Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Questions for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Review Panel

My cousin, Jim Traynor, is a remarkable guy. He now lives in Lillooet but has been a lifelong hiker and outdoors enthusiast. When we've met over the years, I'm always impressed by his gentle confidence and his remarkable life history.

Recently, Jim put together a personal presentation for the review panel looking at the Enbridge Northern Gateway project. It's a remarkable story, in which he talks about his own relationship with that area of the world and asks the panel to consider six significant questions before they make a decision.

It's a fascinating read and Jim's questions are thought-provoking, at the very least. I admit I'm cynical about the outcome of this process. I fear that the outcome has already been decided and despite the near total public opposition to this project it will move ahead.

But Jim's passionate words, and those of many others who have presented their views through the public review process, have impressed me. And I hope they impress the panel members too. Our world will survive without this pipeline project - but I'm not at all certain that it will if the project goes ahead.

Here's the text of Jim's presentation.
January 15, 2013
Oral Presentation to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Review Panel Jim Traynor, Lillooet, B.C.
Hello panel members.

It is good to be here - I am thankful this process is in place.

After retiring at age 65 from a career in project management in the field of architecture, I started my own small business, and also became a volunteer advisor with CESO working with aboriginal communities for example, with the Gitsan people at Kitwanga on the Skeena.

I have been hiking in the B.C. mountains since the age of 12 - 65 years ago, including in the mountains close to the pipelines route. As a former member of the executive of the Orienteering Association of B.C., and former member of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C.,I can say that the outdoors is like a second home to me.
About a year and a half ago, on a bright day in May, I headed up into the Stein Park alpine to back country ski. Half way up the active logging road I was stopped by a roof top high wall of ice and embedded rock - an avalanche not in a recognized avalanche zone. Avalanches and major mud slides are being observed in many places not previously identified for slide events. - Lillooet lake for example, and Johnstons landing, where the town had to be evacuated last summer.

What is going on here? Environment Canada historical records show coastal mountains intercept more than 7 times the annual precipitation of Calgary, for example. However, as reported in the Vancouver Sun, climate scientists have estimated expected increases in up to 50% above the historical averages, for precipitation in coastal mountain areas to more than 10 times that of Calgary. Also many glaciers in B.C. are observed to be in retreat, probably from warming temperatures. The observed result is an increasingly very high volume of mountain water load moving downslopes, increasing slides into areas that are not historically designated as avalanche zones. With the complexity of climate change, there appears to be no way at present to accurately predict where the rogue avalanches and mudslides will occur.

My first question then is:

Other than at the two proposed tunnels, how can the engineering design be done to protect the pipelines from the unpredictable slide events, when the historical records are no longer adequate - how will the engineering deal with unpredictable change? It no longer works to say 'we designed according to the best information available at the times - the times are changing too fast. At this time in history we need to use the precautionary principle.

Since an avalanche is unstable, it is not practical to rebuild over, under, or through it, so when the rogue avalanche hits, creating massive damage, what happens?

My second question is:

In the case of a slide event hit taking out the pipelines, how will Enbridge get the dil-bit to the coast, and the condensate to Alberta.? The increase in moisture load in the mountains also results in more days socked in - zero visibility - when helicopters and ATV's are grounded. Sloping terrain is dangerous, especially when wet if you can't see, you can't move. I have been trapped for 3 days in a tent. On one occaision, it was only because my german shepherd/husky could retrace our climb route by scent that I was able to get out unstressed when weather went from clear to socked in inside of 30 minutes - I could barely see 3 metres ahead.

My third question is:

How can the spills be quickly accessed for containment in these socked in conditions speed being essential to success?

The spills can be as widespread as the width of the avalanche, having high probability of getting into water courses on sloping ground. Other than the highly controversial chemical dispersants, the present clean up technology relies mainly on containment by booms for absorbing and skimming which can work on flat water, but are ineffective in fast moving, high volume mountain watercourses.

My fourth question is:

Even when weather does permit access to the spills, where is the proven specific technology that can be used to clean up a dilbit and condensate spill in these sloping terrain conditions, once they get into fast moving, high volume water courses?

Next I would like to show evidence from extraction industry remediation history in Canada. According to a Scott Vaughan, Federal Commissioner of Environment, report, out of the 22,000 abandoned contaminated industrial sites in Canada, more than half could be putting Canadians environmental health at risk, requiring remediation now costing taxpayers millions of dollars every year.

For example, the Faro lead/zinc mine near Whitehorse, abandoned by the mining company simply through the act of creating bankruptcy after a decline in the world prices of the metals. The estimates of the remediation costs to our taxpayers for the Faro project alone vary from 523 million ( Scott Vaughan ) to 1 billion dollars over the next 100 years - 4 generations! We know that very large bankruptcies happen in Canada - Nortel for example. I have read that clean up costs of a bitumen/condensate spill can be more than 10 times the costs of a conventional oil spill.

So, my fifth question is in several parts:

Who will pay for the clean up and multi-generational remediation when Enbridge declares bankruptcy acting in the best financial interests of the shareholders?

Where is there any requirement for performance bonding?

Where is the legal/contractual structure in Canada to force Enbridge to pay the costs of remediation of the large bitumen and condensate spills when the avalanche or mudslide hits the pipelines?

These questions are so fundamental to this Enbridge concept, that the proposal must not be given approval in principle until these questions are answered to the satisfaction of all stakeholders - it is not acceptable to claim to be able to answer these questions at a later stage - it would be irresponsible to the taxpayers of Canada, to the residents of B.C., and it would be irresponsible to Enbridge who will spend more money on a prohibitively risky concept if approval in principle is granted.

Is Enbridge underplaying the risks - the slide risks, the earthquake/tsunami risks, the navigation risks? How else can we interpret for example, their removal of the islands in Douglas Channel in their commercials?

So my last question to the panel is:

What independent technical sources can the panel consult with to evaluate the soundness of the Northern Gateway risk estimating process?

I would like to leave these questions with you with confidence in the valuable work you are doing here.

In finishing, I would like to go back in time 62 years - I was 15 years old when a surveyors helper summer job came up in a remote mountain mine south of Smithers. On weekends, I would climb high through tallus and skree slopes listening to the shrill warning whistles of marmots. Finally reaching ridge top I saw spread before me as far as eye could see a world that took my breath away - white ribbons of water falling from emerald lakes into lush green valleys below red chevrons of rock topped by bluegrey stone under white sails of glaciers and permanent snow - so vast - so striking - so magnificent - I was sure it was Shangri-la. I fell in love with this sacred place - it set the course of my life outdoors - I want to hike my grandchildren there. What I was looking at to my north was the Northern Gateway pipelines route.

Thank you panel - If I could make a wish for each of you, I think it would be for "courage."
If anyone wants to comment directly to Jim, his email is

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek - Multimedia Feature -

This is a remarkable piece of reporting, making full use of pictures, video, graphics, and remarkable imagery, woven together in a gripping narrative.

It took six months of work, but the result is remarkable. It shows how storytelling remains the base of any good tale, but how technology, used wisely, can add a lot to the telling.

The best way to read this is on the New York Times website, so that you can get the full benefit.

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek - Multimedia Feature - ""

Saugstad was mummified. She was on her back, her head pointed downhill. Her goggles were off. Her nose ring had been ripped away. She felt the crushing weight of snow on her chest. She could not move her legs. One boot still had a ski attached to it. She could not lift her head because it was locked into the ice.

But she could see the sky. Her face was covered only with loose snow. Her hands, too, stuck out of the snow, one still covered by a pink mitten.
Using her hands like windshield wipers, she tried to flick snow away from her mouth. When she clawed at her chest and neck, the crumbs maddeningly slid back onto her face. She grew claustrophobic.

Breathe easy, she told herself. Do not panic. Help will come. She stared at the low, gray clouds. She had not noticed the noise as she hurtled down the mountain. Now, she was suddenly struck by the silence.

UPDATE - There's a Part Two to this story, about how the story was created.