hearings through northern British Columbia over the next few months as part of a two-year review into the $5.5-billion project to decide whether its in the national interest and can be built safely.