Tag Archives: Site C Dam

This map from the David Suzuki Foundation's recent report shows all human-driven change to the Peace Region (buffered by 500 m) in red.

New Suzuki Foundation Report Shows Staggering Longterm Industrial Impacts on Peace Region


Roads, dams, logging, mines, fracking, seismic lines, pipelines, transmission lines. The Peace Valley region in northeast BC has seen its share of industrial development over the past half century. Now, a new report from the David Suzuki Foundation vividly illustrates the toll these cumulative impacts have taken on the land.

The foundation commissioned scientists from Global Forest Watch Canada to survey 40 years worth of satellite images in order track the increasing industrialization of the land. They found that over that span, more than 65% of the region has been impacted by industry – often involving different activities layered on top of each other – leaving little intact wilderness.

“Our study found that there are 16,267 oil and gas wells, 28,587 kilometres of pipeline, 45,293 kilometres of roads, and 116,725 kilometres of seismic lines packed into the Peace Region. If laid end to end, the roads, pipelines and seismic lines would wrap around the planet an astonishing four and a half times,” said Peter Lee, who led the research study.

Far from being a thing of the past, this industrialization of the region continues marching forward, with the proposed Site C Dam, new coal mines, and continued logging, fracking and other impacts. All this occurs atop important habitat for threatened populations of grizzly and caribou and amid sensitive boreal forest critical to carbon absorption and sequestration.

The Suzuki Foundation is supporting the work by Treaty 8 First Nations, farmers and conservationists to oppose Site C Dam, which would be the third dam on the Peace River. Representatives of these groups recently came to Vancouver and shared their message with local media.

“Enough is enough,” West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson told The Vancouver Sun. “We need to slow down. It’s more important to maintain the integrity of what’s there than put it under water…all to expand the industrial footprint.”

Said Dr. Faisial Moola of the Suzuki Foundation in a blog on the report’s release, “If built, Site C would flood 3,173 ha of prime farmland and destroy sensitive wildlife habitat.”

“That’s why the David Suzuki Foundation is standing with local farmers and ranchers, as well as the Dunne Zaa/Dane zaa First Nations, to oppose further destruction of this productive, ecologically important and picturesque valley with the construction of the Site C Dam and reservoir.”

Download the full report here.

Damien Gillis is co-directing a documentary, Fractured Land, which examines these issues in detail. Learn how you can support the film here.


‘Power & Energy’ Subject of Intergenerational Dialogue in Vancouver


Gen Why Media and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives are co-hosting an “intergenerational dialogue” in Vancouver on Tuesday, December 11 to explore various existing and proposed energy projects in Western Canada. Titled “Power & Energy: Connecting the Dots”, the program is the third in a series of “Bring Your Boomers” events, sponsored by Vancity, designed to debate key social issues from different generational perspectives.

In addition to musical performances and a keynote talk by the CCPA’s Marc Lee, the evening will feature a three-way dialogue, with each panelist representing a different generation. I have the privilege of representing Generation Y (a.k.a. “Millennials” – born from the late 1970s to early 2000s), while leading energy and public policy expert Ben Parfitt of the CCPA will represent Generation X. Rounding out the panel is Boomer Karen Cooling, National Staff Representative at the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Adding further generational depth to the discussion will be 11 year-old moderator and First Nations singer/songwriter Ta’Kaiya Blaney – a vocal critic of oil tankers on BC’s coast.

Cooling’s union represents workers in the energy sector, among other areas, and has actively raised concerns about proposed oil pipelines to export Alberta bitumen to Asia and the United States. Her colleague, union president Dave Coles, recently told a crowd of thousands gathered in Victoria to oppose pipelines and takers in BC, “these pipelines are job killers” because they export bitumen without refining it and threaten the environment.

Ben Parfitt has published a number of highly-regarded independent reports on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in BC. Fracking is also a key focus of a film I’m currently co-directing with Gen Why co-founder Fiona Rayher, called Fractured Land, which examines energy issues in northern BC and Alberta through the eyes of a young First Nations law student named Caleb Behn. The film will discuss the concept of the “Carbon Corridor” – an interconnected web of fracking and tar sands projects, dams, coal mines, oil, gas and condensate pipelines, and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants and tankers on BC’s coast – designed to transform Canada into a major hydrocarbon provider to new markets in Asia.

Founded in Vancouver in 2010, Gen Why Media describes itself as “a production group that collaborates across disciplines to create media, events, workshops, public art and intergenerational dialogues that engage society in new forms of public engagement.” Says Tara Mahoney, Gen Why co-founder and organizer of Tuesday’s event, “Our goal with this dialogue is to engage a broader audience in a discussion about energy policy – a topic that isn’t always very accessible, particularly to young people. We hope to use culture as an entry point into a conversation about energy policy and to find ways different generations can work together to shape these issues going forward.”

Gen Why’s previous “Bring Your Boomers” events have examined topics such as technology, globalization, activism and intergenerational cooperation and featured an impressive list of speakers – including former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Phil Fontaine, journalist and activist Judy Rebick, filmmakers Nettie Wild and Nimisha Mukerji, Vision Vancouver Councillor Andrea Reimer, and LeadNow.ca Executive Director Jamie Biggar.

Tuesday’s “Power & Energydialogue will also feature a musical performance by popular Vancouver band Brasstronaut. The event takes place at the Rio Theatre – 1660 East Broadway, adjacent to Commercial-Broadway Skytrain Station. Door open at 6:30 and the event starts at 7 pm. Tickets can be purchased online here.


‘Canada’s Carbon Corridor’: Multi-Media Dialogue in North Vancouver Nov. 14


This Wednesday evening, the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is hosting a multi-media discussion of “Canada’s Carbon Corridor” at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver. The event is part of the festival’s Fall Series – a week of films and presentations on outdoor adventure and environmental themes.

The title for Wednesday’s event comes from a term developed by the team producing the forthcoming documentary film Fractured Landof which I am co-director. We came up with the concept to articulate a big-picture view of the interconnected web of major oil, gas, coal, mining and hydroelectric projects proposed and in development across northern BC and Alberta, and the Harper and Clark governments’ grand plan to export these resources to new markets in Asia. I view the Carbon Corridor as the biggest transformation to Western Canada’s socioeconomic, cultural and environmental fabric since the colonial, “nation building” days of the railroads of the last century. And I don’t think that’s an understatement.

I will be sharing the stage with six other “inspiring Canadians who are working to protect our coast, our environment and indigenous community’s rights and cultures”, according to VIMFF’s web page for the event. That list includes event organizer Megan Martin, young First Nations singer/songwriter Ta’Kaiya Blaney, Ben West of the Wilderness Committee, photographer Zack Embree, Great Bear Rainforest eco-tour guide and activist Norm Hann, and Kim Slater, who ran 1,177 km run across BC in search of alternatives to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline.

My 25 min presentation, titled “Traveling Canada’s Carbon Corridor Through Film: The Making of Fractured Land, will feature a series of short clips from our forthcoming film, which explores the industrialization of northern BC and Alberta through the eyes of a young First Nations law student, Caleb Behn. I’ll be retracing a recent two and a half week filming journey with Caleb across the Carbon Corridor – through the conversations we had with people in the various communities affected by these projects and visuals of both industrial activity and the spectacular, untouched wilderness threatened by this plan. 

In addition to the series of presentations on stage Wednesday evening, a number of environmental organizations will be on hand with additional information about these important issues.

The evening promises to be a dynamic, compelling discussion on the challenges and solutions facing the future of Canada’s economy, society and environment.

Tickets for the “Canada’s Carbon Corridor” event can be purchased here for $15.00 or $17.00 at the door. The show takes place on Wednesday, November 14 at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver (2300 Lonsdale Avenue). Doors open 6:30 pm, show starts 7:30.

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?

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, FracturedLand.com, 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.

A scene from the forthcoming film 'Fractured Land'

Audio: Damien Gillis Discusses ‘Fractured Land’ Doc on SFU Radio


Damien Gillis discusses the forthcoming film Fractured Land with SFU Radio’s David Swanson, along with a recent journey across northern BC to document a number of interconnected industrial projects. The film, which Gillis has been co-directing for the past year and a half with Vancouver-based filmmaker Fiona Rayher, is the story of the industrialization of northern BC told through the eyes of a young indigenous law student, Caleb Behn. It examines everything from controversial hyrdraulic fracturing for natural gas, mining and the proposed Site C Dam – all in Caleb’s traditional territory – as well as plans to pipe gas across BC and convert it to liquid to ship it to new Asian markets through the port town of Kitimat. (8 min – broadcast Sept. 17)

Watch for an upcoming “crowd-funding” campaign to generate grassroots support for Fractured Land.


Fort St. John Mayor Refuses to Take a Position on Site C Dam


Read this story from The Georgia Straight on Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman’s “neutral” position on the proposed Site C Dam near her community in northeast BC. (Aug. 29, 2012)

The mayor of Fort St. John has said her position on the Site C dam “entirely depends on the negotiations” that are ongoing surrounding the project’s environmental assessment.

“I’m staying neutral right up until we start negotiating,” Lori Ackerman, a city councillor prior to her election to the top seat in November 2011, told the Straight by phone.

Site C would be the third dam and hydroelectric-power generating station on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. According to B.C. Hydro’s website, it could have up to 1,100 megawatts of capacity and produce about 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity per year. The $7.9-billion project is now being subjected to a joint federal and provincial environmental review.

“The Peace River is one of two major working rivers in the province…and it is our intention to ensure that we make them [the review panel] aware that this is going to impact our community,” Ackerman said. “So we’re asking our community to reflect on how it’s going to impact their life, their quality of life, the services that they rely on, the work that they do, and give us some feedback so we can go forward to the government, to B.C. Hydro, and the joint review panel.”

Bruce Lantz, the city’s previous mayor, told the Straight in 2009 that council had not taken a position on the project.

“The official city position, which occurred prior to my time on council, was that because it’s outside our area, it really has no particular bearing, and that the city would work with Hydro to see what kind of legacies they could get from the construction of Site C—if it goes ahead,” Lantz said in a sit-down interview at the time.

Read more: http://www.straight.com/article-766386/vancouver/fort-st-john-mayor-neutral-site-c

flaring at a

BC NDP Must Come Clean on its Full Energy Policy


The NDP are getting a free ride – at least they certainly are on the energy file.

I must ask again: Why are they not condemning the proposed twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to Vancouver? All the arguments that prevail against the Enbridge line apply to Kinder Morgan, so to say that you’re waiting for the Kinder Morgan applicationto be filed is a flimsy excuse which waters down their general position on energy.

Speaking of a program, just what is the NDP energy policy? We’d better find out soon or it will be too late.

Some questions.

The NDP is wholly supportive of multiple liquified natural gas (LNG) plants in Kitimat, so far as can be told without any real consultation with the public on either the plant itself or the pipeline that would cross the same  mountains and forests that Enbridge does.

My feeling is that the NDP don’t want to appear to be against everything. Yet the party was much opposed to an LNG plant on Texada Island a few years ago, mainly on dangers it posed. There are not too many examples of plant failure in the past but when they do have one, the destruction of property and human life is extensive.

I don’t say that this project ought to be banned – I just ask when the public process took place. When was the public, including First Nations, consulted on both the need for such a plant and, if passed, what were the technical and environmental concerns, and, again, where was the public process?

John Horgan, the NDP Energy Critic, seems to favour, without reservations, the obtaining of natural gas through the process now called “fracking”, which is a technique whereby natural gas, trapped in shale beds within the earth’s crust is “mined” by forcing it out by the use of huge quantities of water and chemicals. British Columbia has lots of this natural gas and there’s a sort of “gold rush” mentality amongst those who want to get into the act.

There are huge environmental questions, not least of which is the chemical-laden water getting into the domestic water supply and ecosystems. Moreover, where is the water being taken from?

There are also very real worries for the security of the land under which the “fracking” takes place, namely earthquakes being caused by the controversial practice.

The concerns here are not just picky little matters brought up by traditional boo birds but very real worries.

There is a very big economic question involved: BC and Alberta are not the only places in the world where there are lots of potential fracking areas.

With a huge overabundance of natural gas available, can BC compete? Where are the markets? China, which itself has huge trapped natural gas resources?

Normally one might say, that’s the concern of the companies, not us.

But we know that’s not necessarily so, for corporations discount a good part of the downsides by expecting government bailouts if big trouble comes, for the same reason the US government bailed out the stockbrokers – the cost of not bailing out sinking corporate ships was higher than the subsidies. Moreover, the public is a shareholder in this resource and is receiving reduced dividends from it at these historically low market prices.

There is a further question that has been raised but not dealt with, either by the government or the opposition – why are we devoting energy from water resources, that belong to the public to create energy which then will be used by corporations to make new energy?

The nature of BC Hydro, since W.A.C. Bennett’s days, was to create cheap power for both the public and industry but not to be a partner in the industry, thus liable to losses concerned.

The proposed Site “C” Dam is not needed for domestic energy supply – as our resident economist Erik Andersen has amply demonstrated – but day by day looks more like a scheme to subsidize the untested abilities of fracking companies to do so without environmental damage, in questionable markets. And if not for fracking, then to subsidize comparably questionable new mining operations in northern BC – in any event, the power from Site “C” is patently not for the public that would be paying some $10 Billion to build it.

These are some of many questions being raised by everyone accept the Liberals, who are joined at the hip to industry, and the NDP who are not.

It’s bad enough to have a government of a gaggle of nincompoops, but without an Opposition to ask serious and penetrating questions because they fear the voters won’t like it is a potential tragedy which may well lead to an environmental and fiscal mess not only caused by an incompetent government but an incompetent Opposition as well.

A rendering of the proposed site of Kitimat LNG Facility - a joint venture between Encana, EOG Resources and Apache Canada

LNG, Fracking and Site C Dam: BC’s Looming Energy Boondoggle


The proposed Enbridge and Kinder Morgan bitumen pipelines through BC are finally receiving the attention they deserve – as is the much-needed corollary conversation on the Alberta Tar Sands and their true impact on Canada’s economic future, elevated to national prominence by Official Opposition leader Thomas Mulcair. Yet, as big of a game-changer as oil pipelines and tankers would be for BC, one could argue that the collection of proposed natural gas-related developments on the table is, taken together, at least as transformative for the province’s future – though you wouldn’t know it from the relative silence on the topic.

Until recently, that is. The past several months have seen a number of highly significant events related to this matter.

First, in mid-June, Apache Canada announced a massive new shale gas find in the Liard Basin, which stretches from northeast BC into the southeast corner of the Yukon. The Liard play, being touted as the “best shale gas reservoir in North America”, is west of the Horn River basin play, already one of the world’s largest. The find is undoubtedly a game-changer, elevating northeast BC to the world’s mecca for the relatively new, yet highly controversial process for breaking open shale gas formations deep underground, known as “fracking”.

The next big development came the day after Apache’s announcement, when the NDP, led by Energy Critic and likely future Energy Minister John Horgan, came out fully supporting an expanded natural gas industry in Northeast BC, downplaying environmental concerns about fracking. In the same breath, the Official Opposition showed clear support for the Liberal plan to build a number of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plants in Kitimat to export the resource to Asia.

The party’s position was solidified last week when the Georgia Straight reported it was fully backing a new pipeline from Summit Lake, north of Prince George – Encana, EOG and Apache Canada’s joint venture Pacific Trails Pipeline – to carry natural gas from northeast BC to three proposed LNG refineries in Kitimat.

Finally, Premier Christy Clark announced a week later that her government will be reclassifying previously dirty natural gas as “clean” – but only when it’s burned to power these proposed LNG plants in Kitimat. The Campbell/Clark Government previously banned the development of new gas-fired electrical plants, putting the emphasis on renewable or so-called “clean” energy alternatives – wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and hydro.

The premise for these new multi-billion dollar LNG plants is to access new markets in Asia which currently pay far more for gas than North American customers. Prices in China, Japan and Korea range up to $17 per thousand cubic feet versus a historic low of two to three dollars in North America today – largely thanks to the glut of natural gas flooding the domestic market as a result of new shale gas plays. The idea is to turn some of BC’s plentiful gas supply into liquid, put it on tankers and ship it to Asia to reap big profits. Without these prices, big finds like Apache’s in the Liard Basin simply don’t make sense to develop.

While the plan looks financially (though certainly not environmentally) promising on the surface, it’s fraught with complications:

1. The process of converting gas to liquid is enormously energy intensive. According to Christy Clark, all the the power from BC Hydro’s proposed new 1,100 Megawatt Site C Dam on the Peace River would be required for just Shell’s one proposed LNG plant in Kitimat. That may have changed, now that these plants are allowed to burn their own cheap gas for power, but, curiously, Site C Dam has not been taken off the table in the wake of that announcement. The otherwise energy self-sufficient BC has nowhere near enough electrical supply to power three new LNG plants and all the new mines the Clark Government is pushing forward.

2. The whole plan is contingent on this high price differential carrying forward – which is doubtful for a number of reasons. China’s economy is already showing signs of slowing down, while Japan is looking to restart its nuclear program; where will its energy demand be in 10 years when these plants are built and supplying the Asian market with LNG?

3. We’re not the only horse in the race. China has its own shale gas plays – which it is now starting to develop. Moreover, a number of other countries are thinking the same way we are – chief among them Australia, which is much further along and has already secured contracts to sell LNG to China.

4. The main method of supplying these plants – gas from fracking operations – is coming under increased scrutiny globally, with various moratoria having been instituted in other regions, relating to concerns over water use and contamination, earthquakes, and myriad human and animal health concerns. Fracking producers may well (and should) face increased regulation – meaning added costs and further reduced profits – or, worse, outright restrictions and shutting down of operations as awareness and evidence build against this controversial technique.

LNG and Mines Mean Site C

As befuddled and full of flip-flopery as the Liberals have been on this file, the NDP are in quite a pickle too. First, they give their environmental seal of approval to shale gas, while supporting the massively risky undertaking that is building and fueling multi-billion dollar plants on BC’s coast to turn this gas into liquid and ship it to new markets in Asia. But when the Liberals reclassify gas as “clean” (remember, the NDP just did as much themselves not a week previous) in order to allow these plants to use their own gas to power the enormously energy-intensive liquid compression process, the Opposition cries foul. Why? Because burning gas isn’t clean. So which is it, Mr. Dix?

I filmed a rally in Victoria two years ago led by First Nations and farmers from the Peace Valley in opposition to Site C Dam. NDP Energy Critic John Horgan, to his credit, attended the rally and spoke – but he stopped short of outright opposing the dam. He would only say that it required a full environmental assessment and that it should only proceed if the science supports it.

Then, in January, 2011, Horgan told the Georgia Straight that he didn’t think Site C was “necessary” at the time – though still leaving the door open to the project:

They want some peace in the valley, and as long as the spectre of Site C hangs over their head, there’s never going to be a comfort level in the community,” Horgan said. “They want a full-fledged, full-on environmental assessment, so that they can put on the table the science of the sloughing, the costs of dredging, and the total costs on ratepayers of a $6- to $7- to $8- or even $9-billion project.

Earlier this year, my colleague at the Common Sense Canadian, Rafe Mair put NDP leader Adrian Dix on the spot regarding Site C and got more of the same fence-sitting.

To my understanding, the NDP is on the fence or publicly committed to the above schemes – Site C, fracking, LNG – for three main reasons:

1. It is conscious of not allowing itself to be branded by its political opponents as “anti-progress” or “anti-industry”, especially after having taken a strong position against the Enbridge pipeline

2. It is wary of not stepping on the toes of First Nations who have signed onto to the LNG scheme – particularly the Haisla Nation of Kitimat, who have also been vocal opponents of the Enbridge pipeline.

3. It recognizes how much the province’s coffers have come to depend on royalties, licenses and other fees related to the natural gas industry and doesn’t want to disturb that flow, leading to big deficits that will play into its opponents’ hands.

While these are all politically understandable reasons for supporting this massive industrialization of northern BC, they do not excuse the arguments against this program.

In the very least, the environmental and health concerns associated with fracking and the loss of vital farmland and fish and wildlife habitat from Site C – not to mention the notion of massive public subsidies for an industry on less than solid ground going forward – should argue for a more mature position from the province’s government-in-waiting. They know this whole scheme is fraught with complications and this outright endorsement of it shows the NDP is ready to put short-term politics ahead of reasoned, long-term policy for the province.

Subsidizing Energy for Industry

Clearly, Site C, mining, fracking, LNG are all interrelated. Even if Site C isn’t used to power LNG, there are over a dozen proposed new mines in northern BC – each of which is hungry for taxpayer-subsidized electricity. This begs the question – one answered by economist Erik Andersen in a recent interview with Rafe Mair: should the public be subsidizing new industry at all, with skyrocketing power bills and new $10-plus billion dam projects like Site C?

One of the key bones of contention at this year’s failed Rio climate conference was the matter of ending subsidies for hydrocarbon production. Plainly, this is a no-brainer, if we are to get on with the necessary transition away from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources. Moreover, the wealthiest corporations in history are the last entities that should be receiving public subsidies. And yet, we learned through a leaked memo that the Harper Government was leading the charge against the move to end hydrocarbon subsidies. So much for the “free market” Stephen Harper and his fellow Milton Friedman disciples keep railing on about!

So in that regard, it makes abundant sense for the natural gas industry to use some of its own product to supply the enormous energy needs of these LNG plants. And yet, anyone should be able to recognize the environmental folly of reclassifying gas as “clean” to enable its burning, to ship more gas half way around the world to be…burned. And that’s ignoring the myriad environmental problems associated with the initial extraction of the gas through fracking.

A Looming Boondoggle

No matter the degree to which Site C or our public hydroelectric system are used to power this LNG program, the taxpayers of BC, as shareholders in our gas resource, are impacted by the choices the industry makes on numerous levels. We need to ask whether this LNG-Asian market vision is an economically viable, environmentally responsible idea, or an epic resource boondoggle in the making, as we have seen in the past with similar forays into the Asia market with our coal and timber.

These political parties and the industry are banking on achieving a higher price for their gas in Asian markets – particularly China and Japan. But China has its own shale gas potential and is only just beginning to develop it. On top of that, China’s economy – and thus energy demand – is showing real signs of faltering. It will take us 5-10 years to build all these LNG plants and the additional energy assets to power them. Will China still be paying premium prices for LNG a decade from now, given the volatility of the various factors which enable that pricing today?

There are other players, such as Korea and Southeast Asia who might. Petronas Energy of Malaysia recently scooped up Candian gas company Progress Energy for over $5 Billion.

But this raises another question: how will this benefit the BC and Canadian economy – especially in light of new labour laws from the Harper Government that allow companies like Petronas to import foreign workers and pay them 15% less than Canadian employees. So under this system, we could see many jobs going to foreigners (excepting those that are too technical to be done by cheap, imported workers), while these new profits flow out of Canada, along with the energy resource.

This LNG scheme – as with plans to export Alberta bitumen to Asia – should be viewed as a hail mary pass to try and get the Canadian oil and gas industry out of the financial pit into which it is presently sinking. With prices where they are, there is a real danger that BC’s once-thriving industry could collapse, without a North American market willing to pay a reasonable price for its product. And yet, Site C, LNG and fracking, taken together – as they should be – constitute a massive gamble for the citizens of Birtish Columbia, both environmentally and economically. As such it’s time we have a frank  conversation about the issue before rushing headlong into a potential boondoggle of unprecedented proportions for our province.

Perhaps what needs to happen here – from both an environmental and economic perspective – is a planned ramping down of the North American natural gas supply, until prices begin to stabilize again. As energy economists like Jeff Rubin argue, the most effective way to regulate energy consumption is through price. Clearly, at $2-3/unit of energy, there is no incentive for the North American public or industry to conserve natural gas. Nor does this price point benefit the gas industry or the public, who are partners in the resource through the royalties and tax dollars we receive from its sale – all of which are significantly diminished in this climate. And yet, reducing supply in the North American market would be a tremendous undertaking that requires a level of collusion – and may not be practical, regardless, with hundreds of companies looking out for their own short-term interests.

In any event, while the public reaction and much-needed discussion around these issues have been delayed, there are signs they are now developing quickly. The political discussion surrounding the issue is intensifying, as is the media’s coverage of it. Already, the bubble shows signs of bursting, as Kitimat LNG – the joint venture between Encana, EOG and Apache – was recently delayed by another year as the consortium has yet to sign the contracts it needs with Asian buyers to finance the project. Meanwhile, some First Nations and environmentalists are beginning to organize protests against the consortium’s Pacific Trails Pipeline – the primary connector between fracked gas of northeast BC and this and other proposed LNG plants on the coast. Opposition to Site C Dam has been steadily growing as well, as I documented at this year’s record-setting ‘Paddle for the Peace’.

It’s high time this issue generated some of the intensity that the Enbridge project has received – as it would likely have as big, if not an even greater cumulative impact on the future of this province, environmentally and socioeconomically.