Gene_Allen

A pipeline to nowhere? TC Energy’s bid to keep B.C. project alive frustrates residents in its path

Company sends landowners letter about extending permits for Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project, despite the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal — the pipeline's end point — being scrapped three years ago

When Martin “Gene” Allen received a letter in early June, he was incredulous.

Sent from TC Energy, the same letter stuffed into his mailbox on Kispiox Valley Road went to his neighbours and other residents in the area, notifying them that the company was applying for permit extensions to build its natural gas pipeline. That pipeline would cross the Kispiox River in sight of Allen’s lodge, and bisect his grazing area and trapline, before continuing on to the “proposed Pacific Northwest LNG liquefied natural gas terminal” on Lelu Island, near Port Edward, B.C.  

There’s just one thing: the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal was cancelled three years ago, with the company citing “market conditions” for pulling out. 

“It just pisses me off,” Allen said in an interview. “It’s redundant to keep coming back to us.”

The Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project was approved in 2014 as a 900-kilometre liquefied natural gas pipeline that would start near Hudson’s Hope in northeast B.C. and end at the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal on Lelu Island. 

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project

Route of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project. Map: Impact Assessment Agency of Canada

But despite the fact the LNG terminal has been nixed, TC Energy isn’t giving up on its plan to build the pipeline. No other LNG terminals have been publicly proposed for the Prince Rupert area, but the company appears to be holding out hope that someone pitches one and gets it built. 

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Starting in late May, the company informed landowners and First Nations along the route, as well as non-governmental organizations, that it intends to apply this fall for a one-year extension to its project permits issued by the BC Oil and Gas Commission. This follows on the heels of the company’s requested — and approved — five-year extension to its environmental assessment certificate. With no terminal and a diminishing market for LNG, the continued extension requests are being met with frustration by some stakeholders.

Unlikely allies have already fought TC Energy’s pipeline plans

Allen and his family own and operate Bear Claw Lodge, a spectacular timber-framed building on the Kispiox River, a tributary of the Skeena. He’s a logger who worked in the oil and gas industry, and he proudly considers himself a “redneck.” Allen works with a heli-skiing outfit in the winter, guides fishing in the summer and fall, and has a trapline.

He’s not a fan of the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project — or TC Energy’s persistence to push it through.

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project

If built, the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline will cross Allen’s grazing lands. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission

Five generations of Allen’s family have lived in the Kispiox Valley. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

Allen knows the Kispiox Valley better than most — his family has been there for five generations — and he’s been connected to the project from its early days.

“When they were looking at all these different routes, they wanted to talk to me,” he said. “They asked me, ‘Where do you want the pipeline?’ I said, ‘I don’t.’ ” 

But Allen is pragmatic. He first told the company there’s already an ideal pipeline corridor: the highway. When that suggestion wasn’t taken seriously, he worked directly with various surveyors to help them understand the local landscape. He’d take them out in the bush, point out wildlife use and urge them to consider plans better suited to the local environment. 

When he heard helicopter-based surveys were being planned for the area, he reached out to the company.

“I said to them, ‘Do me a favour and don’t do it during calving season for the moose.’ ” 

Allen had watched a cow take shelter on a small island to protect her babies year after year, and warned TC Energy about disturbing them. But his warnings weren’t heeded and the helicopters spooked the mother, he told The Narwhal. 

“I watched her come out of there and off the island with two calves,” he said. “I saw her a couple of days later and she didn’t have calves with her anymore.”

The current pipeline route, Allen added, would go through prime winter habitat for moose.

In 2015, residents of the Kispiox Valley and the surrounding area, along with members of the Gitxsan First Nation, were so disturbed by the plans for the pipeline they came together to oppose the project. These were not people you would typically expect to unite against a development project. 

“You know there’s trouble when a bunch of local rednecks, doctors, nurses, construction workers, drillers and other locals start hosting ‘info-blockades,’ ” Shannon McPhail, executive director at Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and Allen’s daughter, wrote in an email. 

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission

Shannon McPhail says the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project ran into a wall of opposition in northwest B.C. “You know there’s trouble when a bunch of local rednecks, doctors, nurses, construction workers, drillers and other locals start hosting ‘info-blockades,’ ” she told The Narwhal. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project

McPhail is executive director of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project

McPhail builds a large chicken coop as part of a regenerative agriculture project led by Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

The group printed pamphlets, made signs and set up at the Hagwilget Bridge in Hazelton to inform the public of TC Energy’s plans. 

McPhail helped facilitate the opposition to the LNG pipeline and its proposed terminal at Lelu Island, involved both through her job with the coalition and as a lifelong resident of the Kispiox Valley. She said the TC Energy representatives were unresponsive to concerns raised by the public at open house sessions and told The Narwhal people are still traumatized by the ordeal. 

“[Residents of] the Kispiox Valley were so upset by the goings on that after 70-plus years of being apolitical, they changed their constitution in order to take a political stand against the project,” McPhail wrote.

‘I therefore recommend that you stuff your extension request’

The most recent letter from TC Energy spurred Allen into action. In his reply, he called out the company for creating unnecessary stress during an already stressful time.

“Continuing to force communities, First Nations and stakeholders to spend their time and energy responding to ill-advised project extensions like this one is an exercise in futility and a waste of taxpayer and investment dollars,” he wrote in a letter to TC Energy. “You guys are like zombies, you keep trying to rise from the dead.”

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project

When TC Energy surveyed Kispiox Valley as part of its planning process, Allen said the company called him for advice on the route. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

He points to the Wet’suwet’en struggles with the Coastal GasLink pipeline

“Our northern communities were sickened by the province and [TC Energy’s] behaviour in regard to the militarized policing activities in Wet’suwet’en territory. B.C. has continued to marginalize Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en concerns around misrepresentation, social justice, chronic unemployment, continuous resource extraction and failure of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office to prevent bad projects from going forward.” 

He concludes: “I therefore recommend that you stuff your extension request.”

The Narwhal reached out to TC Energy for comment multiple times, but did not receive a response to questions.

The controversial proposition of LNG exports

The continued push to export fracked gas from natural gas deposits in B.C.’s northeast is creating tension throughout the province.

Construction started this year on the Coastal GasLink pipeline — also a TC Energy project. The pipeline will connect northeast gas deposits with the LNG Canada terminal currently under construction in Kitimat. But Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, whose territory the pipeline crosses, still oppose the project and the company was recently served a series of stop-work orders by the B.C. government for impacting sensitive wetland ecosystems along its route. 

And, while LNG is often touted by industry and government as a “transition fuel” to help countries reduce reliance on dirty fuels like coal, it isn’t as clean as the province continually claims. As The Narwhal recently reported, a study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Corporate Mapping Project found that if all proposed LNG projects go ahead, the province’s 2050 climate target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 2007 levels will be exceeded by 227 per cent. 

B.C.'s north coast

Lelu Island at centre-right — the proposed site of the cancelled Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal. TC Energy still says its Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline will end there. Photo: Prince Rupert Port Authority / Facebook

While an oft-cited 2010 report from the National Energy Technology Lab found that when LNG is burned, it produces about half the carbon dioxide emissions of a typical coal-fired power plant, that calculation doesn’t take into account the additional emissions created during the production, processing and transportation of the gas.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Corporate Mapping Project report also noted that emissions from the various forms of fossil fuels are often compared on a 100-year lifecycle, but LNG projects have an average lifespan of 40 years — meaning those emissions are concentrated in the shorter term.

The business case for exporting natural gas is also questionable. Natural gas prices were already declining before the pandemic hit, and the impact of COVID-19 brought them to historic lows.     

Exporting LNG has been a particularly contentious issue on B.C.’s north coast. The Council of the Haida Nation officially expressed its opposition to any mass export of fossil fuels through Haida waters. The scrapped Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal was met with strong local opposition, the key issue being its proximity to important salmon habitat. Another terminal, Aurora LNG, was proposed for Digby Island near Prince Rupert, before its proponents pulled out in 2017. 

“The Aurora industrial plant, if built, would have backed directly onto a small tight-knit community across the harbour from Prince Rupert, Dodge Cove, ruining its way of life,” wrote Luanne Roth of T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation in an email. 

Prince Rupert Gas Transmission

Having to respond again to TC Energy’s push to get its pipeline built, even though there’s no LNG terminal at the end of the line, is an exercise in futility, Allen said. Photo: Marty Clemens / The Narwhal

She explained that Prince Rupert residents were divided over the issue of developing an LNG terminal in the area, but opposition to Pacific NorthWest LNG was largely led by fishermen. 

“I think the environmental community needs to listen to and support fishermen if they want them to remain resilient and able to meet industrial challenges to our environment.”

Any future terminal proposals are likely to undergo the same local scrutiny, with an eye for the long-term health of north coast fisheries.

Meanwhile, the pipeline still has to contend with residents like Allen, keeping a watchful eye on what crosses the land.

Update July 27, 2020 6:00 a.m. PST: This article was updated to clarify that residents of Prince Rupert were divided over the issue of LNG, not the Dodge Cove community, as it may have previously been read.

Matt Simmons is a writer and editor based in Smithers, B.C., unceded Gidimt’en Clan territory, home of the Wet'suwet'en/Witsuwit’en Nation.…

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