Romilly Cavanaugh, an environmental engineer who worked for Kinder Morgan, was arrested for participating in non-violent protests in Burnaby, British Columbia. She explains why she opposes the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris recording for the Real News Network from Montreal, Canada.
During the past ten days, hundreds of protesters have been arrested in Burnaby, British Columbia in what has been dubbed the Standing Rock of the North. The target of their nonviolent resistance is the proposed 7.4 billion dollar expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline. The expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline would nearly triple the flow of Alberta’s landlocked bitumen to Canada’s west coast and dramatically increase oil tanker traffic in the Pacific.
One of the peaceful resisters who has been arrested is Romilly Cavanaugh. Romilly Cavanaugh is an environmental engineer with 30 years experience. She is the recipient of the prestigious Fellow of Engineers Canada Award for outstanding contributions to the profession of engineering. She also has a master’s degree from Harvard University in sustainability and environmental management and one of Romilly’s first jobs was an environmental engineering position at the Trans Mountain pipeline. She held that position from 1991-1996. And she’s joining us today from Vancouver, British Columbia. Thank you for coming on to the Real News, Romilly.
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: Thank you. It’s my pleasure.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So Romilly, why did you expose yourself to arrest at the site of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion?
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: I made that choice. It wasn’t an easy choice, but this pipeline project, the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is just too dangerous, in my opinion, in terms of risks from spills. It will contribute to Canada’s climate change, greenhouse gas emissions. It tramples on indigenous rights. And the process that was used through the National Energy Board to approve this project was deeply flawed.
So I’ve decided to take a chance for the first time in my life to risk arrest and to engage in peaceful protest and civil disobedience.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: I want to come back to you in a moment with the question of the risks arising from the expansion. But first I’d like to deal with the purported economic benefits of this project. Kinder Morgan claims that the expansion will create the equivalent of 15000 construction jobs and the equivalent of 37000, quote, direct, indirect, and induced jobs per year of operation. How do you respond to Kinder Morgan’s claims that the benefits of the Trans Mountain project, the economic benefits in particular, justify whatever risks may be associated with that project?
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: Well, the way that benefits have been stated, in my opinion, is very misleading to the public. So you have to look at the words that are used in describing those long-term jobs. So if we look, first of all, at the short-term jobs, those construction jobs are just for a couple of years. But if we look at those long-term jobs, which is what I think people are really interested in and they think that really benefits our economy, direct jobs are jobs associated with working at Trans Mountain pipeline. The indirect jobs, and my understanding of those jobs is that it will create about 50 long-term permanent jobs. That’s 5-0.
The indirect jobs are anything that is a product or a service purchased by Trans Mountain for their operations. So that includes steel pipe that’s manufactured in China. I don’t think Canadians think that’s what Kinder Morgan is referring to when they talk about long-term jobs. That includes equipment that’s manufactured in places like Korea. So you know, those indirect jobs are not for Canadians. And that if we look at induced jobs it’s even more of a stretch, as far as I’m concerned.
So induced jobs are jobs that are created, if you can call it that, by a person who has a job, who has an income, and then spends it on things like groceries, maybe taking a taxi or eating in a restaurant. But those jobs could be created by any other type of income that that person has. So that becomes even more of a stretch. So for example I could hire someone to come in and and paint my apartment, and that person had an income and spent it on anything else. I haven’t just created one job I’ve created 10 jobs or 20 jobs or 100 jobs.
So to be fair to Kinder Morgan they haven’t, they didn’t create this process of assessing the social economic benefits of a project. This is a standard way that projects are evaluated. But I think for the public it’s very misleading.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And so let’s talk about the other side of the ledger. Let’s talk about the risks. You know, we’re being told by the Trudeau government that the risk of a spill of dilbit in a marine environment and the, that the technology and methods available to clean up that spill are sufficiently robust, and the risk is sufficiently low, that the project’s benefits justify in the national interest the pursuit of this project.
Do you believe as an environmental engineer, is it your opinion, that the technology exists to manage and clean up a major spill of diluted bitumen in a marine environment at this time?
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: Absolutely not. They don’t even know what will happen if there is a spill of diluted bitumen in t o the marine environment here. So what happened in Kalamazoo in the United States when the diluted bitumen spilled there into the river, which fouled 35 miles of that river, was that that material sank. But there are researchers who are looking at what happens with diluted bitumen in wave tanks, in tanks in labs that are meant to simulate what’s happening in the environment, and they’re saying that it floats. So there’s so many variables that go into what will happen when oil hits the environment. If the oil has sediment in it, if there’s waves, if there’s wind, if it’s cold, if it’s hot, there’s just so many things that are happening. So the Premier of B.C. has said that the research is just not in, we need more scientific studies, and I agree with him.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: You’re referring to John Horgan, the NDP premier of British Columbia.
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Exactly. So Premier Notley now is saying that he is using this as a ploy to try to stop or delay the pipeline. But in fact he is correct when he says that the information is inadequate. And then if we even look at, let’s say that the bitumen does, the diluted bitumen does float, we don’t know if it will but let’s say that it does, that state of the art technology that Kinder Morgan is referring to is just grossly inadequate.
If you have a spill into a marine environment and there is a storm, they’re not going to risk the safety of a crew by sending them out on ships to deal with it, so they will be on the shore watching the oil wash in and out, being carried by the tides, being carried by the waves. They won’t be able to respond at all. But let’s say you get the, you get that technology out there, which is skimming machines, skimming boats, and booms to try to corral the oil to try to keep it from spreading. The recovery rates are very low. That’s just a fact. And so people might say, and I had heard this, well, she worked there in the ’90s. And things have changed since that time. They have improved. Manufacturers are working on improving their equipment. These people are are very diligent in their efforts to do that.
But I think what we need to do is not look at what manufacturers claim about their equipment or what could happen in ideal conditions, but look at what happened most recently in the Gulf of Mexico. The cleanup crews there deployed booms which basically float at the surface and try to corral all the oil before it can get into particularly environmentally sensitive areas like marshlands. And what was reported, and there are certainly lots of evidence and photographs and videos of that, is that the wave action just caused the oil to go up and over the booms, and into those sensitive areas. So that state of the art technology is not what people think when they’re thinking state of the art. It’s not as if, it’s not as effective as the public would be led to believe.
So when I worked at Trans Mountain the recovery rate which would be considered good in the event of a spill into the marine environment was about 10 per cent, 10-20 percent. It’s easier to deal with a spill onto land because it’s so, it goes into the soil. It’s not moving quickly like it does in the river or in the ocean. But in the marine environment it’s very difficult.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: So lastly do you think that the expansion of tar sands infrastructure can be reconciled with the Trudeau government’s commitments under the Paris climate accord?
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: Absolutely not. That is absolutely the worst time to be investing in fossil fuel infrastructure. It sends a message that Canada doesn’t care about climate change, and I believe that Canadians do care. So I really think that Justin Trudeau has lied to the Canadian people, is trying to deceive them into thinking that this project will not have an impact on our ability to meet our targets. We’re going to have a very tough time meeting our targets even without this project.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This has been Dimitri Lascaris speaking to Romilly Cavanaugh, environmental engineer who worked formerly for Kinder Morgan at the Trans Mountain pipeline. Thank you very much for joining us, Romilly.
ROMILLY CAVANAUGH: You’re very welcome, my pleasure.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this has been the Real News reporting from Montreal, Canada.