Oil Sands Bitumen & the Opportunity to Protect Our Home Waters

KinderMorgan's threat to water poses an opportunity to unite in defence of our drinking water.

Water.  We all need it and although it may seem like we have an abundance in the Valley, the Chilliwack aquifer is a unique, award-winning drinking water source for which we do not have an alternative.

So when Kinder Morgan is proposing to build a new pipeline to transport a heavy oil product - diluted bitumen - directly through this diluted_bitumen.jpgessential part of our community, there is no question that we have an opportunity - a responsibility - to protect what is ours.

Think Chlorine is bad...?

Diluted bitumen is a relatively new fossil fuel product, sought after since the decline of smooth flowing conventional oil sources. It's thick like tar and it's toxic.  When spilled it separates, some components evaporate into the air creating a toxic threat to anyone nearby, others sink in water to settle into bottom sediments and still others flow with water to contaminate shores far away from the spill site.  Complete cleanup is impossible.

tailingslake.jpgTo extract the product, acres of forest and underlying soil need to be removed, wetlands need to be dug up, and fresh water sacrificed to become deadly tailings lakes that in Canada's Oil Sands currently span 176 square kilometres.  Tailings lakes that were recently shown by Environment Canada to be leaking into groundwater and the Athabasca River.  The extent of contamination by naphthenic acids, mercury and other toxins and the impacts of that contamination on remote communities becomes ever more apparent as studies continue.

Transporting diluted bitumen is a dangerous business, as it requires significantly higher temperatures and pressures to move through pipelines. To date most bitumen refining has been done in North America (about 54% in Canada). However recent pipeline proposals seek to transport this heavy oil across thousands of kilometres to ports to be shipped by tanker for refining abroad.  One of these proposals is that of Texas-based Kinder Morgan, which would see a new export pipeline built directly through our home communities in the Fraser Valley.

In Chilliwack, Kinder Morgan has proposed to build a new pipeline adjacent to the Cheam Wetlands, across numerous farmers' fields, a local golf course, and within 500 meters of Vedder Jr, Watson Elementary and Mt. Slesse Middle School. 20131031_006_sm.jpg Directly related to our home waters, the route would run right over the unique drinking water aquifer that provides for 90% of community members in our home town.  From there it would go on to cut directly under the Peach Ponds, the Chilliwack-Vedder River and the new fish habitat being built in the Hopedale Slough.  Leaving Chilliwack, the pipeline would reach the Fraser River near Fort Langley and from there follow the river to where it would cross the Fraser near the Port Mann Bridge.

We can't afford to gamble on this one.

2013-04-04-mayflower.jpgAt WaterWealth we firmly believe a precautionary approach is vital in addressing an industry which decade after decade claims "newer cutting-edge recovery technology" (yet its still skimmers and booms 30 years after the Exxon disaster); meanwhile tragic failures such as the Kalamazoo, BP Gulf and Mayflower continue to happen.  Even while leaks and spills are on an accelerating increase, ultimately its not their likelihood we should be concerned about as a first priority - it's the extent of the consequences.  Imagine a Mayflower Arkansas type accident occurring over our aquifer.

Another question we must ask ourselves is “Do we need this pipeline?”  In discussion of these topics one often hears “But we need the oil!”  True, until we make some changes we do. However in the meantime we must not forget that we also need the water, and that the product that would flow through the proposed pipeline is not for our domestic use, but for export.

When projects of this sort are proposed for our communities by people who do not live here and thus do not have to bare the brunt of the risk associated with their scheme, it is essential that we as local residents do our due diligence to protect what is most essential, and most precious for the well-being of us, our families and the communities that we want to see in the future.

Thankfully the risks of this pipeline proposal have not been taken lightly by area residents and representatives, with more than 2000 applications to serve as intervenors or commenters in the review process submitted to the National Energy Board before the February 12 deadline.

Sixteen jurisdictions from Hope to West Vancouver applied as intervenors.  Amazing. The City of Chilliwack opted to send in a letter of comment, and although it is appreciated to have our city officials acknowledging the risks of this pipeline proposal, a stronger defence is essential when it comes to ensuring vital aspects of our community are protected. Thankfully the Fraser Valley Regional District, a Sto:lo Collective, and the PIPE UP Network also applied as intervenors helping to ensure that local concerns regarding property values, school safety, First Nations interests, and precious ecosystems like the Cheam Lake wetlands are protected.


kid_w_hose.jpgWaterWealth is working to support this effort.

We have applied for intervenor status as well, and if accepted will be focusing our participation on speaking up for the drinking water aquifer that is so essential to our community. As this is a water-body that is central to the well-being of all of us who call this place home, we hope it is an opportunity to unite as a local community and ensure that we are protecting what is most important to us.

Thus we encourage everyone to write, phone or visit your representatives in the FVRD or Sto:lo Collective to make your concerns known. Volunteer with the PIPE UP Network or WaterWealth to learn more and spread that knowledge.

United we can defend our shared home waters and insist on economic choices that put the health and well being of our growing children first.



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commented 2014-03-06 20:22:53 -0800 · Flag
least we forget the pipeline spill tax; charged to every barrel pushed through any pipeline in north america for future clean up of eventual spills. at 800,000 barrels a day being transported through one pipeline alone, these companies are saving billions by transporting bitumen instead of refined oil because bitumen is not listed on current spill tax list. we need to close this loop hole fast, bitumen is far more dangerous than the finished product.
we each need to take a good hard look at how we are contributing to the use of fossil fuels. stop buying plastic disposable packaging, reuse the packaging you have. recycling is good but the reusing/melting of plastic puts more chemicals into our air and they can only be reused so many times. we need to demand more from the companies we buy from, we need to consider our own carbon foot print and how we can reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.