01/11/2012 01:05 EST | Updated 03/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Kitimat resident says Northern Gateway project must go ahead

KITAMAAT VILLAGE, B.C. - Environmental hearings into the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline heard from the first supporter Wednesday, but Peter King says he almost stayed home.

King is a steam fitter who has lived in Kitimat for 53 years. The town located about 1,500 kilometres northwest of Vancouver appears virtually united in opposition to the project.

The National Energy Board panel holding environmental hearings into the proposed project heard emotional and forceful submissions the last two days from area aboriginal chiefs about the dangers the pipeline could hold.

Of the handful in town that say the project could offer some benefits, no one was willing to give their name in an interview.

King acknowledged he appeared in front of the panel Tuesday with some trepidation.

"I definitely realized that I was the lone voice, which gave me pause that perhaps I should stay home, but I committed to this, so I proceeded with it," said King.

He said he shares the environmental concerns, but said he doesn't believe it's fair for Canada to horde its oil resources from the rest of the world.

"For us to sit back in Canada where we're blessed and say that other people in India and so on like that can't enjoy the benefits of what we have, I have a problem with that," he said.

"But do I think that we should just allow tankers to roam up and down the coast however they want, of course not."

It's almost impossible to find anyone else in Kitimat who will admit to backing the project.

"All it's going to do is bring a big spill," said lifelong resident Michael Herzberg.

Herzberg, 50, who did not attend the hearings, said he fears a pipeline rupture and spill on land more than an oil tanker spill along B.C.'s West Coast.

"I think a better idea would be a pipeline heading east to Montreal and ship the oil out of there," he said.

Enbridge Inc., (TSX:ENB) wants to build the twin pipeline from Alberta to northwest B.C. where it will send oil to a port at Kitimat where huge tanker ships will transport it to Asian markets.

Enbridge says the $5.5 billion pipeline project has the potential to generate $270 billion to the Canadian economy, but environmental groups and aboriginals say the risks of a pipeline and oil tanker spill are too great — threatening fish-bearing rivers and the West Coast.

Kitimat resident Dieter Wagner, a lifelong sailing enthusiast who knows the northcoast waters, said the proposed oil tanker route along Douglas Channel to and from Kitimat to the open ocean presents too many dangers to allow safe passage for oil tankers.

Wagner presented to the panel, telling members the area is subject to massive, shifting tides, sustained wind storms and 30-metre-high waves.

"You think you are in a wide open ocean. You are not," said Wagner.

"It is dangerous to say the very least."

He said the route also includes three 90-degree turns and passes the area near Hartley Bay where the BC Ferry Queen of the North hit Gil Island and sank in March 2006.

"This should convince any reasonable person that this is an insane route to take," said Wagner.

The hearings will travel across B.C. and Alberta for at least the next 18 months and perhaps more. They move to Terrace Thursday.

Well-known Vancouver protester Garth Mullens attended the Kitamaat hearings Wednesday, but was not scheduled to speak. He would not comment on why he was there.