A couple from Kalamazoo visits Calgary. The corporate headquarters for Enbridge Inc., at 3000 Fifth Avenue Place, is likely where they’d find the greatest threat to their health and safety.
Two years ago, on July 25, 2010, an Enbridge-owned pipeline spilled a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, in the biggest onshore oil spill in the United States. Friends of the Earth reports that the spill exposed Michigan residents to toxic chemicals, coated wildlife with bitumen and caused long-term damage to the state ecosystem and economy. This July, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a record $3.7 million (U.S.) penalty and 24 enforcement actions against Enbridge, for multiple violations of pipeline safety regulations.
However, Walt Wawra, an off-duty police officer from Kalamazoo, thinks danger lies beyond the corpulent corporate boardrooms in downtown Calgary on the well-lit paths of Nose Hill Natural Environment Park. Nose Hill is an 1,129 hectare park in northwest Calgary that was saved, through citizen action in the 1980s, from residential development. From certain angles, it’s hill looks like a nose. It has hiking trails and wildlife. Coyotes are the local danger, for small mammals and pets. But in a notorious letter to the Calgary Herald, Wawra explained what went down in his visit to Nose Hill.
Two men approached Walt and his wife on a paved trail in the public park and asked (twice) if they had visited the Calgary Stampede. Wawra said he didn’t need to talk to them and walked away. For this conversation, Wawra implies he needs a handgun. Thankfully, it’s illegal for citizens to carry concealed weapons in Canadian public parks, and only feelings, at worse, were hurt in Nose Hill.
Wawra’s letter, both dangerous and ridiculous in its suggestions, is nonetheless a useful tool for considering the crimes and dangers we imagine. Wawra described the men in Nose Hill as aggressive, menacing, disrespectful and without good intentions, but there is no information in his narrative to validate these assumptions.
Unfortunately, fear of the unknown and imagined crime rates are being exploited by governments across Canada to justify law and order expenditures and policies, such as the federal government’s omnibus crime legislation. At the same time, known dangers, such as pipeline spills, are being ignored.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recently released a report stating that pervasive organizational failures by Enbridge led to the oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in 2010 and that the company’s operations have a culture of defiance. Earlier today, CBC reported that the Canadian regulator, the National Energy Board, will not be considering this scathing U.S government report on Enbridge in its review of the safety of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline.
National Wildlife Federation recently released a report that describes Enbridge’s history of large oil spills in the United States and Canada. The report states that rather than focusing on safety and cleanup, in response to spills such as in Kalamazoo, Enbridge is moving ahead with plans to expand their pipeline network.
In Canada, if we continue to ignore the evidence of real dangers to our health and safety, the pipeline network may eventually include Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline.