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Pipelines and Nature


I often get asked what CPAWS thinks of pipelines, particularly the Northern Gateway pipeline. Since hearings resumed this week in Vancouver, I thought this was as good a time as any to share our perspective on this project.

As with any industrial development project, we like to look at the big picture as well as the project specifics. We’re not opposed to pipelines in principle.  We support an approach to economic development that respects the long term needs of nature and the economy. An approach that ensures the long-term conservation of ecosystems and human well-being.  

We recognize that society has not yet made the shift away from fossil fuels that is needed in the long run.  Most of us are still driving cars or riding buses that still use oil and gas. We’re using materials on a daily basis that come from the earth. Maybe, hopefully, before it is too late, we’ll harness energy sources that are much more sustainable. But we’re not there yet. We recognize that.

At CPAWS, we pride ourselves on being the voice for Canada’s wilderness. That means looking for solutions that will protect sensitive ecosystems and healthy functioning landscapes and seascapes across Canada. 

The Northern Gateway pipeline proposal crosses over 800 waterways, including the watersheds of two of the most sensitive salmon systems in the world: the Skeena and the Fraser. Oil spills in these watersheds could have devastating consequences for the salmon and the people and wildlife that depend on them.

After years of promoting establishment of a network of connected protected areas from Yellowstone to the Yukon to conserve the incredible natural values of North America’s great mountain ecosystem, CPAWS cannot support a pipeline proposal that would further fragment a critical part of this corridor. This pipeline, would be a massive ‘linear disturbance’, fragmenting the large intact mountain landscape that species like caribou and grizzly bears need to survive.  These species have already lost most of their habitat in North America thanks to us humans.

In the oceans, the tanker traffic and risk of oil spills that would be created by this pipeline are in our view too big a danger to BC’s sensitive marine and coastal ecosystems particularly in the very wild waters of the Hecate Strait. An oil spill in an area like this would be devastating to these ecosystems, including a number of globally significant marine and terrestrial protected areas. These include Gwaii Haanas, the Great Bear Rainforest, the proposed Scott Islands Marine National Wildlife Area and the proposed Hecate Glass Sponge Reefs Marine Protected Area.

At a time when Indigenous communities across Canada  are making headlines, and demanding greater respect for their rights, including on land-use decisions on their traditional territories,  Canada needs to demonstrate respect for First Nations’ rights  on this project too. With many of the 77 affected indigenous communities expressing their opposition to this pipeline project, a step back is needed.

After careful study, CPAWS has concluded that this proposal is a just too big a threat to wildlife and wilderness in Alberta, BC, and to our coastal marine environment. It also goes against our organization’s deeply held principle of respect for the constitutionally protected rights of Indigenous peoples in Canada. For more information, read CPAWS' full position paper here.