GBF Supports Gitga’at Nation’s Fight Against the Northern Gateway Pipeline

March 1st, 2012

Spirit Bear Near Hartley Bay by Sam Catron

Spirit Bear Near Hartley Bay, by Sam Catron

The Gitga’at Nation of Harley Bay, B.C., has shown strength, courage, and resolve in their opposition to Enbridge Inc.’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project. If built, the pipeline would carry bitumen, the heaviest, thickest form of crude oil, from Alberta’s tar sands to the remote coastal village of Kitmat, B.C., to be shipped out via tankers through the rugged, ecologically sensitive Inside Passage to refineries in Asia. A second pipeline would carry natural gas from tankers in Kitimat back to a terminal in Bruderheim, AB, to be used to dilute the viscosity of the crude bitumen extracted from the tar sands, so it may pass through the westbound pipeline more easily.

The pipelines themselves threaten the terrestrial ecosystems they would pass through in Alberta and B.C. Enbridge’s recent track record includes hundreds of regulatory violations during pipeline construction, and several major pipeline ruptures in the United States alone, most notably the 2010 breach that spilled 877,000 US gallons of heavy tar sand bitumen into Michigan’s Talmadge Creek, and ultimately, the Kalamazoo River.

Threats to coastal and marine ecosystems are even more alarming. Coastal B.C. is comprised of biologically diverse, abundant, wild habitat that supports robust populations of brown and black bears (including the rare white Kermode subspecies that lives nowhere else on earth), wolverine, wolves, humpback and gray whales, orcas, and some of the world’s last strong runs of Pacific salmon, among myriad other species. The ecosystem services of this region are invaluable, and the temperate coastal rainforest is highly sensitive to the ecological disturbances that would result from an oil spill.
The region is so valued both for its unique ecology and the commercial value of fisheries and other natural resources that an informal ban on oil tankers has been in place since 1972 in Queen Charlotte Sound, Dixon Entrance, and Hecate Strait. Rocky coastline and volatile weather pose extreme risks to marine traffic, and the remote location would make an oil spill difficult to contain even in the best conditions. The proposed route for oil tankers includes four dangerous right-angle turns, and a spill the scale of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska would cover an area from Washington State to the southern Alaska panhandle. Super tankers could carry up to two million barrels of oil. The type of crude oil in question, bitumen, is the most difficult to clean up, because of its heavy, viscous nature.

More than 60 First Nations stand together in opposition to the pipeline and tanker project, and the Gitga’at Nation has led the way with strong, well-organized, and highly publicized opposition to the project since 2006. The Gitga’at community of Hartley Bay lies at the entrance of Douglas Channel and would likely suffer the greatest economic and cultural losses in the case of a tanker spill. The community subsists primarily on the area’s natural resources for food and livelihood, with 40% of food coming from the ocean. The community could not survive if those resources were lost.

The Gitga’at Nation has secured intervener status in regulatory hearings, along with several other First Nations. The Gitga’at have funded studies and improved communication infrastructure in order to hold National Energy Board hearings on the proposed project locally in Hartley Bay. At the time of writing, the community of 160 people has opened its homes to house and feed over 300 people while the hearings take place, March 1-3.

The Great Bear Foundation strongly opposes the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project for the threats it poses to rare and valuable ecosystems, spirit bear and brown bear habitat, and the First Nations and other communities. GBF also opposes the project for its support of Alberta tar sands development and the myriad environmental and cultural impacts, including its significant contribution to climate change that threatens the polar bear and other important species.

In solidarity with the Gitga’at Nation’s opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker project, the Great Bear Foundation has made a monetary contribution to the Hartley Bay Band, and we are committed to raising awareness about the project’s threats as well as the Gitga’at Nation’s fierce, well-organized opposition to it. GBF is raising funds to help defray the costs of regulatory hearings, studies, and all activities that oppose this project. Donations to support the protection of this unique, wild, and invaluable area can be made to the Great Bear Foundation, or checks can be made out to the Great Bear Foundation, PO Box 9383, Missoula, MT 59807. Please specify that your donation is meant for support of the Gitga’at Nation and their fight against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline.

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