This is worse than I thought, way worse,” Bryan De Baets says April 14 as we approach a half-mile long, land-scarring washout that is 15 feet wide and six feet deep at its worst.
In places, the now operational crude oil pipeline Enbridge laid and buried last summer is fully exposed.
When De Baets inspected this part of his farm just a few days earlier, the soil erosion wasn’t nearly as severe. But the spring thaw combined with what De Baets considers Enbridge’s negligence turned the pipeline right-of-way into something he likens to the roar of Niagara Falls this spring.
“It’s not a good feeling when you’re a farmer and you hear your soil going away,” he said.
Not surprisingly after a few days of that, thousands of tonnes more soil were washed into his creek, which flows into the Cypress River, then the Assiniboine and eventually Hudson Bay.
The dairy and crops farmer is angry. “I told those guys (Enbridge) three times last summer this could happen, but they didn’t listen to me,” he said. “I even warned them that one of these days the erosion could be so bad it washes out one of their pipes and this time it happened.”
One of his wells, which he tests twice a year, is also contaminated. He blames the erosion.
After freeze-up, crews brought in some straw bales and pushed up a couple of earthen berms to slow down and divert the spring run-off, but De Baets said he knew it wouldn’t hold the loose, bare soil on such a steep slope. The same right-of-way eroded in the spring of 1999 following the laying of another pipeline.DeBaets said the pipeline company just pushed in the gully and walked away. It washed out every year until 2004 when he finally got it seeded down.
This time the washout is so extensive, De Baets is certain Enbridge will have to haul in tonnes of earth. That, along with the other work required to repair the damage will cost thousands of dollars, De Baets said. And even then, he’s certain his land will never be the same.
De Baets said Enbridge could’ve saved itself money and him a lot of grief had the proper precautions been taken. He said he suggested erecting a number of slit screens across the slope of the right-of-way.
“I told them (Enbridge officials) ‘my environmental farm plan was a grassed ditch and a bonus of alfalfa on either side,’” De Baets said. “I asked, ‘what’s yours?’ They just looked at me.”
The field farther upstream is zero tilled to boot.
“Normally there would be no erosion there at all,” he said.
Enbridge spokeswoman Anne McIntosh said in a telephone interview April 17 that the pipeline company is taking the washout very seriously. Enbridge officials inspected the exposed pipeline and verified it was undamaged and safe, she said.
A Manitoba Conservation official also checked out the pipe, said Don Labossiere, director of the department’s environmental operations.
“Enbridge will reclaim this land back to its previous condition as per our agreement with Mr.DeBaets,” McIntosh said. “We will replant and conduct final reclamation of this land after the construction of the Alberta Clipper pipeline is complete this summer. There are no environmental impacts beyond the right-of-way, and no environmental impacts that cannot be fully mitigated.”
De Baets begs to differ. He contends lost soil and nutrients will have an ongoing negative impact on his land and its productivity. He says it will also negatively affect the creeks, rivers and lakes downstream for years to come.
Landowners are paid by pipeline companies for the use of their land, crop loss and inconvenience. But according to De Baets no amount of money can make up for the soil he has lost.
Enbridge has an easement to lay one more pipe across his land this year – part of the Alberta Clipper project. But De Baets is adamant that’s the last time he’ll ever allow a pipeline to cross his land.
Traditionally, pipeline companies get their way.DeBaets said he can’t believe any Canadian court would rule against a farmer out to save his land from erosion.
If De Baets isn’t satisfied with how Enbridge repairs his land he can complain to the National Energy Board (NEB), which regulates pipelines in Canada, said NEB spokeswoman Tara O’Donovan.
Landowners can also raise concerns about future pipelines crossing their land at public hearings held before projects are approved, she said.
Just as the tour is about to end, a far-off lone figure is spotted on the eastern horizon, walking the pipeline right-of-way. It’s Enbridge official Jules Chorney inspecting the damage himself.
“I warned you this could happen,” De Baets said to Chorney as they met. [email protected]