August 18 2009 » SWCC in the NewsSkeena Swim » Terrace Standard
Skeena River is a Gift That Needs to be Protected
~by Robert Hart
Ali Howard has just swum the Skeena River, from its headwaters to its mouth, ending her epic journey at the historic North Pacific Cannery while making some history herself. Ali has undertaken this feat of endurance to remind us of the gift that the Skeena River is to us: one of the longest free running, unpolluted rivers in the world and one of the largest sources of wild salmon on the planet.
Her swim reminds us of what a resource the Skeena is to us and that it is worth saving in its present state: a clean, working river that binds us and sustains us as a community.
Enbridge is planning to build a pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to Kitimat, a pipeline over 1,100 kilometres long, carrying dirty oil across 1,000 streams and rivers. The Tar Sands are creating a toxic wasteland that could reach the size of 4 Vancouver Islands and are our fastest growing source of global warming pollution. So building another pipeline to transport this increasing production not only threatens the whole planet but creates a direct threat to us.
Enbridge has had more than 65 oil spills annually. That number can only go up with over 1,000 kilometres of new pipeline. In the next 20 years, the number of spills could easily be over 1,000 and some of them would inevitably be along the Skeena. There is no way to contain an oil spill on a fast moving river. Can you imagine a Skeena without salmon?
But the danger to us does not stop there. There would be over 300 supertankers a year taking the oil from the pipeline terminal at Kitimat to buyers in China. During the lifetime of the pipeline, that amounts to 1,000s of supertankers from this project alone. But once this pipeline is approved, there would inevitably be more.
Other companies are already planning to build them and the amount of coastal tanker traffic would then increase dramatically. The tankers would have to navigate some of the most treacherous inland waterways in the world. There are places on the route where they would have to be assisted by up to four sea going tugboats in order to make the necessary turn in the tight, rock strewn waterways between Hartley Bay and the Pacific. They would then encounter a coast that has some of the worst weather anywhere, high winds and high seas. It is a more difficult route than the one the Exxon Valdez was following when it struck a rock and poured thousands of barrels of oil onto the Alaskan coast.
That coast remains polluted to this day. As if we needed reminding, the route passes the site where the Queen of the North went down. A major spill is not probable. It is inevitable.
For what? The pipeline’s construction will bring few jobs to the North. Its maintenance will provide fewer still. The salmon in the Skeena create a local economy worth $110 million a year. A healthy coast has supported communities for thousands of years. Who would pay for their destruction?
Not Enbridge. The Skeena and the North Coast are clean, healthy and working to provide us with a sustainable economy. No corporate interest has the right to destroy this, or even endanger it in any significant way, in order to make a profit for their shareholders.
As Ali swam through our territory, she was greeted at each river community. Hundreds of people welcomed her and cheered her on. Ali’s swim challenged us to be mindful of the importance of the Skeena in our lives and the need for us to protect it from mindless development. We are challenged to make our own swim into the waters of community action. Even if we have to swim upstream.
Robert Hart is a past Chair of the Sierra Club, BC Chapter and remains an advocate for sustainable development