Wet’suwet’en water protectors oppose Coastal GasLink micro-tunneling gas pipeline under sacred Wedzin Kwa river

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo by Arvin Singh.

Journalist Brandi Morin is present on Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia reporting for Ricochet media on Coastal GasLink (CGL) preparing to drill under Wedzin Kwa (Morice River).

Yesterday she tweeted: “CGL will use micro-tunneling hydraulic drilling to put their LNG pipeline through. CGL says it’s safe, traditional Wet’suwet’en says it’s not.”

Wet’suwet’en water protectors have been arrested in militarized RCMP raids in January 2019, February 2020 and November 2021.

Most recently, water protectors who had occupied the Coastal GasLink drill pad site on the territory evaded a fourth RCMP raid in January 2022.

Wet’suwet’en water protector Sleydo’ says: “It’s our sacred headwaters, our clean drinking water, and our salmon spawning river.”

She adds: “Our way of life is at risk. Wedzin Kwa is the the river that feeds all of Wet’suwet’en territory and gives life to our nation.”

Coastal GasLink intends to use a method called micro-tunneling to lay the 48-inch diameter pipe 11 metres below the lowest point of the riverbed.

The company says: “Micro-tunneling is one of the most expensive and technically advanced crossing technologies that uses hydraulic jacks and a tunnel boring machine to push concrete casing segments through the soil deep under water bodies in a way that minimizes risk and disposal volume.”

It adds: “The pipeline is then safely pulled through the tunnel created by the concrete casing. Micro-tunneling is a remote-controlled excavation method that results in limited environmental, economic, or social disturbances.”

TMX “mechanical failure”

The federal government owned Trans Mountain Corporation recently used another trenchless drilling method known as horizontal direct drilling (HDD) under the Fraser River near Coquitlam, British Columbia.

In late December, the company announced it must redrill 332 metres of the tunnel eight metres to the east of its first attempt. Trans Mountain stated: “The first attempt at the Fraser River HDD (Horizontal Directional Drilling) ended with a mechanical failure of the HDD drill pipe as it was pulling the product pipe into the bore hole.”

Bentonite spills

Trans Mountain pipeline

In November 2021, Trans Mountain also reported that approximately one cubic mere of the clay-based drilling fluid bentonite was “inadvertently released” into a watercourse during drilling for the 48-inch diameter pipeline under the Fraser River.

Line 3 pipeline

In August 2021, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) also reported there had been 28 releases of the drilling fluid over a two-month period at 12 river crossing locations for the Calgary-based Enbridge Line 3 pipeline.

In one spill 80 gallons of the drilling mud was released into the Willow River.

Minnesota Public Radio has reported: “Drilling fluid is used as a lubricant during the drilling process. It’s made of mostly bentonite clay and is not considered toxic, but can impact aquatic life. …Enbridge has said that the drilling mud was quickly contained.”

Sabal Trail pipeline

When bentonite spilled into the Withlacoochee River in Georgia during HDD drilling for the Sabal Trail fracked gas pipeline in October 2016, the WWALS Watershed Coalition said that the company “had testified under oath that this could not happen”.

The coalition further noted bentonite can reduce oxygen in the water potentially threatening fish and other aquatic species.

Following that spill, activists blocked trucks carrying thousands of gallons of water and several tons of bentonite at another drill site for the pipeline.

The WWALS Watershed Coalition has also expressed concern that gas could leak into rivers.

In July 2017, less than five weeks after gas began flowing through the Sabal Trail pipeline, “minor technical issues” were blamed on an odorant leak, though that leak was from a large tank from a proposed compressor site for the pipeline.

A second leak happened the following month.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has also documented other incidents of gas pipelines impacting clean water and communities.

Questions and concerns

The image below includes a “mud management” structure.

It’s not clear if Coastal GasLink will be using bentonite as a drilling mud, how many truckloads would be required, what CGL’s contingency plans are if there is an inadvertent release into the river, the potential for a mechanical failure during the drilling, or if studies have been conducted on the impact the turbidity an accidental release of drilling mud would have at this crossing on salmon and other aquatic life.

While Coastal GasLink says micro-tunneling “minimizes risk and disposal volume” and results in “limited environmental disturbances”, Wet’suwet’en water protectors continue to defend their sacred river and to assert that the pipeline is a violation of their sovereignty and lacks their free, prior and informed consent.

Coastal GasLink image.

Brandi Morin reporting from the drill pad site.

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