Category Archives: Water and Hydrocarbons

A water pit for fracking on Fort Nelson First Nation territory

Audio: Damien Gillis Discusses Obama, FIPA and Water Licenses for Fracking on SFU Radio


Damien Gillis and SFU Radio’s Sylvia Richardson discuss a wide range of energy topics – from the impact of Barack Obama’s recent presidential victory on North American climate and energy issues to the potential effects of the Chinese FIPA trade deal on Canada’s environment. The two also cover Fort Nelson First Nation’s campaign against long-term water licenses for shale gas extraction that would see billions of litres of fresh water taken from their rivers and contaminated. Listen to the conversation in three parts. (From Nov. 10, 2012)

Audio: How Obama’s Victory Affects Climate and Energy Issues in North America and Globally

Audio: Fort Nelson First Nation’s Campaign Against Massive Long-term Water Licenses for Shale Gas


Canada-China FIPA’s Impact on Energy and Environmental Issues in Canada

Learn more from Fort Nelson First Nation leaders about these water licenses and how you can support their efforts at a public dialogue in Vancouver on Tuesday Nov. 13 – details here.


Mike Smyth: NDP Have a Fracking Problem


Read this column by the Province’s Mike Smyth on the NDP’s confusing position on fracking – the controversial natural gas extraction method. (Oct. 21, 2012)

There’s still some mystery around the science and practice of fracking, a system of drilling for natural gas that’s become more and more controversial in recent years.

But trying to figure out where Adrian Dix and the NDP stand on the issue? Well, that’s one of the biggest fracking mysteries in B.C. politics right now.

Let’s start with what fracking – short for “hydraulic fracturing”- is and how it works in B.C.

Fracking involves sinking a deep, narrow well into the earth and bedrock and pumping tonnes of fluids – about 99 per cent water – down the pipe at very high pressures.

The pressurized fluid cracks the rock at the bottom of pipe, releasing the natural gas trapped within it.

This technological breakthrough has opened up a large and rapidly growing natural-gas industry in northeastern B.C., which Premier Christy Clark and her governing Liberals want to expand.

But environmentalists such as David Suzuki are sounding the alarm, warning about toxic waste water, accidental spills, contaminated drinking water and even increased risk of earthquakes.

Some environmental groups have demanded an all-out ban or moratorium on fracking in B.C., which the Liberals say would cost thousands of jobs and billions in investment.

So where does the NDP stand on it? It all depends who you talk to.

John Horgan, the NDP energy critic, said the New Democrats support an expanded natural-gas industry. But he also said an NDP government would set up an independent scientific panel to study the risks.

Could that scientific review lead to a moratorium on fracking in B.C., like the one just imposed in Quebec?

“You can’t rule out anything,” Horgan told me.

“I wouldn’t rule it out if the evidence is we need to do that [a moratorium]. But I haven’t seen that evidence yet, and that’s why we need to have a scientific assessment.”

But while Horgan tells me a fracking moratorium is possible, NDP leader Adrian Dix tells the industry a moratorium won’t happen.

Dix told oil-and-gas executives at a private meeting last month that an NDP government would not introduce a moratorium on frack-ing, leaving them “pleasantly surprised,” government-relations consultant David Heyman reported in a recent newsletter.

When I sought clarification from the NDP, I was referred to environment critic Rob Fleming, who at first assured me there would be no moratorium.

“You’d have to wind the clock back – there’s activity already going on all over,” he said.

But when I inform him that Horgan told me a moratorium is possible, Fleming changed his mind.

“The review comes first, and if it identifies risk from fracking activity that’s not known now, then he [Horgan] is correct,” Fleming said.

For those of you scoring along at home: that’s the NDP leader saying one thing, the energy critic saying another, and the environment critic saying both.

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A fracking rig in northeast BC's Horn River Basin (Damien Gillis photo)

Time the NDP Came Clean on Dirty Fracking, Gas-Powered LNG Plants


My colleague, Damien Gillis, has been doing some superb work on “fracking” and I enter the discussion with considerable temerity. He is, after all, the brains and filmmaker of the organization and I the mere mouth.

It has seemed to me that we are moving – indeed may have already moved – away from the time when we were all opposed to fossil fuels in any form. The provincial government, for example, supported the so-called “run of river” (better described as “ruin of river”) projects by dumping all over using natural gas for power, even for the Burrard Thermal Plant, which is occasionally used by BC Hydro to shore up power in low water and extreme demand conditions.

In a breathtaking turnaround, Premier Clark has decided that when natural gas power is used to concentrate natural gas into a liquefied form it is no longer a nasty old fossil fuel.

Now, as if a magic wand had been waved, gas from fracking – extracting it from shale rock by using highly powered water pumps, laced with highly toxic chemicals –  is a wonderful idea.

To the utter disbelief of many, NDP energy critic John Horgan agrees!

This seems to me to be the classic way we do things – accept big business policy, let them get it firmly in place, organizing delivery to export sites to deliver to offshore customers, then hesitantly ask questions.

The Liberals I can understand. They run all policy by the Fraser Institute then its huckelty buck and away they go!

The environment only matters if it costs votes and it’s here the Clark government are acting on the correct assumption that the NDP doesn’t ask questions for they fear the taunt, “are you against everything?” This causes an immediate retreat into the coward’s corner such that they abandon their duty to hold government’s feet to the fire.

Let me pose two questions to the NDP.

Given the abundance of shale gas all around the world, is there not a real risk that the price of gas won’t permit us to export at a profit? Largely due to this recent glut of shale gas, natural gas prices are down and predicted to go lower. Under this regime, how can any government support such idiocy?

I’ll give you a hint, Mr. Dix and Mr. Horgan, of what you’ll see in the 2013 BC budget – hundreds of millions of dollars counted as tax receipts from thus enhanced gas industry. That will get Premier Photo–Op just what she needs for the election – the promise of huge revenues permitting them to balance their budget. Money on the come that will never come, just like the 2009 Liberal Budget which came in a little short…like $2 BILLION short.

To put it bluntly, they will project income that won’t materialize and like Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football – you never learn – you’re about to play the same game again! Moreover, you’re scared to ask the important questions for fear of being cast as “anti-business” or “anti-progress”.

Now don’t tell us that industry isn’t dumb enough to make huge investments when faced by huge losses. They can be and often are damned fools, pushed on by the momentum of old decisions they dare not abandon but, like Mr. Micawber, hope that “something will turn up”…Just like it did for the auto industry in 2011 when the government bailed them out.

Unfashionable though it seems to be in NDP circles these days, shouldn’t the Opposition be worried about environmental and safety concerns?

LNG has a good safety record except that when they have a problem it’s a huge one! Shouldn’t the good burghers of Prince Rupert and Kitimat have the NDP (forget the governments) and the Green Party be able to assure them that LNG plants in their midst is a safe plan? Can the NDP and Greens give that support? If they can, how come they were so against the proposed LNG plant in Texada Island a few years ago? Have things changed? Is it possible that the only thing that has changed is that the NDP might become government as long as they play their cards very carefully?

On the question of natural gas pipelines, is the NDP saying that no concerns should be raised, even though some local First Nations are starting to raise hell?

Rather than look at fracking not just as an environmental matter, what about safety?

Is there an increased chance of earthquakes? Obviously, if you dig a tunnel, you can be pretty sure it will eventually collapse – the casing for these bore holes can’t last forever. What impacts can this have?

And what about the water, contaminated with chemicals? Where does it go? Into the water table? Into our drinking water? Tell us, Mr. Dix and Mr. Horgan, again (I won’t trouble governments since they couldn’t care less), are you satisfied with corporate assurances on this matter? Why would they be any more caring on this issue than they are on others?

Now the environment.

How much fossil fuel will be burned as the energy to capture the fossil fuel from the fracking process? Yes, we will use energy to extract energy which we will then use more energy for to send it to customers! If we are afraid of the impact on the environment of the Burrard Thermal Plant, surely we must be very worried indeed about burning gas to mine gas and process.

Is Site C not now going to be used to create power so that industry can use that at a very cheap price to get at the fracked gas? Doesn’t this mean that we will flood more land to sell power cheaply to those who will use this cheap energy to turn into profits from the fossil fuels extracted by fracking?

Come to think of it, Mr. Dix and Mr. Horgan, let me pose the following propositions, not saying they are accurate but putting the onus on you and your corporate friends to show me I’m wrong. Let’s use the precautionary principle here:

1. Liquified natural gas (LNG) is very dangerous in the liquification process, the moving process and simply in storage. Your comments?

2. There is relatively little revenue to the province under the very best of circumstances – If you agree, why are you supporting LNG and if you disagree, let’s have your figures.

3. The likelihood is that the worldwide price for natural gas is dropping and will continue to drop, which will bring pressure on governments to subsidize and indeed bail out gas companies as happened with the automobile industry. If you disagree, why? If you agree, are you prepared to spend BC taxes one more time to bail out industry?

4. There is evidence of fracking leads to gas and other chemicals getting into groundwater thence into domestic water. What evidence do you have to deny this?

5. There is clear evidence of fracking causing earthquakes – what do you say to this?

6. Cheap power from Site C will subsidize gas companies in the fracking process – what say you to that?

7 Because of Site C, millions of hectares of farmland and grazing land will be lost – why should the people of BC make this sacrifice so that you can mine gas?

Then, gentlemen, this question: If BC has this huge capacity to make money, why are we liquefying it and sending it abroad when we could have all this cheap power for here at home? To keep our domestic energy costs low and make our industries more competitive?

I and the readers of The Common Sense Canadian – indeed all British Columbians await in the hopes that as an opposition party hoping to win government, you will favour us with an early reply.

Or is it, God forbid, that winning the next election is more important than an informed citizenry?


Maude Barlow, Bill McKibben to Talk Oil and Gas Pipelines in Burnaby


Council of Canadians Chair Maude Barlow and founder Bill McKibben will lead a discussion about oil and gas pipelines and tankers in Burnaby this Thursday evening. The event is the second stop in a seven-city tour discussing a range of oil and gas pipeline proposals and associated tanker traffic, the Alberta Tar Sands, natural gas fracking in northeast BC and proposed Liquified Natural Gas terminals on BC’s coast.

Barlow raised these same, interconnected issues in her speech at the Defend Our Coast rally in Victoria earlier this week, arguing the public and First Nations need to think beyond the proposed Enbridge pipeline and focus on the bigger picture of emerging “Carbon Corridor” through northern BC and Alberta, which encompasses plans for multiple oil, gas and condensate pipelines, refineries and tankers.

Bill McKibben is the founder of the global climate change activist organization, and a leading voice against Trans Canada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to refineries on the US Gulf Coast.

According to organizers, the event aims, “to raise awareness and build community solidarity and support in the fights to stop pipeline expansions in BC…The tour will help educate about the devastating environmental impacts of these massive pipeline projects, which will move tar sands crude to BC’s coastline where it will be loaded into supertankers and shipped through precarious waters to new markets.”

The tour continues on to Nanaimo for the Council of Canadians’ AGM and speeches by McKibben, financial author Linda McQuaig and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

The final two events will take place in Smithers on Oct. 29 and Prince George on Oct. 30. Caleb Behn, an aboriginal law student from northeast BC and the subject of the film in production Fractured Land, will join Barlow on the stage for the these two northern BC events to discuss fracking in his territories.

Thursday night’s event in Burnaby takes place Alpha Secondary School, 4600 Parker Street. Doors open at 6 PM, program starts at 6:30. More info on the tour available here.


Anti-Fracking Candidate George Heyman Wins NDP Riding Nomination


Read this column from Vaughn Palmer in The Vancouver Sun on former BCGEU president and current Sierra Club BC leader George Heyman’s victory in Sunday’s Vancouver-Fairview NDP riding nomination. (Oct. 22, 2012)

VICTORIA — B.C. New Democrats have nominated a leading critic of expanded natural gas production as a candidate for the next election, setting the stage for a showdown over the practice known as fracking.

George Heyman, who won the party nomination in Vancouver-Fairview Sunday, has been one of the leaders in the fight against hydraulic fracturing, the growing practice of extracting natural gas from shale deposits by injecting the rock with water at high pressure.

Fracking accounts for about half of the natural gas production in B.C. and is the key to future expansion and hopes of exporting the product in liquefied form to markets in Asia.

But as executive director of Sierra Club BC, Heyman has challenged the “rapid expansion of fracking, without sufficient oversight and scientific review to address the long list of threats and risks.”

During his tenure, the club toured the province with Gasland, a U.S.-made anti-fracking documentary that illustrates concerns about gas contamination of groundwater with sensational footage of tap water being set on fire as it flows from a faucet in somebody’s home.

“Fracking is referred to by some as ‘the Tar Sands of Natural Gas’ in terms of the water and energy resources needed to extract the hard-to-reach shale deposits,” declared the club in calling for a moratorium on the practice.

“The B.C. government needs to take a huge step back from their aggressive pursuit of unconventional gas and fracking to allow time to better understand the impacts, keep B.C.’s northeast from becoming a fragmented wasteland of gas wells, respect indigenous rights and protect the health of northern residents.”

Heyman reiterated the call on the eve of the NDP nomination meeting in Fairview.

“I’m not proposing that we don’t sell any gas,” he told reporter Carlito Pablo from the Georgia Straight. “I am proposing that we stop the expansion of new frack wells until we have an appropriate public study on the health impacts, the community impacts, the water impacts, and the climate, greenhouse-gas-emissions impact.”


Why the New ‘Golden Age of Oil’ Has Been a Bust


Read this story from on the various environmental and economic factors restricting the development of “extreme energy” – from fracking to shale oil and bitumen. (Oct. 4, 2012)

To reach their ambitious targets, energy firms will have to overcome severe geological and environmental barriers — and recent developments suggest that they are going to have a tough time doing so.

Last winter, fossil-fuel enthusiasts began trumpeting the dawn of a new “golden age of oil” that would kick-start the American economy, generate millions of new jobs, and free this country from its dependence on imported petroleum. Ed Morse, head commodities analyst at Citibank, was typical.  In the Wall Street Journal he crowed, “The United States has become the fastest-growing oil and gas producer in the world, and is likely to remain so for the rest of this decade and into the 2020s.”

Once this surge in U.S. energy production was linked to a predicted boom in energy from Canada’s tar sands reserves, the results seemed obvious and uncontestable.  “North America,” he announced, “is becoming the new Middle East.”  Many other analysts have elaborated similarly on this rosy scenario, which now provides the foundation for Mitt Romney’s plan to achieve “ energy independence ” by 2020.

By employing impressive new technologies — notably deepwater drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or hydro-fracking) — energy companies were said to be on the verge of unlocking vast new stores of oil in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and shale formations across the United States.  “A ‘Great Revival’ in U.S. oil production is taking shape — a major break from the near 40-year trend of falling output,” James Burkhard of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in January 2012.

Increased output was also predicted elsewhere in the Western Hemisphere, especially Canada and Brazil.  “The outline of a new world oil map is emerging, and it is centered not on the Middle East but on the Western Hemisphere,” Daniel Yergin, chairman of CERA, wrote in the Washington Post .  “The new energy axis runs from Alberta, Canada, down through North Dakota and South Texas… to huge offshore oil deposits found near Brazil.”

Extreme Oil

It turns out, however, that the future may prove far more recalcitrant than these prophets of an American energy cornucopia imagine.  To reach their ambitious targets, energy firms will have to overcome severe geological and environmental barriers — and recent developments suggest that they are going to have a tough time doing so.

Consider this: while many analysts and pundits joined in the premature celebration of the new “golden age,” few emphasized that it would rest almost entirely on the exploitation of “unconventional” petroleum resources — shale oil, oil shale, Arctic oil, deep offshore oil, and tar sands (bitumen).  As for conventional oil (petroleum substances that emerge from the ground in liquid form and can be extracted using familiar, standardized technology), no one doubts that it will continue its historic decline in North America.

The “unconventional” oil that is to liberate the U.S. and its neighbors from the unreliable producers of the Middle East involves substances too hard or viscous to be extracted using standard technology or embedded in forbidding locations that require highly specialized equipment for extraction.  Think of it as “ tough oil .”

Read more:


Audio: Damien Gillis Discusses ‘Keepers of the Water’, Carbon Corridor on SFU Radio


Damien Gillis discusses the resistance to the Enbridge pipeline, the recent “Keepers of the Water” conference in Fort Nelson, BC, and the increasing impacts on water, human and animal health from natural gas hydraulic fracking with CJSF’s Sylvia Richardson. The pair also touch on Damien’s documentary film project Fractured Land, currently in production, which examines these issues and the concept of “Canada’s Carbon Corridor” – an interconnected web of fossil fuel and mining projects throughout northern Alberta and BC, designed to open up new markets in Asia – told through the eyes of a young First Nations law student. (Oct. 6 – 20 min)


US Geological Survey Confirms Fracking Contaminated Groundwater


Read this story from Reuters on a new study from the US Geological Survey confirming earlier tests results that showed natural gas fracking operations contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. (Sept. 28, 2012)

SALMON, Idaho, Sept 28 (Reuters) – Government testing of a drinking water aquifer near a tiny Wyoming town has shown concentrations of gases like ethane and propane and diesel compounds, but a natural gas company said it did not cause the contamination.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey showed petroleum-based pollutants in samples from a monitoring well in the aquifer adjacent to Pavillion, Wyoming, which is at the center of a national debate over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

A draft study released in December by the Environmental Protection Agency linked fluids used in fracking, a drilling method that has unlocked vast shale gas deposits across the nation, to pollution in the underground formation that supplies drinking water to residents near Encana Corp’s gas production wells east of Pavillion.

The findings contradicted claims by gas drillers that fluids from fracking, which injects water, sand and chemicals underground to boost extraction of fuel, have never contaminated drinking water.

Criticism by the oil and gas industry and Wyoming officials of the methods the EPA employed to collect water quality data and regulators’ interpretation of the findings prompted recent retesting under a monitoring plan designed by the state, the USGS and the EPA.

Compared to the 2011 EPA study, the USGS results from testing of one of two monitoring wells in the aquifer indicated higher levels of gases like methane, lower levels of diesel-range organics and the absence of such solvents as toluene, an Encana analysis showed.

The EPA is expected in coming days to release its testing of water from two groundwater monitoring wells, several domestic wells and a public well. The data sets are to be submitted for peer review.

The EPA said the groundwater monitoring data in its 2011 report and USGS findings were “generally consistent.”

But Encana spokesman Doug Hock said the findings are not equal and singled out USGS for providing “credible data” in research whose “implications are not just for Encana but for the whole industry.”

Hock and Simon Lomax, research director of an arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, underscored a decision by USGS to discount samples from the second of two monitoring wells because of concerns that low water quantity and other factors might skew results.

“The USGS effectively disqualified one of the EPA’s two monitoring wells,” Lomax said in a statement.

He pointed to a March 1 letter by Donald Simpson, director of the Bureau of Land Management office in Wyoming, that recommended the installation of additional monitoring wells for a “larger and much more robust study effort and investment prior to drawing any conclusions, particularly in the case about the role of hydraulic fracturing use in development of the oil and gas resource.”

Encana’s Hock said the Canadian company denies the pollution in Pavillion is related to its operations.

But Rob Jackson, professor of environmental sciences at Duke University, said his review of USGS data shows it is consistent with EPA’s initial results, “which suggested the contamination at the site from fracking is a real possibility.”

Jackson, co-author of a peer-reviewed paper that showed fracking in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania did not pollute adjacent drinking water wells with brine, said the report by the USGS should quiet criticism of the EPA.

“You can’t say that EPA botched the job if USGS goes on and gets similar numbers,” he said.

Read more:

Caleb Behn, the subject of the forthcoming film

Canada’s Carbon Corridor Part 2: From the Sacred Headwaters to Kitimat LNG


The following is the second half of the introduction to Damien Gillis’ multi-part series, “Canada’s Carbon Corridor”read part 1 here.

In part 1 of this introduction to what my colleagues and I have termed “Canada’s Carbon Corridor” – an interconnected web of major oil, gas, coal, mining and hydroelectric projects across northern BC and Alberta – I traced the first half of a recent journey by the team producing the documentary Fractured Land, of which I am the co-director. We began our trip amidst proposed coal mines and Site C Dam on the Peace River and through the heart of natural gas “fracking” operations in northeast BC, winding up at Liard Hot Springs.

From there, after passing briefly into the Yukon via the Alaska Highway, we turned south and headed for Tahltan country in northwest BC. There, we spent four days investigating proposed mining projects and more unconventional gas – this time Shell’s plans to develop coal bed methane in the Sacred Headwaters, the birthplace of three vital arteries for the province, the Skeena, Nass and Stikine Rivers.

We spent one day with Wade Davis, National Geogrpahic Explorer-in-Residence and recent author of the book Sacred Headwaters, and the rest of our time with a number of First Nations who have put themselves on the line to block coal bed methane and mines like Imperial Metals’ proposed Red Chris.

This particular project would involve a massive mountaintop removal mine for gold and copper, amid the continent’s largest population of Stone’s Sheep. As such, it has ignited much local opposition. But we also learned that there are many members of the various Tahltan communities who are in favour of this and other mines for the jobs and economic opportunities they promise. This conflict will likely play out for some time to come in these communities, though the tide may be turning against Red Chris for a number of reasons, which I’ll get into in a future chapter of this series.

From the Sacred Headwaters, we travelled south to Kitimat, documenting along the way the construction of the Northwest Transmission Line. This $400 million project is designed to plug BC’s electrical grid into the region in order to power these mining projects – of which Red Chris is but one of many. (Which is why it’s odd that a significant portion of the line’s funding came by way of a federal “green energy” fund!). The transmission line is yet another connection between northwest BC and the proposed Site C Dam in the territory of our central character Caleb Behn – which our provincial government justifies with the contention it is needed to provide power to gas and mining operations.

We were all alarmed at the pace of development of the transmission corridor, with upwards of ten different crews working simultaneously to clear sections of the line – carving a 100 or so meter-wide swath through spectacular mountain valleys. Fifty-foot tall teepees of logged trees rim the highway for long stretches, waiting to be burned.

In Kitimat, we met with former Haisla elected chief and recent president of the Coastal First Nations, Gerald Amos, to get a look at the LNG plants proposed and under construction in his territory, along the Douglas Channel. Gerald and his wife graciously took us out on their boat to show us the three main proposed projects – one led by Shell, with partners Korea Gas Corporation, Mitsubishi Corporation and PetroChina Company Limited; another by a consortium of Encana, Apache Canada and Enron Oil and Gas (known as Kitimat LNG); and the third a joint venture in which the Haisla Nation itself is a partner. (It should be noted there are as many as eight LNG plans for Kitimat, but these three would appear to be the most serious and viable).

Only the Kitimat LNG project is under initial construction – clearing the banks of the channel of trees and brush – though its completion has been pushed back by a year, as the consortium has yet to sign any contracts for the product.

Meanwhile, the Haisla just signed a deal with the province to expedite their plant. While his elected leadership is moving quickly forward with its plans to welcome LNG into their territory, Gerald was eager to hear from Caleb about how these decisions will affect his people at the other end of the pipeline. This is some of the much-needed dialogue currently missing around these issues, which we hope our project will continue to foster.

While the Haisla have led the battle against the proposed Enbridge pipeline on their lands and supertankers in their waters, natural gas has proven a different story. Deals signed by the Haisla and the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council, which provides political and technical support to eight member First Nations in the northern BC interior, appear to have been done with far less communication with other First Nations and the public than that which surrounded Enbridge.

We learned the Carrier-Sekani signed last year a 25-year deal estimated to be worth over $500 million in shared revenue and job training benefits with the proponents of the Pacific Trails Pipeline, which would carry fracked northeast BC gas from a junction point at Summit Lake, north of Prince George, to Kitimat, along virtually the identical right-of-way as the proposed Enbridge Pipeline.

On that note, during one of our final stops on the trip, we visited the grassroots resistance camp on the Morice River, southwest of Houston, where members of one clan of the Wetsu’et’en First Nations, the Unist’ot’en, have constructed and are occupying a cabin directly in the path of the proposed Pacific Trails Pipeline. But as they pointed out to us, they’re not opposed to just one pipeline, rather as many as eight different ones, each proposed to pass through essentially the same energy corridor:

  • Enbridge’s twin lines – one for diluted bitumen, the other for condensate
  • Kinder Morgan’s “Rearguard” bitumen pipeline to Kitimat – introduced last year to shareholders as a backup plan to the controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway line and to Kinder’s own plans to twin its existing Trans Mountain Pipeline to Vancouver (the Unist’ot’en camp is prepared for this line to include a twin condensate line as Enbridge is proposing)
  • Pembina Pipelines has a plan – temporarily shelved for “commercial uncertainties” – to run a condensate line from Kitimat to Summit Lake (the Unist’ot’en camp is bracing for this plan to come to the fore again should Enbridge be rejected, and for the possibility it too will include a bitumen line) 
  • The Pacific Trails gas pipeline (already approved by the province, along with the related LNG plant in Kitimat)
  • Shell Canada and its Asian partners’ gas pipeline from northeast BC to their proposed LNG facility in Kitimat (Shell has already selected TransCanada Pipelines to build this line)

Moreover, Spectra Energy recently announced plans to run a gas line to Prince Rupert, north of Kitimat, to connect to their own proposed LNG plant and tankers there.

Is this somehow a conspiracy theory? Hardly. I reported in The Common Sense Canadian over a year ago that Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel has publicly expressed interest in exploiting pipeline “right-of-way synergies”, in building both its twin pipelines and the Pacific Trails gas line together. Enbridge also bought Encana’s controlling stake in the Cabin Gas Plant in Northeast BC last year. And the proposed routes of the above pipelines essentially stack on top of each other for long stretches.

My concern is that while all this attention is being payed to Enbridge, virtually no one – amongst First Nations, the conservation community, or the political opposition (the NDP has publicly supported fracking, the Pacific Trails Pipeline and LNG projects in Kitimat and is at best on the fence about Site C Dam) – is talking about this larger energy corridor, of which Enbridge is merely one small piece.

The Pacific Trails line is approved and the companies are into pre-construction work already. Once the corridor is logged and cleared, it will be far more difficult to stop any one, let alone all of these pipelines and the development to which they connect.

From Site C Dam, powering gas and mining operations, to expanded fracking, which connects to the Alberta Tar Sands through natural gas and condensate, to oil and gas pipelines to our coast and the tankers that would transit our waters carrying these fossil fuels – bitumen, LNG, coal – to new markets in Asia, this is a big deal. The biggest, by far, that this province has ever seen in 150 years of colonial establishment.

It’s time we expand our horizons and broaden our discussion beyond Enbridge – and our team hopes our Fractured Land film project and subsequent columns in this series will act as a catalyst for that much-needed dialogue.

Thanks to Rivers Without Borders for their support with this portion of our recent filming tour for Fractured Land.

Watch for part 3 of the “Canada’s Carbon Corridor” series on this past week’s “Keepers of the Water” conference in Fort Nelson.

Caleb Behn, the subject of the film

‘Canada’s Carbon Corridor’ Part 1: Connecting the Dots Across Northern BC


I recently returned from a whirlwind tour across northern BC, one of many legs of filming for a documentary and multi-media project I’ve been co-directing for the past year and a half, called Fractured Land. The people we spoke to along the way, the sights we witnessed and documented finally brought into focus the real story about energy development in BC.

It is clear to me that the proposed Enbridge Pipeline, which has been the target of so much activism and media attention of late, is merely one piece of a much bigger puzzle that promises to transform this province like nothing since the days of colonial, railroad-driven “nation building.”

Our film and the multi-media series that will accompany it through our website,, and various social media tools, is the story the industrialization of northern BC – told through the eyes of a talented, eloquent young First Nations law student named Caleb Behn.

The two sides of Caleb’s family are rooted in the epicentres of both major natural gas hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) plays in northeast BC – West Moberly Territory near Hudson’s Hope, under which the Montney shale gas field extends; and Echo Dene Territory around Fort Nelson, home of the Horn River shale gas field. Taken together – along with the recently discovered neighbouring Liard Basin play – form one of the world’s meccas for “unconventional” gas (read: highly experimental and dangerous).

We began our film by focusing on fracking – a relatively new method of natural gas extraction that involves burrowing deep into shale formations and blasting them with a toxic mixture of high-pressure water, chemicals and sand to crack open the shale and release the gas. But throughout our adventure, we’ve come to see that fracking doesn’t exist in isolation. Neither does the proposed Site C Dam on the Peace River in the same region, nor gas and bitumen pipelines proposed to cut across BC’s wilderness en route to Kitimat and Prince Rupert, nor myriad, massive proposed Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) plants on BC’s coast, nor the dozen or more serious coal and metals mines proposed throughout the north, nor the Alberta Tar Sands.

It is a serious mistake to put any of these projects in a silo. They are all, in fact, systemically interconnected in what my colleagues and I have come to think of – at least until a more apt description emerges – as “Canada’s Carbon Corridor”. Before this article and its second part conclude, I will briefly illustrate this interconnected web of energy projects that extend from BC’s coast to the Alberta Tar Sands – covering virtually the entire top half of the two provinces. However, the real work of fleshing out the components of this carbon corridor and how each piece relates to the next will be accomplished through a subsequent series of stories over the next two months – each exploding a different piece of the big puzzle – all cross-published through The Common Sense Canadian and the blog for Fractured Land.

Both this film project and my colleagues at The Common Sense Canadian – which has made its mission to inform the public about the energy, environmental and public policies reshaping BC and Canada – will seek to lodge this big picture view, with all its socioeconomic and cultural implications, on the agenda of the public and media in the lead-up to a pivotal provincial election next May. This is a sorely needed conversation that so far has been lost in the simplistic rhetoric championing the project of opening Western Canadian oil and gas resources to new markets in Asia and the one-track chorus of opposition to the Enbridge proposal.

If that seems unfair, allow me to state my case herewith.

We began our recent two and a half week journey in northeast BC, before traveling along the Alaska Highway through Fort Nelson, Liard Hot Springs, Watson Lake just over the Yukon Border, then down Highway 37 through the Sacred Headwaters and Tahltan First Nations country, southwest to Kitimat, east to the Morice River near Houston, and finally to Prince George to deliver a presentation to faculty and students at UNBC, before heading home to Vancouver (an approximately 5,000 km journey, all told).

Over the past several years, I’ve made seven trips to northeast BC (I’m currently here again for the “Keepers of the Water” conference in Fort Nelson) and more than that to northwest BC and its coast, but this trip – as it tied together both sides and centres of development in the province – felt like the quintessential journey through BC’s proposed economic future. Through it, we traced the interconnections of this carbon corridor and met people on both sides of the arguments around these individual projects.

If there’s one thing that has become abundantly clear to our production team, it’s that this is a conversation which defies easy polarities. The fracturing we reference in our title, taken literally from the process of fracking, serves as a metaphor for the conflict within individuals, families and communities torn between developing economic opportunities and protecting their core values  and ancestral practices on the land.

Far from shying away from this tension, we are drilling deep into it.

After driving 15 hours north from Vancouver, we began our experience at Carbon Lake, near Hudson’s Hope – at a camp once owned by my great uncle, Penn Powell, who operated it as a fly-in fishing lodge for years. Today, it is owned and operated by the Saulteau First Nation – the people of our central character Caleb’s grandmother.

Caleb comes here in the summer to hunt moose and reconnect with his land. Unfortunately, the moose are slim pickings these days – likely partly related to all the roads for logging that bisect the onetime wilderness surrounding the lake. Now, a large open pit coal mine threatens to finish the job. Carbon Lake gets its name for a reason. One can pick up large blocks of metallurgical-grade coal from the bed of nearby Carbon Creek, the site of one of a number of proposed new coal mines throughout the Peace River Coalfield.

To get to the lake, we had to drive over Williston Reservoir and WAC Bennett Dam – the first major dam in the region, which helped set the stage for the resource boom that followed. Caleb and my families have much in common beyond this camp at Carbon Lake, as we’ve learned throughout the making of our film. Another thing we share is that both our families lost our land in the flooding of Williston Reservoir in 1968. My family’s land, upon which it settled in 1914, was known as Goldbar Ranch at 20 Mile. Today, many of my uncles who remain in the region work in the gas patch. As do many of Caleb’s relatives. Such are the complexities inherent in the sort of large-scale resource decisions being made today – mostly without the broad-based knowledge and will of the public.

That said, Bennett Dam was built to provide affordable, “clean” (or so we thought at the time) electricity and new economic opportunities for all British Columbians. I believe my family understood that, even as we watched our barns and hand-crafted cabins and grand old log home burned to the ground and drowned forevermore.

Today, two fracking companies – Talisman Energy and Canbriam Energy – have a 20-year license to suck 10 million litres a day of water from that same reservoir (before it’s converted to power for British Columbians!) for their nearby fracking operations.

Moreover, Site C – which would be the third dam in the Peace Valley, stretching 80 km east from Hudson’s Hope to Fort St. John and flooding some 13,000 acres of agricultural land and a comparable amount of Boreal Forest wildlife habitat – is not being proposed to power BC’s homes and businesses. We have access to plenty of electricity for those purposes. Rather, this power will go to the myriad proposed mining operations across the north and, according to Premier Christy Clark, compressing natural gas into liquid to sell to Asia. All of these industrial operations are enormously energy dependent – to the point we would need multiple Site C Dams to even begin powering them.

From Carbon Lake, our team traveled north to Fort Nelson, where we visited with the other side of Caleb’s family. Fort Nelson is the jumping off point for the Horn River shale gas operations, which have been slowing down of late, due to the cratering price of natural gas, but contain enormous development potential and have been wildly active in recent years. The Cabin Gas Plant, North America’s largest, is just nearing completion after several years of furious construction. The adjacent Liard Basin formation was recently touted by Apache Canada as “the best reservoir in North America” for gas fracking.

Yet little of this development will occur unless a higher price can be obtained for the resource. This relatively new method of fracking has flooded the North American market with supply, driving down the price for gas, which is why new markets are being sought in Asia, where gas prices are currently much higher.

Unlike the gas plays around Fort Nelson, the Montney play – in Caleb’s mother’s territory, where we began our journey – often produces what is considered as “wet gas”, meaning it contains other products, such as sulfur and condensate, both of which have considerable value on their own. Condensate is used to dilute bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands, which is too viscous to pump through a pipeline on its own.

This is another way in which Canada’s Carbon Corridor is interconnected – both natural gas and condensate go from BC to Alberta to melt and extract bitumen and to dilute it for transport.

But the big idea, for now, is to open up new markets for northeast BC gas. If these LNG plants and the pipelines connecting northeast BC gas to northwest BC refineries proceed, you can bet Horn River activity will ramp up to new heights and the Liard Basin will be cracked wide open.

We drove near these proposed Liard operations en route to the northwest corner of the province and it is some of the most exquisite country any of us has seen. We passed through pristine valleys coursing with crystal-clear water from the Northern Rockies and by herds of majestic wild bison and various ungulate species. Our soak in the Liard Hot Springs was one the trip’s big highlights – I would highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in that neck of the woods.

Watch for Part 2 of this introduction to Damien Gillis’ “Canada’s Carbon Corridor” series Saturday – completing the journey across northern BC to the northwest, examining everything from mining and unconventional gas proposals in the Sacred Headwaters to the construction of the Northwest Transmission Line, the Pacific Trails gas pipeline to Kitimat and proposed LNG facilities there.