Wrigley residents voice pipeline spill concerns

People in Wrigley, N.W.T., have voiced their anger and frustration with Enbridge for the way it handled an oil pipeline leak near their community this spring.
Elder Fred Williams, left, addresses Enbridge officials in Wrigley, N.W.T., on Thursday, while Pehdzeh Ki First Nation Chief Tim Lennie listens. (Allison Devereaux/CBC)

People in Wrigley, N.W.T., voiced their anger and frustration with Enbridge on Thursday for the way the company handled an oil pipeline leak near their community.

About 40 residents in Wrigley, a Dene community of about 100, joined Pehdzeh Ki First Nation Chief Tim Lennie and councillors as they met with Enbridge officials to discuss the pipeline leak and cleanup efforts.

Local hunters discovered the leak at Enbridge's Norman Wells pipeline south of Wrigley around May 9, in a forested area near the Willowlake River.

Around the time the spill was reported, Enbridge said only four barrels of oil had leaked into the soil.

The company later revised its estimate, saying 750 to 1,500 barrels may have spilled. Crews have been cleaning up the contaminated areas since May.

Youth and elders were among those who attended Thursday's meeting with Enbridge at the Wrigley band office.

Remediation efforts on hold

Enbridge representatives told residents on Thursday that the oil spill is fully contained, maintaining that none of the oil has leaked into the Willowlake River.

But the official added that Enbridge has not found a place to store the contaminated soil, which it plans to ship to Zama, Alta. As a result, remediation efforts are caught in a holding pattern, residents were told.

Company officials would not say whether or not the spilled oil may migrate, but said it is a possibility because of melting permafrost.

Lennie said at the meeting that he wants to repair the relationship Wrigley has with Enbridge, but not before expressing his frustration with the company for how it has handled the pipeline spill.

"Once you suck everything out of this land and out of this territory, where do we go back to?" Lennie said during the meeting.

The chief refused Enbridge's offer of $5,000 to help his First Nation hire experts to analyze the company's 674-page draft cleanup plan.

Residents feel insulted

The chief said the money being offered is not enough to help the First Nation adequately understand Enbridge's technical plan before it is submitted to the National Energy Board.

Maurice Moses said he had expected more than just talk from Enbridge on Thursday.

"I thought today was going to be like, 'OK, we'll bring you guys a cheque, we're sorry'…. No cheque, and they're still insulting us," Moses said with a laugh.

The "insults" that Moses and other residents referred to ranged from Enbridge not using local workers to help with cleanup efforts, to the company's lack of general investment in the community.

"Not one building in this community says Enbridge on there. I think there should be, like, swimming pool or a hockey arena or something for the kids, right?" Moses said.

Enbridge officials told residents they did not intend to alienate the community.

Must fix communication, says official

As the meeting drew to a close, Enbridge said both the company and the community have entered into a confrontational relationship.

"We recognize that with the perceived insults, we haven't had a very good open communication process. And we need to fix that," said Cynthia Hansen, Enbridge's vice-president of Canadian operations.

Lennie said Thursday's meeting was a step towards overcoming differences, but there are still many issues that need to be resolved.

Since the spill came to light, residents in Wrigley have raised concerns about its potential impacts on human health, as well as the health of area wildlife that people hunt for food.

The company promised to provide a health expert who can answer residents' questions at the First Nation's annual assembly at the end of this month.

With files from the CBC's Allison Devereaux