British Columbia

Northern B.C. residents stage pro-pipeline rally in Fort St. John

As B.C.'s provincial government prepares to head to court to clarify the province's jurisdiction over the Trans Mountain pipeline, over 100 people rallied in support of the project in the province's northeast Saturday.

Speakers say they're motivated by economic and environmental safety

Pro-pipeline supporters rallied in Fort St. John Saturday. (Alan Yu/FSJ for LNG)

As B.C.'s provincial government prepares to head to court to clarify the province's jurisdiction over the Trans Mountain pipeline, over 100 people rallied in support of the project in the province's northeast Saturday.

"Our battle cry now is for LNG and Kinder Morgan," said Alan Yu, the organizer of the rally in Fort St. John.

Premier John Horgan said his New Democrat government's reference case will be filed in B.C.'s Court of Appeal by April 30 and it will seek to clarify the province's rights to protect its coast and economy from an oil products spill.

The proposed $7.4-billion expansion would nearly triple the capacity of the pipeline that carries crude oil from near Edmonton to the Vancouver area to be loaded on tankers and shipped overseas.

The federal and Alberta governments support the Trans Mountain project, while B.C. says it's defending its coast from a potentially catastrophic oil products spill.

Though the Trans Mountain pipeline doesn't pass through the province's Peace region, Yu said it's important to show there are British Columbians who support the project.

"In Fort St. John, we transport our natural gas by pipe. We have oil here, as well," he said. "We are for the distribution of oil and gas."

That sentiment was shared by Ian Fife, who drove nearly 400 kilometres from Fort Nelson to attend the rally.

"The 'no' side's being heard so much, but the yes side… no one really worried about it," he said.

"I just felt like it's time to step it up."

Fife said he's attended pro-resource rallies in Edmonton and Vancouver, trying to provide a counter balance to demonstrations against projects like Trans Mountain.

"I've been burning my holidays going to these events," he said.

Local jobs in limbo

Others said jobs in the area are tied to the proposed pipeline expansion. Though not affiliated with the rally, Sean Surerus of Fort St. John's Surerus Pipeline said it is important for people in favour of the project to speak out.

Surerurs Pipeline was selected to build a portion of the pipeline expansion as part of a joint venture. Surerus said he already has about 160 people working on the project, roughly half in Fort St. John.

If the expansion is cancelled, it will lead to tough decisions, he said.

"We have to have a hard look at our people," he said. "These are real, paying jobs that are compromised."

Rail spill fears

Further south, a proposed 550-person work camp to support the pipeline's expansion through Valemount, east of Prince George, is also on hold.

Mayor Jeanette Townsend said while the jobs would be a "boon," her bigger concern was the effect Trans Mountain's cancellation could have on the amount of oil travelling through her community by train.

Transporting crude by rail is considered more hazardous than pipelines by analysts who point to the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster of 2013 as an example of what can go wrong. In that case, a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, killing 47.

The twinning of the 1,150 kilometre-long Trans Mountain pipeline will nearly triple its capacity to an estimated 890,000 barrels a day and increase traffic off B.C.s coast from approximately five tankers to 34 tankers a month. (CBC News)

Townsend said she worried a similar event could happen in Valemount if pipeline capacity isn't added. She's already observed more oil cars moving through town.

"I think it's a very dangerous position that our people are in, and nobody seems to care," she said.

She said it's hypocritical of the provincial government to focus on the environmental impacts the project could have on the coast while ignoring the risks of not increasing pipeline capacity through the province.

With files from The Canadian Press

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.