Merlin Nichols: Pipelines and other trivia, part two

merlinnichols

No, I’m not saying that pipelines and the supporting infrastructure that feeds them are trivial pursuits. We who live in the great Northeast regard them as essential to the prosperity and health of the nation. Yes, the nation, not just the many thousands whose livelihoods are directly linked to the success of transporting the products of the earth to market.

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There are so many puzzling conundrums in our potentially vibrant Canadian scene.

Quebec is clamouring for a piece of the ship-building pie. And why not, as a maritime province? Develop your capacity, Quebec, and go after the contracts. But don’t be hypocritical. You can’t have it both ways.

Ships run on oil and oil comes out of the ground in various locations around the globe, but not in Quebec. If Alberta support for your ship-building hopes would help in Ottawa, why not get out of the way of Energy East and allow, even welcome, western energy to flow to eastern markets? We could cut back on Saudi oil imports and invigorate the western economy and all of Canada in one decision.

Or maybe you should stop driving cars.

And then there is the pipeline that was supposed to carry gas from the Northeast to Kitimat. Who would have thought that our governments and industry moguls would have allowed a $40-billion project go so far as the final investment decision without having finalized with the people on the ground? Not I.

And who would have thought that a government minister charged with representing the interests of all citizens of British Columbia would have been found on the ground apparently taking sides in a public dispute? Not I.

This world, this country, this region has seen a lot of changes since we first started shipping gas and oil through the pipes from the Northeast more than 60 years ago. Not the least of these changes is the increase in population. Canada’s population has grown from 18 million to just under 37 million in those 60 years. Guess what that has done to our thirst for gas and oil.

How do I know? I extrapolate from my experience to the rest of the population. I’ve gone from transportation by saddle horse to a poor university student with one shirt and cardboard insoles in my shoes to two cars, a pickup, and a motor-home. And I don’t think I’m that unusual (except for the horse).

Do we want gasoline in our cars, diesel in our transport trucks, gas for our furnaces and air conditioners, electricity for our lights and public transit? Then we have to move the energy from source to consumer. Don’t want to be known as a consumer? It’s difficult in our society. You wear clothes, eat food, and move about; you consume. I’m not sure what I could advise.

Moving gas and oil by pipeline is the safest possible way to get it into your burner. Once the gas pipe is in the ground it’s a pretty benign object. We had a gas pipeline explosion in my hometown back in '57. There can’t be more than a half dozen old folks left who know anything about that incident. We’ve heated a lot of space down the west coast since then with only a little reminder at Prince George last fall of the enormous energy being transported to market.

Moving oil by pipe is more challenging than moving gas but still much safer than any other method available to us at the present. And there are better technologies than we now use for detecting leaks and shutting down the line and containing the damage.

My hometown experienced an oil leak into the beautiful Pine River, our water source, about 20 years ago. One million litres of crude were dumped into the pristine watershed before the line was shut down. We were back on the river for town water within three years and today there is not a trace of the spill – nor has there been for many years.

Are there viable energy alternatives to gas and oil? Not in my lifetime; and not likely in the lifetimes of anyone more than 20 years old. Should we spend resources to develop viable alternatives? Of course we should.

In the meantime, since I have finally retired my wife and I need only one car. We are downsizing, economizing as we should, using less oil and no gas, heating water and space with wood, growing much of our annual tomato and root vegetable needs within 100 metres, even picking a few wild berries for old time’s sake.

Because we live in the country, we do need a pickup but licence it only for three months in the summer to do our necessary country work. Short of moving into a file cabinet in the city, we try to do our part.

By the way, as the ancients have said, “fools die for lack of wisdom, therefore, get wisdom, the principal thing.”

Merlin Nichols is the former mayor of Chetwynd.

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