Northern Gateway update

Trent Ernst, Editor


Enbridge held an open house in Tumbler Ridge on August 5 to answer questions and provide information on their Northern Gateway Project.

The Northern Gateway Pipeline would run 1177 km from Bruderheim, Alberta, north of, to Kitimat, on the British Columbia Coast.

At km 519 of the proposed 1177 km pipeline, it would cross the Alberta Boundary into BC. At km 626, the pipeline would pass the height of land at the head of Imperial Creek.

Between the two, for a distance of about 107 km, the Northern Gateway Pipeline would run through the Tumbler Ridge area, passing near Stony Lake, following the old Monkman Pass Highway, then crossing the Murray River and Following the Imperial Creek drainage up and then over the Rocky Mountains.

Ray Doering, Director of Pipeline Engineering for Northern Gateway says there are a number of concerns that locals have. The biggest is the proposed aerial crossing over the Murray River.

He says the aerial crossing is not the preferred method of crossing, but when they originally planned the route, early reports said that the rock under the Murray River might have “voids” or holes in it.

The way directional drilling works, says Doering, is high pressure mud is used to drill the holes in the rocks. “We know that certain ground conditions make it not feasible to do this. If you’ve got large cobbled rocks, for instance. We know from past experience of people who have tried, they’ve had a lot of problems. In the past, what they found along the Murray is the potential for large cavities and fracture zones. Horizontal drilling uses high pressure mud to drill; if you have large openings, the mud just spurts into there and you lose pressure.”

Back in 2013, they did additional geotechnical work. While there is more that needs to be done, says Doering, those results look promising.

If the aerial crossing were to happen, it would be 136m long with a side span of 64m. It would have an oil pipe, a condensate pipe and an access walkway, though it might be possible to upgrade the bridge to a path over the river, if hikers were interested in using it. It would be 15m above the Murray River. Plenty of clearance for boat traffic, but still visible, which is something that local river boat operator Randy Gulick says is “unacceptable.”

“Kinuseo Falls is one of BC’s most spectacular sites, and you take people down there and you have a pipeline less than a mile downstream. People will look and say ‘oh look, there’s a monster pipeline.”

Doering says the company would prefer to go under the river, too. He says an aerial crossing is more hassle than going beneath the river. “You need increased pipe wall thickness for the crossing, so it’s more expensive, it needs more maintenance.”

“The rock below the river is limestone,” says Doering. “Our concern was there would be voids in the rock; through further geotechnical study, we may discover that horizontal drill may be possible. This is currently our alternative crossing method, but it might be possible and it would be preferable.”

Gulick says there’s a bridge above the falls that the company could use to cross the river. This was the company’s original proposal, but a few years ago, BC Parks changed the boundaries of the park to incorporate this bridge. Since this is now park, it’s off the table for Enbridge.

Another concern is access management. “Access Management plan will be developed to address potential environmental impacts of the project,” he says. “The plan will identify all potential roads that will be upgraded or created due to construction.”

This is not finished yet, but needs to take into account a variety of user groups. For instance he says this would open access to old Monkman Pass route. “We would need to talk to all the users groups, like the Wolverine Nordic and Mountain Society, to find out if they want this to be left open.”

The other potentially new access point would be through the height of land from the Imperial Creek drainage to the Missinka River drainage.

One of the key proposals for the pipeline: to follow existing roadways, cutlines and other disturbances to the environment to minimize the pipeline’s impact. However, says Douring, between the two road networks, there is about 20 km where the pipeline will have to pass through previously undisturbed territory.

Some locals would like to see this left open as an alternate route to the Prince George area. However, this area is on the fringes of the Quintette and Hart Caribou ranges, and the Provincial government and First Nations might lobby hard to see this access closed.

Would access through this area be maintained? Would this be the mythical ‘short cut to Prince George’ that has been rumoured ever since the Monkman Pass route was abandoned? Douring doesn’t think so. “The area here is caribou habitat, though the pipeline doesn’t go through core habitat, but fringe. The Province’s perspective is they wouldn’t want to see access through that area. There are a few different herds to the north and south that migrate through this area. From the province’s perspective, they wouldn’t want to see access through that. But we will be soliciting comments from different user groups to find out.”

However, this will be determined as the company creates its access management plan over the next year or so.