Pipeline threatens wildlife

Animal Writes – The Vancouver Humane Society Newsletter

Spring 2011

by Paul C. Paquet, Senior Scientist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and Chris Genovali, Executive Director, Raincoast Conservation Foundation

Although rarely considered, many human activities deprive wild animals of their life necessities by destroying or impoverishing their surroundings, causing suffering of individuals through displacement, stress, starvation, and diminished security.  Yet, the notion that animal welfare applies to wildlife has escaped most people, including animal welfarists and conservationists alike.

In June 2010, Enbridge Inc. filed its application for the Northern Gateway Project with Canada’s National Energy Board. The proposed $5.5-billion project includes two parallel pipelines running 1,172 kilometres over the rugged Coast and Rocky Mountains between an oil sands refinery hub near Edmonton and the West Coast seaport of Kitimat, B.C.

One of the lines would carry oil sands crude to the Pacific coast for export to energy-hungry Asian markets. The other would bring in condensates, which are used to dilute heavy oil sands crude so it can flow more freely in pipelines. Super tankers, each carrying up to two million barrels of the world’s dirtiest oil or condensate, would thread their way through precarious coastal waters to the open ocean while emitting tons of pollutants into the coastal environment. Over time, catastrophic oil spills on land and water would be inevitable.

To determine if the project is in the public interest and should be allowed to proceed, the National Energy Board (NEB) is conducting hearings to assess the economic, social, and environmental impacts of the proposed pipeline development.  These are the supposed “three pillars of sustainable development”, but absent among the pillars is any consideration for the welfare of wild animals affected by the construction, presence, operation, and maintenance of the pipeline, or by the shipping of oil by supertankers.  By using the faulty three legs of the stool as a model for sustainable development and decision making, the NEB perpetuates the myth that the environment is something apart from welfare of animals, humanity’s economy, and our social well-being.  Humanity is once again placed outside the environment and the welfare of other species is completely ignored.

Why is there no concern about the pain, fear, suffering and even death that wildlife will endure if the pipeline is approved?  It is largely because we place a higher priority on economic growth than on environmental health and the welfare of other species.  To date, the human enterprise has proceeded with inadequate moral guidance, characterized by a blatant disregard for non-human animals and the environment that sustains all species.  In general, one set of ecological and ethical principles has applied to humans and another to the rest of nature. Consequently, most of the cost of human dominion is being borne by other species.

The same human activities driving the current extinction crisis are also causing suffering, fear, physical injury, psychological trauma, and disease in wild animals.  These damages are well beyond and in addition to what might occur naturally. Human- caused environmental degradation and the associated suffering of animals should be of concern for conservationists and animal welfarists alike.  As a species we must garner the political will to exercise self–control and to show a bit of humility.

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Research scientist, Adam Warner conducting genetics research in our genetics lab.
Photo by Alex Harris / Raincoast Conservation Foundation.