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(Andrew Querner)
(Andrew Querner)

The Big Pipe: Enbridge's plan to connect the oilsands and China divides locals Add to ...

“I got chased by a grizzly up there,” he says from his home south of Bear Lake, B.C. That day, he was taking pictures of a sow with two cubs when the wind changed. “She was right after me. And I was skipping across the rocks there. I ran maybe 100 yards and she quit running. But she was gaining real fast.”

Pattison’s home is festooned with all manner of trophy heads from hunts around the world. As a guide, he helps outsiders shoot numerous moose each year. Yet, come winter, he sets aside enough hay to feed a herd of 50 elk that he would never dream of shooting.

While Gateway would cross his guiding area and one of his traplines, he supports the project—in large measure because he owns trucks and a gravel quarry, and he’s already told Enbridge he’d like to work on it. “I think it’s going to impact us, with the trapping and the guiding,” he says. “But if we’re involved with it, it would be justifiable.”

Yet even for him, the Missinka is a concern. In spring, the water runs fast and hard. Landslides are common and rivers often blaze new routes. In winter, the pass can be buried under five metres of snow—a barrier that would be immensely difficult to penetrate in case of a spill. Enbridge has said it could use heavy-lift helicopters to bring equipment in an emergency. Pattison is worried.

“You might not find a spill until a lot of damage is done,” he says. “If I got to work with [Enbridge] I don’t want to go making a bunch of trouble for them. But it’s rugged up there. Holy shit, it’s rugged country,” he adds. “It would be a tough project to safeguard. You’d never be able to safeguard against everything.”


It is a Thursday night, but it feels like a Sunday-morning prayer meeting in the living room of John Phair’s small house in Burns Lake, B.C. The seven people present are fervent, and they are dedicated. They want Gateway stopped. Feelings have run so hot here that local police felt compelled to attend a recent community meeting where people argued that a drop of oil in local rivers will spread its poison far and wide.

“This is a headwaters. When we pee in the water here, it shows up in Vancouver,” says Phair, as he displays unflattering articles about Enbridge.

Burns Lake is one of the few places where Gateway would pass a residential neighbourhood: Kilometre post 929 is right by the mayor’s house. At bottom, this is a forestry town, friendly to industry. But the community’s mountain bike park has waged a four-year battle to get Enbridge to change the route, which goes through the park’s main runs. “If a mine came in, that’s clearly 200 jobs here, long-term,” says Kevin Derksen, one of the bike park’s founders. With Gateway, “you’re talking billions of dollars in oil going through here, and what does our community see?”

But among those gathered in Phair’s house, it’s clear that Gateway’s critics aren’t just interested in rivers and jobs. As remote a scenario as it may seem in an area of massive pickups and 150-kilometre grocery runs, they’re interested in an energy future without oil. They worry about the climate impact from the growth in oil sands production that Gateway would help foster. They want to know: Would Gateway’s $5.5-billion investment not do more good in search of new energy?

“We can’t keep shitting on the planet the way we are right now,” Phair says, his voice rising in passion. “If we allow this pipeline to go through, are we that different from someone who allows a dealer at the corner store to push crack?”

Not far from here, near the cabin the Wet’suwet’en have built, John Ridsdale has a more personal argument. He, like many along the route, is convinced Gateway will leak, a conviction cemented this summer when first the BP Gulf spill renewed fears about the dangers of oil, and then Enbridge itself suffered two major pipeline ruptures on its existing crude network in the U.S. One of the spills coated an environmentally important Michigan river in a thick layer of black, providing visual evidence of the exact outcome Ridsdale fears. “You want to kill a people, you kill their culture. You kill our rivers, you’re killing our culture. That’s genocide,” he says.

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