“Actually being in the air and seeing the landscape from above put it into perspective. This is what we are trying to save”, said Mike Ridsdale, of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Concealed under the boreal forests and peat bogs of northeastern Alberta lies the world’s largest deposit of bitumen, an unconventional type of petroleum that is refined to produce crude oil. Known as the dirtiest oil, the tar sands have become a highly coveted source of fuel whose extraction methods are radically changing the natural landscape of the province.
Enbridge Inc., the world’s biggest oil pipeline construction corporation, wants to bring this crude oil to international markets and have proposed to do so via the Northern Gateway Pipelines project: the construction of two parallel pipelines stretching over 1,000 km (620 mi) between Alberta’s tar sands and Kitimat on the British Columbia coastline.
Each day, over 500,000 barrels of crude oil would be sent westbound to a new marine terminal in Kitimat from the tar sands. Traveling in the opposite direction, close to 200,000 barrels per day of natural gas condensate (used to reduce oil viscosity during the refining process) would be delivered eastbound from Kitimat to Alberta. The crude oil would reach international markets by the introduction of oil tankers in the Douglas Channel, one of the principal inlets of the British Columbia Coast, for the first time ever.
Public opinion has been overwhelmingly against the pipelines and oil tankers. Political parties, environmental groups, First Nations, and many individuals are voicing their objection to Enbridge’s proposal.
Enbridge Inc. has a long history of pipeline oil spills throughout Canada and the US, including a ruptured pipeline in Michigan less than a year ago that spewed one million gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo river system. The Northern Gateway pipelines would cross sensitive salmon spawning habitat, bisecting more than 1,000 rivers and streams. Once the oil reaches Kitimat via the proposed pipelines, it would be loaded into super oil tankers and transported through difficult-to-navigate routes whose channels cross the Great Bear Rainforest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world. After reaching the coast, the oil would continue on to international markets, feeding our global dependence on fossil fuels and exacerbating the climate change crisis.
The pipeline project has been called the defining environmental battle of our time; one that will define Canada’s international reputation.
“This pipeline route has always seemed insane to many of us who live near it (whether because of the sheer number of wild salmon rivers it plans on crossing, or our knowledge of the mountainous and avalanche-prone terrain). This tour just reinforced that Enbridge cannot engineer its way out of risk on this one. If Enbridge spills oil nearly once a week in mostly flat, prairie land, what can we expect as it tries to tunnel here through these mountains?” asks Nikki Skuce from ForestEthics.
In order to fully appreciate what is at risk, it is important to take stock of the ecosystems and people who will be affected by the pipelines. ForestEthics has enlisted LightHawk and the International League of Conservation Photographers to fly over the proposed pipeline route, taking aerial photographs and video footage to document the land and communities that would be impacted. By conveying the dramatic beauty of the landscapes and the tenacity of the people, this visual communication project will assist the campaign to stop the pipeline project from becoming a reality. For more on the Great Bear Rainforest Tripods in the Sky expedition, click here.
About the Photographer, Neil Ever Osborne
” I blend my backgrounds in science and visual communication to bridge gaps between people whose respective conservation goals are best met through collaboration. I do this using photography, multimedia, and visual communication strategies, while pursuing academic endeavors as a teacher and student of the conservation photography discipline. I walk a fine line between being a conservationist and a photographer, but at the root of my work is the still image.” More here.