Viewpoint: Boone County pipeline in jeopardy from Alberta towns

We reported in these pages some weeks ago plans by Enbridge Energy to build a pipeline through eastern Boone County to carry tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to a pipeline hub southwest of Chicago.

Those plans appear to be going forward, but sometimes the right hand is unaware of the activity of the left hand. The Canadian Press in Alberta reports that the mayor and council in the small town of Wood Buffalo in the northern part of the province have voted unanimously to halt all future tar sands development until there is action to improve the infrastructure in that area.

That could leave the proposed Alberta to Illinois pipeline empty for quite a spell unless there is quick action to provide what the Wood Buffalo leaders think they need.

Mayor Melissa Blake and the council plan to apply for intervenor status when oil sands development giant Suncor appears before the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board July 5 to seek approval of expansion of its operations. The Wood Buffalo government has that covered, too. They intend to ask for intervenor status on any future application by any other oil sands developers.

Blake said: “There’s going to be a definite impact on how much the oil sands itself can advance and progress if we can’t get our housing situation under control. We can’t get people to move to the community. Then we’ll start losing business services…we need to get more people working in service and hospitality.”

She said the province and the oil companies need to provide more money for improvement of community infrastructure, or, at least, bring in skilled labor to help build those projects. One company, Syncrude, recently gave $2.5 million to provide an athletic park and also will furnish the labor to build it.

Blake said her city has been working to get the right to tax the oil sands companies separately from other businesses, but that proposal is yet to be approved by the province.

“We cannot continue to accommodate debt and debt and debt on the municipality’s back and not have something to offset that,” she said. The city estimates it will be $263 million in the red by year’s end.

Wood Buffalo’s plan is not the only thing that may halt tar sands development. From the Wilderness publisher Mike Ruppert notes that two vital commodities for tar sands development are water and natural gas, both of which, he says, are in very short supply.

A city task force recently heard from a dozen or so residents of a town called Fort Chipewyan, where many First Nations and Metis people live. They said the land and the water they depend on for their traditional lifestyle have been destroyed.

Receding water levels have damaged the hunting grounds of the delta where the Athabasca River dumps its water into Lake Athabasca south of the town. One resident, Ernest Thacker, told the task force: “The delta is a natural filter for crap, and we’re sitting in the toilet bowl.”

Many of the residents also believe the Athabasca River, which furnishes drinking water for the small settlement, has been polluted by unidentified cancer-causing agents released from the oil sands plants.

“Long ago,” Mary Rose Waquan, 84, told the task force, “we lived in the bush and ate everything. Now, the moose meat and ducks don’t taste as good, the wild plants we eat don’t grow along the river, and the water isn’t fit to drink.”

A spokesman for Suncor said the company is working hard to try to resolve these problems with Wood Buffalo and surrounding settlements. She said the company respects Wood Buffalo’s right to intervene in the situation.

In the interim, the Boone County portion of the pipeline may be in limbo. What the Alberta energy board will do remains to be seen.

From the June 21-27, 2006, issue

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