Alumna speaks at Enbridge public hearing

January 16, 2013
Raina Delisle
Julie Howe

When Julie Howe heard that the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline would cross 1,000 lakes, rivers and streams, she knew she had to do something to stop it. Her opportunity came last week, when she spoke at the public hearings in Victoria before the National Energy Board.

“For me, it was so satisfying to sit there and feel like I was treated like an equal and that I had a voice,” says Howe, who earned her BSc in Environmental Science last year and is now an assistant lab instructor at Royal Roads.

Howe had 10 minutes to speak at the hearing and focused on the science surrounding the matter. She spoke about the inability of large crude tankers to navigate the proposed path, the risk of earthquakes and the possibility of equipment failures, all of which could lead to oil spills.

Howe says it wasn’t difficult to find damning information on the proposed pipeline. She even discovered simulations of tanker runs to Kitimat that tested the emergency stopping capabilities of six vessels. Only one of the tankers was able to stop within approximately one kilometre. “This leaves me unconvinced that a vessel would be able to avoid some sort of collision in an emergency situation,” Howe told the National Energy Board. She also questioned the accuracy of the simulations, which were done when waves were low and the current was maximum three nautical miles (coastal currents can reach 16 nautical miles). Also surprising to Howe was that these simulations were done for Northern Gateway Pipelines LP.

“I find it shocking and frustrating that members of the public are having to research this information ourselves, find it and tell it to Enbridge when they already have it provided to them,” Howe says.  

After the hearing, Howe wrote a letter to the Goldstream News Gazette to share some of her findings. “While many were unable to voice their own opinions to the panel, I sincerely encourage all British Columbians to continue to investigate and question the proposed project, in order to protect our beautiful, unique and sensitive coastal ecosystems,” she wrote.

For her part, Howe plans to continue to follow the issue closely and looks forward to reading the final report that comes out of the hearings. She wouldn’t hesitate to speak out again, in part thanks to the confidence she built while a student at RRU.

“I feel like I have more of a voice now because of my education,” she says. “As soon as they realize you have a bachelor’s degree in environmental science they know that you actually have some credibility. I can write, I know how to talk about the eco-toxicology, I can talk about the ecology of the land, I can talk about the geology of the land. I understand the connectedness of all of it. I feel like I have a broader understanding of how these issues tie together.”  

“Julie really exemplifies how experienced students are when they come out of the program,” says School of Environment and Sustainability assistant professor Alison Moran. “They do a lot of presentations and they have to learn to take a lot of information at a high level, put it together and form arguments in a constructive manner. Once they come out, they have the confidence to be able to do that.”

Howe says she pleased to be able to give back to the student community as an assistant lab instructor. “It’s a really good opportunity and I get so much different experience, from teaching to the ordering of chemicals to marking.”