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After Years of Flight and Fight, Northern Gateway Pipeline Rejected

The proposed Enbridge pipeline would have been built less than 10 kilometers north of this location. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne. Aerial photography was made possible by LightHawk and pilot Steven Garman.

The Canadian government has officially put the last nail in the coffin of a plan to carry Alberta tar sands oil through a new 730-mile oil pipeline dangerously close British Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest.

LightHawk has flown several missions to both support the protection of the Great Bear Rainforest and against the proposed pipeline.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the Enbridge-backed Northern Gateway pipeline, running from near Edmonton west to the coastal port city of Kitimat at the head of the Great Bear Rainforest, was not in “not in the best interest of the local affected communities, including Indigenous Peoples.”

“The Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline and the Douglas Channel is no place for oil tanker traffic," Trudeau said, according to CBC News.

Monkman Provincial Park, in the Hart Ranges of the Rocky Mountains, near the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines project. British Columbia, Canada. Photo by Neil Ever Osborne. Image made possible by Steven Garman and LightHawk.Earlier this year, British Columbia announced that it would protect 85 percent of the rainforest — more than 7.6 million acres — from logging. As the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, the Great Bear is home to stunning vistas and an “array of wildlife from, birds to wolves to the iconic white Kermode, or spirit, bears,” according to National Geographic.

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would have snaked across Canada through more than 1,000 rivers and streams serving as critical salmon spawning habitat and terminated on the coast where it would be loaded into super tankers. Those tankers would then need to navigate routes through marine channels that crisscross the Great Bear.

LightHawk started flying against the Enbridge pipeline in 2010, first with several photographers on a “Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition.” We also flew with Stand — a forest-first, climate change advocacy group formerly known as ForestEthics — in opposition to the pipeline. We also flew out of Fort McMurray to show coastal First Nations elders the source of the tar sands oil.

LightHawk also flew photographers from the International League of Conservation Photographers over the proposed route. iLCP hoped that by conveying the “dramatic beauty of the landscapes and the tenacity of the people,” it would help stop the pipeline.

“Actually being in the air and seeing the landscape from above put it into perspective. This is what we are trying to save”, said Mike Ridsdale, of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

Shown here are the narrow coastal fjords super oil tankers would have had to navigate if the Northern Gateway pipeline was approved. Photo by Christina Mittermeier. Aerial support by Steven Garmin and LightHawk.

Tuesday’s cancelation of the Northern Gateway pipeline also included a promise to ban crude oil tankers along British Columbia’s northern coasts. But at the same time, Trudeau announced the approval of two other pipeline projects that will pump more than a million more barrels of oil a day from the tar sands region to global markets.

Both of those projects are either an expansion of existing pipelines, or the addition of a “twin” pipeline, CBC News reported. The announcement cast international doubt about Canada’s ability to meet its promises to fight climate change.

"The approvals raise grave doubts how these and additional pipelines, including Keystone XL and Energy East, can fit with Canada's commitment to the Paris climate agreement," Patrick DeRochie, the director of Environmental Defense, said according to CBC News. "Much bigger cuts in other emission sources must be made to compensate for more oil-based emissions." 

Learn more about LightHawk’s work in the Great Bear Rainforest here. See more photos of the Great Bear here. Read more about the pipeline announcements here.