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Get Over it! A Pipeline to Prince Rupert Is Bust

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This is part two of a three-part series titled "Pipelines, Politics and Pundits: The view from Northwest B.C."

There's a new subclause in Murphy's Law in Canada these days. The more evidence against sending the Northern Gateway Pipeline to Prince Rupert, the more politicians, journalists, bloggers and tweeters insist that the pipeline should go to Rupert.

That's despite the fact that even Enbridge, in its FAQ has ruled out Prince Rupert:

Did you consider running the pipeline to Prince Rupert where a major port already exists?
We considered Prince Rupert and Kitimat as possible locations. We carried out a feasibility study that took into account a number of considerations. The study found that the routes to Prince Rupert were too steep to safely run the pipeline, and that Kitimat was the best and safest option available.

Opponents of the pipeline project often accuse Enbridge of minimizing the dangers of the geologic instability of northwestern British Columbia, so if the route from Terrace to Prince Rupert is too much even for Enbridge, what gives?

Prince Rupert is, of course, a major export port and has the advantage of being closer to East Asia on the Great Circle route than the big American ports like Long Beach.

It's a case of looking at maps and jumping to conclusions, just as maps 800 years ago or so said "Here be dragons," the folks who look at maps today look at Rupert and say "Here be the oil route to Asia." They couldn't be more wrong.

Even David Dodge, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, has jumped into the debate in an interview with the Edmonton Journal.

Dodge, who was in Edmonton Tuesday to deliver a speech on the global economic outlook at MacEwan University, said Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat looks like even more of a long shot.

"I think the project to Kitimat looks, objectively, more risky. So why hasn't much greater effort gone into looking at Prince Rupert and taking (bitumen) out that way? My guess is, the easiest place to get B.C. to buy into the project would be to go to Rupert."

Dodge's views echo those of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, who also favours looking at an alternate pipeline route to Prince Rupert, where ocean-going supertankers can navigate more easily.

Dodge, the man who once ran the Canadian economy says "My guess is..." Good thing he didn't guess about the value of the Canadian dollar. Dodge is probably just pointing at the map. As for former Premier Peter Lougheed, who helped promote the shipment of grain through Prince Rupert, he should know better.

The map pointers look at the harbour and ignore the route in to Prince Rupert. They ignore that even if the terminal was changed to Prince Rupert, the pipeline route would remain the same for its two thirds of its path across rugged, mountainous, geologically unstable northern British Columbia. The map pointers in Edmonton or Toronto never listen to the weather forecast from Prince Rupert Coast Guard Radio which often daily in the winter issues gale warnings and even "hurricane force" wind warnings for the entire north coast.

You just have to drive from Terrace to Prince Rupert to see that Enbridge is right in its assessment, the mountains are just too steep to safely accommodate a major pipeline. At some places, the CN rail line and the Yellowhead Highway are on a narrow track between the sheer mountain on one side and the Skeena River on the other.

Every few kilometres you pass "avalanche gates" which close the highway during the winter when avalanche danger is at its greatest. Anyone familiar with old Second World War movies will recognize the swing gates. I've heard a couple of people in Terrace call them "Checkpoint Charlie" gates referring to the old border point in Berlin.

Every winter avalanches do close a portion of the highway and local media broadcast advisories. A couple of years ago, a rock slide hit a bus carrying aboriginal athletes to the annual basketball tournament in Rupert. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries. Any winter avalanche or a rock slide in any season would sweep the bitumen-carrying pipeline right into the Skeena River.

The CN rail line is on the north shore. According to local historians when Charles Hays was building the then Grand Trunk Pacific, the south shore of the Skeena was rejected as being even more dangerous.

Then there's the political equation. While the District of Kitimat Council stubbornly sits on the fence, following a policy of neutrality, both the town councils at Prince Rupert and Terrace have voted to oppose the Northern Gateway.

Changing the route would also involve bringing more First Nations to the Gateway table. At the moment the Northern Gateway just skirts the traditional territory of the Gitxsan Nation. Enbridge signed a disastrous deal with Elmer Derrick, of the Gitxsan Treaty Office, which was repudiated by many members of the Gitxsan Nation.

Moving the pipeline directly into Gitxsan territory would reopen that wound. Changing the route would also involve, among others, the Nisgaa Nation which does have well-established treaty rights and along the Skeena to Prince Rupert, the large Tsimshian Nation which acted as host for last February's anti-Enbridge rally and concert in Prince Rupert.

So why do people insist, despite the evidence, that the Northern Gateway go to Prince Rupert? It's no longer an pipeline; it's emotion and ideology. Ideology in that opposition to the Northern Gateway is seen by conservatives as heretical opposition to free enterprise itself. Emotion among those who see promoting the oil patch as an issue of "Alberta pride" and even Canadian patriotism.

For the promoters of the pipeline to Prince Rupert, ignoring the science of geology and the study of geography across all of northwestern B.C. is no different than repeatedly knocking your head against the Paleozoic metamorphic greenstone of the mountain cliffs along the Skeena. It only gives you a headache.