Fall leaves, Suskwa River, British Columbia-Enbridge's project could impact hundreds of streams in the province
This week, while northern British Columbia enjoys its final days of late summer sun, I’ve been pasted to my computer, listening in to Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) hearings on the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
I have to say that, in comparison to the golden light flowing through my window, the atmosphere in the Edmonton, Alberta hearing room seems rather dreary.
The controversial pipeline, which would carry unrefined bitumen from the Alberta’s tar sands 1,170 kilometres (730 miles) through northern BC to Canada’s northwest coast at Kitimat, has been under review by the NEB’s Joint Review Panel since January. Over 18 months, the panel will hear testimony before making a recommendation to the Federal Government in December 2013.
The hearings in Edmonton aren’t as sexy as the ones that took place in small communities across the North, where impassioned residents gave at times tearful pleas to the panel, the vast majority asking them to reject the proposal that threatens our northern lifestyle. No, Edmonton’s hearings are technical, dry and often times difficult to follow. Numbers and data are thrown around, in an attempt to discredit witnesses. But it’s also some of the most important testimony we’ll hear.
At the hearings, which started in Edmonton and will also sit in northern BC’s Prince George and Prince Rupert between now and late December, lawyers cross-examine witnesses on evidence they provided — in the form of written reports — previously to the NEB’s Joint Review Panel. It’s a strange situation of extracting information in the negative: a mirror image of truth. For example, a standard exchange coming through the webcast sounds something like this:
“But isn’t it true, Mr. So-and-so, that your report states blah-blah-blah.”
“No, that’s not true.”
“But can’t we assume from your report that you want this and that.”
“No, that’s not a correct characterization of our position.”
In this way, lawyers and witnesses engage in a dance with one trying to frame an answer while the other tries not to stick a foot in it. But cut through the legalese and what you hear are some of the big-picture issues facing Canadians and, in fact, the world. Behind those hundreds of hours of testimony, the melody behind the music goes something like this:
The economic projections used to justify the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline assume unrestricted tar sands development, which isn’t environmentally or economically sound and, it seems, isn’t even legal. Enbridge would have us believe that selling out our most valuable resources—such as our salmon economy or eco-tourism—over the short-term is in Canadians’ best interest.
Ariel view of Kitimat, British Columbia--proposed port for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project
This week, ForestEthics Advocacy witnesses Nathan Lemphers and David Hughes stepped before the firing line to be cross-examined by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, a coalition of oil shippers led by Cenovus Energy, and Enbridge Northern Gateway. There were some shining moments for each, despite Neufeld’s leading them into red herring conspiracy theories — rather than attempting to provide a rationale for the pipeline. Nothing says “oily” more than an underhanded lawyer.
Here are a few key points that have come out this week:
I’m not very familiar with Edmonton or the view — if there is one — from the Best Western Westwood Inn’s meeting room. I don’t know if the three-member NEB panel sits wistfully, as I do, and wishes they could be standing in the late summer sun under golden aspen leaves. I do know that my home, the one threatened by the Enbridge pipeline, is one of the most beautiful, untouched places on Earth. I invite them to come experience the Bulkley River in September and understand what is truly in Canada’s best interest.