Pipelines used to be boring.
Once upon a time, these common crude-carrying metal tubes criss-crossing the country were little more than a planners afterthought.
Not anymore. In 2010, a major pipeline burst in Michigan, spilling millions of litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River. That was followed by international anti-oilsands campaign that pressured U.S. President Barack Obama to indefinitely stall the construction of the Keystone XL pipe to Cushing, Okla. Now, crude pipelines are the polarizing cause du jour.
The sudden interest has created a sticky political situation for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the subject of ongoing hearings across B.C. and Alberta. The $5.5-billion, 1,170-kilometre project would push oilsands bitumen from northern Alberta to the city of Kitimat, B.C. From there, crude would be shipped on massive oil tankers to Pacific markets.
Environmentalists are railing against the project and the federal government is railing against the environmentalists; one side argues Gateway presents an unacceptable risk to land and wildlife, while the company behind the plan, Calgarys Enbridge Inc., insists the possibility of failure is nominal. Add to the mix documented claims the pipelines most enthusiastic detractors are receiving funding from U.S. sources. Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver labelled the lot “radical groups.” Between them are First Nations, on whose lands the pipeline would cross, by turns concerned with economic development and environmental preservation.