No Tankers & No Pipeline

No Tankers & No Pipeline!

A number of local concerned citizens, including our team from OrcaLab, spoke to the Joint Review Panel (JRP) in Port Hardy on August 7/8th to express their concerns surrounding the much hotly debated Northern Gateway Pipeline project, as proposed by Enbridge.  It was inspiring to listen to varied individual perspectives and to witness the community effort made by everyone amongst the height of their busy summer schedule. One speaker made note of the poor timing of the event which would not allow for local fisherman’s voices to be heard, whose livelihoods would be directly effected by the project.  Regardless of one’s age, gender, creed or occupation the message was clear.  We unanimously say NO to oil tankers on our coast and NO to oil pipelines across our land!

Below you will find the testimonies of the Yukasam/Hanson Island inhabitants.

Thank you to everyone involved for investing their emotions and time to speak out about this extremely risky proposal.

Note:  For those of you who did not sign up to make an oral statement and would like to stand up to be counted, by peacefully rallying outside the premises, you can keep track of the Victoria/Vancouver hearings here.

Helena's poignant statement.

Helena Symonds;

Good afternoon.  My name is Helena Symonds.

I come here as a person who has lived on the BC Coast my whole life.  I was born and raised in Vancouver.  As a young adult I travelled extensively up and down the coast.  In the late 1970’s I moved to northern Vancouver Island where I have been occupied with observing, and listening to whales and their ocean intensely, day and night, year round, for over 30 years.  From our home and research base on Yukusam/Hanson Island, we monitor a network of remote hydrophones that covers approximately 50 square kilometers of the Blackfish Sound-Johnstone Strait area.  Over the years, we have accumulated over 20,000 hours of recordings spanning from the 1970’s to the present. Our work is on going. My particular expertise is being able to discriminate and track the movements acoustically of the different orca family groups who frequent the area.  I am very familiar with how this particular part of the ocean sounds. Given this experience, I feel more than competent to speak to the effect of boat noise and vessel traffic on the marine environment and it is this aspect of the Northern Gateway project that concerns me.
[DDET read more…]


The whales who come to where I live already share their ocean with a large & growing number of vessels.  On any given day, water taxis, fish boats of all types, freighters big and small, sports boats, cruise ships, ferries, tugs, coast guard, & military vessels, log tows and whale watch boats ply their way through the narrow passageways. The noise generated from their propulsion systems can be constant and very often accumulative. There are fewer and fewer moments when the natural sounds of the ocean prevail.  For the orcas, the humpbacks, minke, dolphins and porpoises who travel each year into these waters in response to traditions that stretch back thousands of years, noise has become a reality and, that reality is certainly not making life easy.  Whales are acoustically highly sensitive and make their living by listening in order to find food, navigate and communicate.  Their very survival depends on this specialised skill. Flooding their world with loud and persistent noise cannot fail but to make life harder and dangerously stressful. Add to this all the other degradations of their environment; prey depletion caused by climate change & over fishing, pollutants, entanglements and even garbage and you know it isn’t easy.  In recent years, the fish eating northern resident orcas, have returned to the Johnstone Strait-Blackfish Sound area later and leave earlier.  The number of different families visiting the area has declined dramatically: Where, gatherings of several families with 30-40 individual orcas was considered the daily norm and congregations of 50+ not unusual, we now regularly see fewer than 20 indivdual orcas at a time.

Moving up the coast. Those satellite maps that show vessel traffic across the Pacific clearly identify the preferred routes and clusters of intense traffic to and from the ports of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, and Vancouver.   But beyond Vancouver, and past Vancouver Island, vessel traffic noticeably thins. Relatively speaking, the north coast has not been subject to the same amount of traffic – that is so far.  If, however, the Northern Gateway pipeline and all the tankers needed to haul away its black spit are allowed this area will quickly echo regions further to the south.

At risk, are those areas still clinging to a semblance of “normality” and where because of inviting conditions, whales and other marine life, have flourished. These few remaining ocean spaces are like a patch of old growth forest where the heritage of the past is still evident.  Why would anyone, in their right mind, want to mess with this?

The north coast is notable for a recurrence of great whales. It has taken decades, but since 1967 when commercial whaling operations ended off the BC coast, humpbacks, gray whales, fin whales, sperm whales and even blue whales have begun to recover their pre whaling numbers.  Humpbacks and Fin whales noticeably have begun to reclaim old haunts and are moving back into areas where they had been eradicated.  They are doing so because these areas are favourable and the conditions for living are right. These are some of the same areas proposed for oil tanker traffic.

Simply put whaling was stopped and the whales returned.   Has there been a lesson learned, a wisdom gained from this sequence of events or will the rush to “progress” and profit blind us to this wonderful story of recovery and restoration?

In Vancouver during the 1970s there was a grand & energetic attempt, reminiscent of the Northern Gateway project, to push a freeway right through downtown.  It would have virtually destroyed Chinatown while degrading the rest of the downtown core.  Fortunately, the opposition to this bad idea prevailed and the freeway idea was abandoned.  Interestingly, there was a similar effort in New York around the same time. Can you imagine just what Vancouver or New York would have become if either project had been allowed to go forward?  So why this highway: Because that is what it will be – a noisy, busy, crowded, dangerous, highway that the whales and other marine life will have to navigate against the odds.  The potential for boats strikes is real and cannot be mitigated 100% through observer efforts – just not possible -because of having to rely on individuals to pay complete attention, have unwavering awareness and be able to respond quickly enough to divert an accident despite unknown conditions like the dark, unsettled sea states, poor weather etc. It will be a crap-shoot for the whales.  The noise alone generated by this highway will cause  their world to shrink by compromising their ability to communicate and listen.

The prey they depend upon will be vulnerable too and harder to locate when they are dispersed due to the presence and noise of the large boats.  Go from there…. and you get stressed whales.

I am totally aware of the need for jobs after all I have lived on this coast for a very long time and have witnessed the pain of a sadly devastated, once thriving fishing industry and the adjustments and sacrifices that small coastal villages have had to face. But I am also old enough to know, with certainty, that money inspired projects will always happen. Let’s just hope that our future has the promise of creative, earth and ocean caring endeavors.

To get there we must first stop this very bad idea.

No pipeline, No tankers!

Thank you.

Paul Spong;

Good afternoon.  Thank you, and I also thank the Kwagiulth people for this opportunity to add my voice to the many others you have heard in opposition to the Enbridge pipeline proposal.  I don’t envy your role, which I take to largely be sitting politely listening to the consternation and outrage of Canadian citizens who see what Enbridge is proposing as a threat to the land and oceans they depend on and love.  I am one such.  My name is Paul Spong.
[DDET read more…]

I have spent the past 42 years of my life on a small island in the Johnstone Strait area of northern Vancouver Island, not far from here, where I have been observing and attempting to understand the species Orcinus orca, commonly known as Orca.  When I began this work, very little was known about the species, its habits, needs or lifestyles.  It had a fearsome reputation as a predator, and indeed justly so because it exists at the top of the predator-prey hierarchy in the oceans.  It was thought that there were thousands of them, and that they posed a threat to fish, fisheries and people on the water.  However, largely because of the dedication of a small group of DFO scientists based in Nanaimo, B.C., we have come to understand that orcas exist in small vulnerable populations that consist of family groups which have life long ties with one another.  The families form communities which share ocean spaces and the resources within.  Social organization is matrilineal in the sense that genetic and cultural heritage is passed from generation to generation through the females.  Mothers and their offspring stay together all their lives  – even the males remain with their mothers throughout adulthood.  It is a fascinating society, so much so that orcas have acquired a persona as one of the most charismatic of all species.  People throng to British Columbia from around the world, just to catch a glimpse of them.  Whatever fear may have existed in the past has long gone.  To the contrary, people now want to get so close to orcas that regulations are needed to keep them at a distance and give the whales a chance to live their lives relatively free from human interference.

Orcas have needs, and like other creatures, ourselves included, the list is a pretty simple one: food, space for living that allows them to meet and be with one another for social comfort, convenience and continuity, and especially in their case because they primarily live in an acoustic world, a quiet ocean, or at least a quiet enough ocean that allows them to hunt, communicate, find their way around, and sing the beautiful songs that come to them from the past and carry them towards their future.  Orcas are magnificent beings who have evolved and existed on our planet for a time we humans cannot begin to imagine.  I use the term “beings” deliberately, because orcas are as fully cognizant of their existence as we are, and quite possibly more cognizant of their circumstances.

The origins of the resident orca societies that occupy the central coast of British Columbia today date back to the end of the last Ice Age, perhaps 10,000 years ago, when the coastal waters and land combined to produce an environment which allowed the salmon they depend on to establish themselves and thrive.   For almost all of that time until now, orca communities flourished, and from what we understand from First Nations, human communities flourished alongside them.  There were no threats from either side.  But now, almost in the blink of an eye, there are threats, and they are so immense that they threaten not just orcas but the very fabric of life on our planet.  We need to pay attention.

Let me list the threats:  a warming ocean, dwindling food supply, shrinking space, increasing noise.  Again it’s a simple list, and again, if we care anything for the future, we need to pay attention.

Why are these matters relevant to the Enbridge pipeline proposal now before you?  For one reason, and one reason alone: Future.

Perhaps we’ll get lucky, and the abysmal record of Enbridge mismanagement won’t visit itself on their current proposal; and perhaps the storms and human errors that threaten the supertankers carrying bitumen to China won’t visit another Exxon Valdez nightmare on our coast; but why take that chance NOW?  Surely, if we envisage a future for our grandchildren and theirs, we have time to think and sort out the priorities that really matter.  That bitumen was formed millions of years ago, and it will still be in the ground and available hundreds, thousands, even millions of years from now, should we still be here.  That last thought is something to ponder, for we are on a reckless course to self-destruction, and the train we’re on shows no signs of having brakes.

What really matters NOW is wisdom; the wisdom to see the errors of our ways; the wisdom to see the folly before us; the wisdom to plot a sensible course to the future; wisdom that embraces what we have, what we care about, and what will take us securely forward.   There is not a shred of wisdom in the Enbridge proposal, just greed and the foolishness that goes along with it.

Let me finish by pointing out a couple of things.  The Northern Resident orca community is officially regarded as threatened.  This means simply that additional pressures on it should be avoided.  A recovery plan has been formulated and is being implemented.  Given the regard in which orcas are held by the general public, it only makes sense to give them the best possible chance of recovery.  And it’s not just orcas that are an issue here.  Humpback and fin whales have come back from the brink of extinction and are making a promising recovery in the very waters that will be impacted by supertanker traffic if the Enbridge proposal goes ahead.   Surely it makes sense to aid their recovery, not imperil it.

You carry a heavy responsibility in the deliberations before you.  I wish you the wisdom to see that the Enbridge proposal is misguided and wrong headed.  It is opposed by virtually everyone and every group who will be affected.  And I have no doubt that given the chance, the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves would rise in unision against it.  Your wisest course would be to just say NO.

Thank you again for the opportunity to express my views.

Presenters to the left & Panel staff to the right.

Marie Fournier;

Hello, my name is Marie Fournier. I was born and raised in Vancouver, B.C. and I have grown up on the water my entire life.  I have a Bachelor’s in Marine Biology and I first started my career working at the Vancouver Aquarium, where I worked specifically with sea otters a lot of the time.  Two of them were actually from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, so they needed extra care a lot of the time because they had sicknesses from the oil.

I currently live in Alert Bay, B.C., on Hanson and West Cracroft Island.  They are all within the vicinity of one another. I’ve been working in this area for six years now. I currently work for Cetus Research and Conservation Society as a Robson Bight  Michael Bigg Ecological Reserve Park Warden.
[DDET read more…]

I also have done many surveys up the coast of B.C. I worked for Raincoast Conservation Foundation where we did transects all the way up the entire B.C. coast for two months at a time and we were surveying for marine mammals.  During this journey, saw approximately 17 species of marine mammals as well as 60 different bird species.  We conducted the surveys in different seasons. We did them in the spring, summer and fall, and we were trying to figure out the abundance of different animals as well as the distribution of these different animals.

I, specifically — I’m not speaking for Raincoast or Cetus, am speaking on behalf of myself. We noticed during these surveys that there was never a trend in the seasons.  The whales were everywhere.  They were in different locations.  You could never predict where they were.

We saw, like I said, 17 species of marine mammals.  Specifically, we saw many fin whales, humpback whales, and orcas.  So I spent a lot of time in the area of the proposed tanker traffic, especially Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Caamano Sound, as well as Queen Charlotte Sound.

We also documented hundreds of different seabirds, many of them that are endangered or threatened and, of course, they spend lots of time on the water, most of their time on the water rather than on land.

I am in strong opposition of the proposed Enbridge pipeline on the B.C. Coast. One of my major concerns is the noise from the tanker traffic as well as the spotter vessels.  Like I said, I’ve worked on this coast for six years now.  Three of those years, winters, I’ve spent at OrcaLab, which is a research station where we have underwater hydrophones and we listen to vessel traffic 24 hours a day.  And sometimes, especially when the tugboats or freighters go through, it can be extremely loud.  Sometimes, it’s so loud that you want to turn it off or walk away from it, which of course anything that lives underwater cannot do.  It actually makes me go a little bit crazy sometimes because it’s so loud and you can’t turn it off.  You can’t hear what you’re doing.

There have been studies done on killer whales that will actually speak up when there is a lot of vessel traffic in the area.  Somebody did a study in Victoria where the killer whales actually have to raise their voices when there’s a lot of vessel traffic around. And there’s also a study done by Watkins on the East Coast, in Cape Cod, where fin whales also have to raise their voices when there is a lot of vessel traffic around.  And with this proposed tanker traffic, there of course will be all the tanker traffic that will be going through as well as the spotter vessels.  This will increase the noise a lot along the Coast.

I have one specific story that I will share with you about noise.  We were in Queen Charlotte Sound on the S/V “The Achiever” doing marine mammal surveys.  We were sitting there quietly watching about 20 plus humpback whales all feeding. They were vocalizing. We had a hydrophone in the water and then somebody all of a sudden said, “Oh, what’s that noise?”

We looked everywhere and we couldn’t see what it was.  Then finally, way off in the distance, we saw a freighter coming.  So we left our hydrophone in and it got louder and louder as they got closer and closer and, eventually, we just — we couldn’t listen to it anymore.  So we actually turned the hydrophone off.

When we did that, we noticed that the humpbacks were dispersing.  They all left the area.  Who knows if it was from the noise, but it definitely seemed like it was associated with the noise.  They just dispersed and stopped feeding.

My other major concern is ship strikes.  Humpback whales along this coast are the number one hit marine mammal, fin whales are number two, and like I said, these were two of the most abundant species that we saw along the coast.

Fin whales especially are capable of covering large distances, and they are very quick.  They make long dives and are very unpredictable. I’ve seen them, you know, make sudden changes, changing their activity, and like I said, doing long dives, as well as resting motionless at the surface.  It’s actually sometimes very hard to even see a fin whale; they don’t have a very large fin.  Even though they are large animals, it’s not that easy to see them, so this makes them very vulnerable to ship strikes.

So even though there will be a spotter vessel in front of these tankers, it is not going to confirm that they’re going to see a fin whale or a humpback whale, and even if they do, this spotter vessel is going to be 30 minutes to an hour in front of the tanker traffic.  Whales are very unpredictable; they could be in the same spot, but they could be in a completely different spot as well.  So, just because the spotter vessel is going to spot these whales does not mean that they’re still going to be the same spot an half an hour to an hour later.

There was actually even a documented fin whale that got hit by a cruise ship a few years back that pulled into the Vancouver Harbour with the fin whale still on the front of its bow.  It is now in Telegraph Cove at the WIC, which is the Whale Interpretive Centre there, the fin whale skeleton is up there, just to show people that these whales do get hit, and they don’t always necessarily get stuck to the bow like that one did.  Many times they just get struck and then we never know about it.

During my time on these marine mammal surveys, we actually saw a humpback whale that had been hit by a vessel and the only reason we knew is because you could see that his back was broken.  You could see that a bow — the bow of the vessel had hit him right on and he was going to die.  I mean, he was swimming around.  He couldn’t swim or anything thing, so it was hard for all of us to see that, but, you know, just because these whales get hit doesn’t mean that we — it’s documented all the time.

So even though we were on a smaller vessel, a 22-metre vessel, sometimes it was hard for us to manoeuvre around these whales, so I can’t imagine a huge tanker avoiding a whale, changing their course, altering their course just to avoid a whale that the spotter vessel may have seen earlier.

Last summer I actually saw a sailboat hit a humpback whale.  He wasn’t going that fast, only seven knots, which is nowhere near how fast the tankers will be going, and he couldn’t stop and he hit that humpback whale direct on.  So it happens.  Accidents happen, and I’m sure with the number of fin whales and humpback whales that we see on this coast it will happen.

The other thing is where the tankers will be going.  We spent a lot of time in this area.  The weather is very unpredictable, as well as reefs and everything, so it was hard for us sometimes.  We were in seas eight to 10 metres and there was even a wave that was documented, 30 metre waves in Hecate Strait, which is way too big for a vessel carrying oil to be going through.

So I just want to say that we don’t know that much about the number of humpback whales, fin whales, especially those two species, on the coast because after whaling in, you know, in the sixties, we’re now seeing that they’re making a comeback now.  They’re popping up everywhere.  Their numbers are increasing, so we cannot predict where they’re going to be, so they are likely to get affected by the noise as well as the vessel traffic.

And the last thing I want to say is what Jake was saying before about the oil spill in Robson Bight, sorry, the diesel spill.  It was a barge full of logging equipment.  I personally saw that happen.  I saw all the logging equipment go in.  I saw all the diesel everywhere.  There were killer whales in it, and this is Critical Habitat for the Northern Resident orcas.

It took two days for Burrard Clean to even come up and assess the situation.  It took a year for the government to even decide that they were going to do something about it, and then it took another year for them to clean it up, and this is in Northern Resident orca Critical Habitat.  So I can’t imagine how long it’s going to take to clean up an oil spill.

So yeah, that is my statement. I am in strong opposition of the Enbridge pipeline on the B.C. coast.

Leah Robinson;

Thank you. I would like to take a minute to introduce myself.  My name is Leah Robinson and I was born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario, and have been living on the coast of British Columbia since 2004.  More specifically, I’ve been working in the marine mammal field since 2007 and living in the remote community of Alert Bay on Cormorant Island and on Yukasam/Hanson Island.  My career allows me to work closely with marine mammals in the waters from Victoria to Prince Rupert, including ‘Threatened’ or ‘Endangered’ species such as the transient and resident orcas, humpback and fin whales.
[DDET read more…]

My work monitoring vessel activity around these whales, as well as tracking orcas and humpbacks acoustically, has given me great insight into the challenges they face with increasing vessel noise and presence, lack of prey availability, as well as polluted oceans and watersheds within their and their prey’s habitat.  However, it is living in remote settings on this coast as well as running boats in these waters that gives me a deep understanding and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all ecosystems from land to sea.  The more closely I live with nature, the more basic I become as an individual.  Thereby feeling compelled to preserve what we have left.  Very little land on our coast has not been manipulated by humankind and therefore I find it hard to look towards the future unless we make great advances towards sustainable practices on all fronts.

I have many concerns about the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project, but I have only chosen a couple to focus on today. The concerns that I plan to address in my statement surround the risks this pipeline poses to our watersheds and the navigational hazards very large crude carriers face along the proposed tanker route.

I am going to respectfully spell out a number of project facts and plans that I imagine you are aware of.  But, it is these very facts that I can’t seem to wrap my head around due to the immense risk that they pose.

This project proposes to build a pipeline under mountains and across rivers that could carry more than half a million barrels of raw tar sands crude oil, known as bitumen, daily across important rivers, coastal rainforests and sensitive marine waters.  It will stretch over 1,172 kilometres, including 785 rivers and streams and will cross through three of the continent’s most important watersheds: the Mackenzie, Fraser, and Skeena.  The geology of this area is very complex and landslides are common.  In fact, the last time I checked, British Columbia was still located within the Pacific Rim of Fire, a chain of volcanoes and earthquakes that extend around the edges of the Pacific Ocean.  In recent terms, the northeast quadrant is the only quadrant remaining to suffer from a devastating earthquake. That’s us!

Outside of the potential of natural disasters to cause damage and leakage to the pipeline is the fact that 800-plus documented cases of spills within Enbridge’s current infrastructure.  The use of pipelines to move large quantities of diluted bitumen is relatively recent, yet there are already many indications that diluted bitumen spills are more prevalent than conventional oil spills.  Midwestern state pipelines with the longest history of transporting heavy Canadian tar sands crude are in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. According to state mileage by commodity statistics and Bureau of Transportation statistics, between 2007 and 2010, pipelines in these states spilled almost three times as much crude per mile than U.S. national average.  This is alarming.

Could it be that the movement of diluted bitumen is not the same as conventional oil due to corrosion of the pipeline from sediments such as quartz and pyrite sand particles?  Is it that as thick diluted bitumen moves through the pipelines it creates significant friction which heats the mixture to very high temperatures and promotes corrosion?  Most likely, it is the case of both.  Why does our National Energy Board not distinguish between conventional crude and diluted bitumen when setting minimum standards for oil pipelines?

In the case of Enbridge’s oil spill into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan in 2010, the contaminant and clean up of a diluted bitumen spill required significant personnel, equipment and supplies.  So how will that work in remote areas where the Northern Gateway pipeline would be?  Discovering a leak in the first place and then the subsequent clean up would be hampered by factors such as remoteness, flooding, heavy snow pack, avalanches, rock slides.

A diluted bitumen spill poses certain hazards to the environment and public safety.  One example would be the release of toxins that can accumulate in the environment and food chains such as nickel, arsenic and other heavy metals that do not biodegrade.  These toxins could have a significant impact on salmon, a central component of our province’s ecology, culture, economy and social fabric.  Many species are dependent on wild salmon, including orcas, various pinnipeds, bears, wolves, eagles, and the list goes on.  Living in North Island fishing communities has taught me how dependent local residents are on wild salmon stocks for our livelihoods and our sustenance.

Wild salmon also support valuable recreational tourism, sport fishing, commercial fishing, as well as value-added processing.  In fact, the wild salmon economy of the Skeena River alone has been valued at 110 million Canadian dollars annually.  Exposure to these contaminants and the spill would be severely detrimental to salmon populations.

The most valuable commodity in the world today, and likely to remain so for the most of this century isn’t oil or natural gas, it’s fresh, clean and safe water.  Canada is ranked as the third country in the world containing the highest levels of fresh water supply.  Fresh water is a scarcity on this planet and the bottom line is that we don’t have enough as is to go around.  In fact, the United Nations estimates that by 2050 more than two billion people in 48 countries will lack sufficient water.  In pure economic terms, I believe that it is very nearsighted to risk our fresh water supply in the name of oil.  More importantly, in terms of the basic survival of all species on this planet, it is ludicrous to risk fresh water, fish bearing or non-fish bearing, to the possibilities of contamination.

The aforementioned hazards to our precious fresh water supply does not even take into account the fact that an average 2.2 barrels of fresh water is required for each barrel of bitumen extracted for mining and 1.1 barrels for in situ drilling.  In addition, to extract bitumen from the tar sands, the oil industry strip mines and fragments hundreds of thousands of hectares of Boreal Forests and wetlands.  In short, we are already risking one valuable commodity to process another commodity of lesser value.  The bill is too high.

I would now like to quote our former British Columbia Minister of Environment, Barry Penner:  “The unfortunate fact remains that, given the high marine traffic and topography of our coastline, it simply is not possible to completely prevent spills from happening in the first place. Narrow passages, underwater obstacles and a rocky ocean floor are only a few of the distinctive natural traits of our coastal waters.”

The Northern Gateway Project would bring an average of 220 oil tankers a year to British Columbia’s North Coast.  The largest of these tankers, very large crude carriers, can carry over two million barrels of oil, nearly eight times more than the oil spill by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska. Some of the spill facts and figures from the National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior stated that 257,000 barrels were spilled and only 17,000 barrels recovered, resulting in 1300 miles of shoreline impacted with the Exxon Valdez.  This resulted in the best estimate of how many animals died outright from the spill as 250,000 seabirds, 2800 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.  The timing of the spill, its remote and spectacular location, thousands of miles of rugged and wild shoreline and the abundance of wildlife combined make it an environmental and societal disaster well beyond the scope of other spills.

This description of these factors mimics our coastline and what we have to lose.  The risk of an oil tanker spill is elevated along our coast because of the unique topography and poor weather conditions.  Our coast is often battered by windstorms, from gale to hurricane force winds causing over ten metre seas at times.  Precipitation and fog often reduces visibility to less than 3 kilometres and as little as 100 metres.  Narrow channels such as Douglas Channel and dangerous waters such as Hecate Strait leave little room for error, which is inevitable when relying on mechanics and humans that are both susceptible to breakdowns, not to mention the limited manoeuvrability of these large vessels.

In conclusion, I believe that we have far too much to risk in terms of our remaining intact fragile and interconnected ecosystems.  I speak for myself and countless other species on this Coast that do not have a voice here today to say that humankind cannot continue to make the same mistakes that we have in the past.  As stated in the report, ’20 years later Exxon Valdez oil spill’, some of the lessons they learned, prevention is inordinately cheaper than cleanup.

In short, as a citizen of B.C. and this planet, I say “no” to the Northern Gateway Pipeline Project.

Kirsty Medcalf;

I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Kirsty Medcalf and I am from the U.K. and I have flown 4,000 miles to experience the beauty of this coastline.  My love affair with the Coast of British Columbia began by reading books about orca whale communities that inhabit the inner passages of Vancouver Island up to South Eastern Alaska.

My zeal for the whales eventually brought me to B.C. where I’ve spent two seasons as a research assistant at OrcaLab and Ceatcealab where we acoustically track and monitor the behaviour of orca, fin and humpback whales. Living in the wilderness while studying the whales has irrevocably changed my life and I forged a personal commitment to help protect them.
[DDET read more…]


Today, I feel compelled to make a statement to express my deep concerns about the proposed oil tanker routes associated to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. From the South, vessels will travel via Queen Charlotte Sound into both Laredo Sound and Laredo Channel followed by either Whale or Squally Channel into the Douglas Channel.

This region is also a proposed designated critical habitat for whales and it is unthinkable to envisage 225 very large crude carriers — referred to as VLCCs — per year, which are on average 1,000 feet long — the same height at the Eiffel Tower — carrying 450 million barrels of crude oil from Alberta to Kitimat through a marine ecosystem that is essentially intact.

From working as an assistant at Cetacealab, I believe I have a sound knowledge of these channels. I spent extensive time at two land-based observation points, both at whale point, located on Gil Island, which overlooks Whale Channel and Squally Channel, and a remote out-camp referred to as Ulric Point, near Laredo Channel.

By firsthand experience, all channels are challenging and involve major hazards to navigation for large vessels, especially if they are poorly managed ones. In fact, Hecate Strait is the third most dangerous body of water in the world.

As quoted in a National Geographic article:

“This is a wild coast with wild weather and wilderness where dialing 911 or calling mayday will not get you much.”

I feel skeptical that Enbridge’s promises to successfully safeguard every journey embarked upon by VLCCs is both unrealistic and, quite frankly, dangerous.

As recalled by Helen Clifton, who is the matriarch of the Gitga’at living in Hartley Bay:

“No matter how safe a ship is, the most mundane human error can sink it.”

Others today may have — or will mention the Queen of the North where all it took to sink a ship with 101 souls on board was a 14-minute distraction between three crew members in charge of navigation and steering which failed to make a required course change. All 99 passengers owe their lives to the community of Hartley Bay — as the Coast Guard was 90 minutes away — who responded quickly to the “mayday”. However, they would be defenceless and ill-equipped to respond to an oil spill.

If a potential spill were to occur from a VLCC in the pristine environment of the Great Bear Rainforest, I firmly believe Enbridge will be poorly prepared to respond to a significant spill.

A fine example is three million litres of tar sands bitumen oil spilled from a ruptured pipeline into the Kalamazoo River watershed in Michigan and, alarmingly, pipeline operators could not shut it down for 12 hours.

The incident at the Kalamazoo River is within a long list of other spills that Enbridge are responsible for, including the Lakehead Pipeline System 6a and b; the Enbridge Pipeline 2b; the Athabasca Cheecham Line. I find the details of this incident disconcerting as the Kalamazoo River is located in a populated area where spill response equipment was available, which raises the question as to how Enbridge will respond in the wilderness, when spills are difficult to detect and equipment is not readily available.

From my English perspective, I was brought up witnessing through the media or by reading the horrors of the Torrey Canyon which shipwrecked in 1967 after taking a shortcut, thus releasing 36 million gallons of oil into the Atlantic Ocean killing 15,000 seabirds and marine organisms.

And the Amoco Cadiz was wrecked in 1978 off the coast of France spilling 250 million tons of oil over a 400 kilometre radius, killing 300,000 seabirds. The Sea Empress in 1996 spilled 300,000 tons in a national park off of Wales, killing 7,000 seabirds and had a devastating effect on the livelihoods of local lobster fisherman.

Lastly, the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster in 1986 known as the largest oil spill cleanup ever mobilized where 10.9 million gallons of crude oil spilled into Prince William Sound, Alaska. On the aftermath of that, two orca whale populations knows as the AB population which are resident, and AT1 who are transient, have suffered losses of 33 to 41 percent. The AT1 population lost nine members following the spill, losing reproductive females thus accelerating the population trajectory towards extinction. As well as the loss of 250,000 seabirds, 300 harbour seals, a multitude of other species.

I felt the need to highlight these environmental disasters to implore Enbridge to reflect upon how these oil spills have damaged entire ecosystems and to consider this question: How many disastrous oil spills will humankind experience before you finally understand the value of protecting the last remaining fragments of unspoiled wilderness before it’s too late?

I strongly oppose bringing crude oil to the Great Bear Rainforest, which is one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforests left in the world and the areas known to other species such as cougars, wolves, salmon and the Kermode Spirit Bear, a unique subspecies of black bear, that all rely on the coastline for their survival.

Even though I am not Canadian, I feel a deep sense of attachment and belonging to the Great Bear Rainforest, having lived, researched and socialized with the First Nation community. I believe the construction of the pipeline and the transportation of crude oil through vast regions of uninhabited lands are unwise, extremely disrespectful towards the cultural traditions of the First Nations community and lifestyle, and most importantly exhibit a lack of foresight in terms of the potential problems that will inevitably occur.  Enbridge’s past history of approximately 800 oil spills over a ten-year period, and with the addition of the most recent incident in Wisconsin, overrides public support and diminishes confidence that another incident won’t occur.

This strikes a poignant course since I was fortunate enough to regularly observe whales on a daily basis, including fin whales, humpbacks, and orca, which are protected under the Species At Risk Act.  As the season progressed, we experienced firsthand displays of bubble net feeding behaviour as well as hearing song display practice over the hydrophone network. Cetacealab has the ability to listen to over a 40 square kilometre area and plan to increase the coverage further to ascertain the importance of this core region.

Through my own personal communication with Janie Wray, who is a senior researcher at Cetacealab, I discovered that, in 2006, they recorded 50 hours of humpback whales on display and, by 2010, this increased to approximately 500 hours. Currently, fin whales are also on the rise where numbers have increased from approximately 30 to 300 sightings over five years, which suggest that fin and humpback whales are becoming resident to the Northern B.C. waters.

These whales have the propensity to migrate and traverse along an identical route as proposed by the oil tankers, and I am mystified as to why the Canadian government is failing to protect these sentient, intelligent, and highly social creatures.

The fragile balance of this unique ecosystem is now under threat due to the proposed pipeline, which could potentially cause irreparable damage as well as the annihilation of the aforementioned species.

In Europe, we once had wolves and bears roaming freely over huge tracts of wilderness. Today, their exploitation has reduced them to tiny isolated, unviable populations in our society’s relentless greed. I pray you take this opportunity to prevent this from happening in B.C. Once these species and ecosystems are extinct, they’ll be gone forever.

Like I said in the introduction, I am not from B.C., I am not even Canadian and I’ve travelled half the world to experience this, twice over. This is an international matter and the world is watching and waiting.

Thank you for your time.

Helena, Paul, Jackie, Leah, Kirsty & Marie.
Helena, Paul, Jackie, Leah, Kirsty & Marie. Photo credit; Wendy Davis


There were many moving testimonies, including Jackie Hildering and Wendy Davis’, at the hearing and you can find them here.






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