CAEPLA and craziness in the Peace

7 09 2010

EnCana natural gas pipeline

I think I’ll become an evangelist soon… or (God, no!!) an activist. The longer I stay in the Peace river region, the more I become infected with this crazy desire to make a movie about it. This whole sordid oil and gas mess makes me want to grab a camera and record everything – everything!

I got a chance to speak tonight to the head of CAEPLA (Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowner Associations), Dave Core, and I’m thankful – and blown away – by the scope he brings to the picture. I’ve been talking to farmers and landowners and trappers all around Farmington, Fort St. John, Rolla and Dawson Creek for a little under two weeks now, and while the stories are consistent and troubling, I didn’t have a holistic view of what is happening, and why, until we spoke.

Dave has been involved with a number of precedent-setting cases where a little group of landowners concerned for their land stood up to Big Oil and Gas and the National Energy Board, and won. They didn’t stop development on their land altogether – they’re not anti-development – but they did win some decent concessions that forced the oil and gas companies to acknowledge that landowners deserve to be treated fairly.

Dave told me enough stories and case studies that I feel more up to speed on what has been happening across the country. What concerns this post though, is how bad things are up in northeastern B.C., and if you believe the man who’s been fighting for responsible development for twenty years, according to him it’s as bad as it could get up here. Or worse.

Class 1 farmland, in the BC Peace River region

  • Ontario farmers and landowners at least have the rights to the minerals under their dirt. B.C. landowners don’t have a right to anything other than topsoil or the clay beneath it.
  • The land is actually not theirs to be held in total privacy because, at any time, a seismic imaging crew or a surveyor can come on your land to check it out, and you can’t turn them away.
  • If they find something under that dirt, you can bet a land agent will be at your door, or will start hassling you on the phone, until you sign something that gives the oil or gas company unfettered access to your land.
  • Once a pipeline is in, you can’t move a tractor, a lawnmower, or a bicycle over the line without getting permission from the company.
  • In some cases, they will take up 30 metres on either side of the pipe, in addition to the easement area of 18 metres for a total of 96 metres around that pipe, for however many hundreds of feet it takes up on your land, and you can’t do anything to it. No farming, no haying, no planting.
  • If the company currently taking up space on your land decides to deactivate the pipeline, they simply stop the flow of gas, and leave the pipe in your dirt. To rot. Or possibly cave in. Forever.
  • And if you damage that pipeline for any reason, you’re responsible. You pay. And if you hurt yourself on it, you’re equally liable.

So what does a farmer get for all this inconvenience, for a devalued piece of shit land that now he may not be able to pass on to his grandkids because it’s worthless or contaminated?
Nope, not royalties for the oil or gas passing through those pipes.

Nor a share of the bounty, which in B.C. amounted to $98 million in bonus bids IN AUGUST ALONE, bringing the total of land lease sales to oil and gas companies to $760 million for 2010 so far.

The average farmer might get a few thousand dollars, maybe $6,000, maybe $8,000, as a one-time payout for a lifetime of inconvenience and grief.

The government just announced it’s throwing some more money at the oil and gas companies – $115 million to build roads and infrastructure in underdeveloped areas specifically for oil and gas use. You know what that tells me? More wilderness thuggery, more dead animals, more expansion into B.C.’s bush and watershed.

The more I hear about how this land is being sold up the creek for a few million bags of gold (need to pay off the Olympics much, Mr. Campbell?)…

the more I hear about landowners being flat out lied to by land agents who come to their doors, uninvited, pressuring them to sign contracts that will strip the last of the few rights they have to their land…

the more I hear about out-of-province workers being brought in to do oil and gas work – labour that was promised to the citizens of these towns and villages….

the more I see of the bad roads, high gas and diesel prices, dead deer and moose from the ridiculous number of speeding truckers, driving back from some remote jobsite and eager to get back to the bar and raise hell…

the more I hear… (I just can’t believe what I’m hearing, but these are not the kind of people that would lie to you…)

the more I hear…

the more you’ll hear about it, because it’s not the kind of tiny-potatoes issue I could ignore.

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