In the United States, it’s the Keystone XL pipeline. In British Columbia (B.C., Canada), it is the Northwest Transmission Line, or NTL. In both cases, the energy needs of mankind threaten the environment and, along with it, the survival of thousands of species of plants and animals – among them the human species itself.
The Keystone XL is a 1700-mile oil pipeline that runs through America’s heartland, delivering Alberta tar sands crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico, where (pipeline developer TransCanada now admits) it will be loaded on tankers bound for China.
This – shipping toxic tar sands crude through some of the nation’s most environmentally sensitive areas for consumption elsewhere – is what finally raised hackles in the U.S. In B.C., the project at least supports electricity from a regional supplier (energy giant BC Hydro) that will go to Canadian residents. Well, some of them anyway.
Still, there’s energy and there is energy, and clean as hydroelectric power may be, the NTL – ostensibly designed to fulfill a B.C. government contract to extend the electrical grid into land occupied by the Tahltan Nation – is in fact a concerted push by BC Hydro, British Columbia Transmission Corporation (BCTC), and Coast Mountain Hydro L.P. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of AltaGas Income Trust Ltd., or AltaGas) to open up an entire area to exploitation.
The Tahltan are an indigenous people, and it’s likely even they didn’t understand what their request for modernization entailed. Now, the joint agreement by AltaGas and the BCTC will capture not only the vaguely “green” energy output of the Forrest Kerr Hydro Project – which involves damming and diverting part of the Iskut River – but will invite all manner of other industrial and mining developments (including a coal-bed methane project) in the corrider through which the line passes.
Such damming and diverting is also likely to impact existing operations, like the the Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell mine in the Unuk River watershed (of which the Iskut River is a part). This mine will likely generate at least 2.1 billion tons of waste rock and acid mine tailings over its lifetime, and some of that will inevitably spill into the the pristine Unuk.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, 36 scientists signed a letter asking B.C. Premier Christy Clark to consider the implications of the proposed transmission line and use her influence to mitigate a potential disaster that would affect the ecology of the largely unsullied area slated for development – a development expected to impact not only the area’s unpolluted rivers but also salmon migrations in the province itself and in adjacent southeast Alaska.
Trouble is, for all the things Alaska will lose, it gains nothing from the NTL. So one can only hope that Clark’s government, and NTL project engineers, have anticipated and prepared for this disaster-in-the-making, but the sad truth is that acid mine drainage from the long-defunct Tuslequah Chief Mine is still leaking into the Taku, Alaska’s most prolific salmon river, and no one on either side of the policy line has ever stepped in to prevent it.
Canada, once an eminently “green” nation, if only by virtue of its location, isolation and slower development, has joined the ranks of capitalist countries that only want to extract every last jot and tittle of natural wealth before the planet succumbs.
Good times, folks. Good times.