CGL-flight-May-17-2023-Simmons_23 (1)

Clouds of mud, from above, on a flight over Coastal GasLink work

We talk with northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons about what he saw on a flight through Wet’suwet’en territory, where wetlands and rivers have been impacted by sediment spills from pipeline construction

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The Coastal GasLink right of way was partially submerged by floodwaters caused by high temperatures melting a heavy snowpack, with the surrounding water seemingly clouded by sediment from the worksites.
What happens when above-average temperatures collide with spring melt in a region where a pipeline operator has been struggling to prevent construction activities from contaminating waterways?

Wetlands, creeks and rivers turn murky brown — heightening risks for already at-risk fish as well as sources of drinking water.

That’s exactly what’s unfolded in northwest B.C., where a watchdog ordered TC Energy to stop construction work in different sections of its Coastal GasLink pipeline project 10 times in recent weeks due to serious environmental infractions.

What do those infractions actually look like? The Narwhal’s northwest B.C. reporter Matt Simmons wanted to see for himself. After chatting with Indigenous leaders in the area, he got an invite to join them as the only reporter on a monitoring flight over large swaths of territory where pipeline construction is taking place (or was, until the most recent infractions).

“It was my first time seeing the project from above and the size of it all is really hard to wrap your head around,” Matt told me.
 
The crossing of Gosnell Creek was overwhelmed with water, flooding the adjacent worksites and turning the creek a muddy brown.
For several kilometres, water submerged the pipeline right of way, stranding equipment and infrastructure.
Being present to document the impacts, Matt said, really put into context regulator lingo about “contravening requirements” on erosion and sediment control; things hit a bit different when you’re up in a helicopter.

“Clouds of brown spilling from the right-of-way into a wetland, sections of the pipe itself submerged in muddy water, reddish water pouring directly into the forest,” Matt recounted.

For Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, a wing chief of the Gidimt’en clan who was also on board the flight, seeing damage to Wet’suwet’en territory was “heartbreaking” — and a reminder of “why we’ve been fighting so hard” to oppose the project.

In an email to The Narwhal, B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office said Coastal GasLink’s history of infractions are of “grave concern.” The company, meanwhile, issued a statement to say it is working “to implement erosion and sediment control measures.”

As for Matt?

“I’m going to keep digging into what all this means for fish, habitat, wildlife and ecosystems, and will keep trying to get detailed answers from the regulators on what’s being done to ensure Coastal GasLink is meeting environmental protection requirements,” he said. “I have many questions.”

Take care and mind the melt,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience
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MAGAZINES FOR NARWHALS
Side-by-side images of Alberta UCP leader Danielle Smith and NDP leader Rachel Notley

The view from Alberta


As Alberta literally burns, there’s a lot riding on the outcome of the provincial election on May 29 — particularly when it comes to the way the next government approaches energy and environment issues. 

But if you’re looking for a substantive conversation about some of the biggest issues facing the province, look again.

“The current political reality in Alberta requires walking a fine line between environmental protection, climate goals and support for industry,” our Calgary-based reporter, Drew Anderson, writes.

“Alberta needs to have a nuanced and complex conversation about building a new economic foundation and moving thoughtfully through the inevitable process of decarbonization. The costs of inaction will truly be too great to understand.”

So far, the NDP’s Rachel Notley and the UCP’s Danielle Smith have shied away from those kinds of complex discussions in a race that’s coming down to the wire. For a rundown of the promises so far, check out Drew’s guide to the NDP and UCP platforms. And don’t forget to vote! — Sharon Riley, Prairies bureau chief

 

This week in The Narwhal

A view of Grande Cache, Alta., from Grande Mountain, the location of a planned new coal mine.
In Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, an Australian-owned coal mine is quietly forging ahead
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Grande Cache locals were surprised to hear Mine 14 — exempt from Alberta's pause on coal mining in the Rockies — is poised to start digging.

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Suburban neighbourhood with Trans Mountain construction project through the middle showing pipeline segments.
‘TD crew’ got heads up Canada would obscure involvement in Trans Mountain pipeline bailout
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A woman stands in the forest of her property, still littered with heaps of trunks splayed in every direction and craters from uprooted trees.
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Teck Resources’ Elk Valley coal mine operations.
These are 11 of B.C.’s most ‘polluting and risky’ mines
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READ MORE


 

What we’re reading


In The Globe and Mail, author John Vaillant writes about supercharged wildfire seasons: “we built a volcano, and then threw Alberta in.”

The Walrus profiles Canada’s first Inuk governor general, Mary Simon, as she sets her sights on reconciliation.

For Hakai, Arno Kopecky heads to the bogs of Hecate Island, B.C., to learn about an ecosystem filled with weird and wonderful species.
 
a GIF of a dog looking through binoculars.
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