Introduction. A Canadian regulatory panel is now hearing testimony on a proposal to build a pipeline to carry oil from the Alberta Tar Sands through the mountains of British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, where it would be put into supertankers for delivery to China and other countries.
Thanks to Michael Lebowitz for drawing our attention to the moving testimony of Lee Brain, the 26-year-old son of an oil company executive, during a hearing in Prince Rupert. The transcript was published in The Vancouver Observer on February 20.
My oral evidence today comes in the form of a story, an experience I had three years ago which directly reflects the impacts this project will have on me, and my community.
The story begins after a lifetime of debating with my father -he thought it was high time for me to finally experience first-hand the magnitude and power of the oil industry.
So in the summer of 2009, I had the opportunity to spend one full month on one of the world’s largest oil refineries, producing 800,000 barrels of oil per day. At the time, it was under an expansion project to produce up to an astonishing 1.2 million barrels per day and for confidentiality reasons, the company and details of the project will remain unnamed.
The catch was that this refinery was in a very rural area in a northern province of India – right on the coast of the Arabian Sea, and bordering Pakistan.
So here I am, 23 years old traveling to India, and needless to say, tensions were high upon arrival. Coming through the airport, between the H1N1 virus outbreak and the one year anniversary of the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks of 2008, the military presence was simply overwhelming.
I landed in Mumbai, or Bombay to the locals, and spent a day travelling to the northern province of Gujarat, Ghandi’s home province. Situated outside the small village of Jamnagar, I stayed in a secured complex surrounded by high walls, meant for expatriates – in literally the middle of nowhere. The land in the region was primarily used for agricultural production, but due to the strategic location on the Arabian Sea, naturally there was large military and industrial presence in the area as well.
Each day I would wake up at 6 a.m., and travel roughly an hour to the refinery. Guarded with AK47s, I remember the first day of my arrival I had the whole place in a stir, wondering why I was there. And to tell you the truth, I was thinking the exact same thing. It’s not easy being in a foreign country, being the only young Caucasian male in sight, amongst 50,000 workers constantly staring at me. But my fears quickly subsided as I spent more time there each day, and learned about the gracious, kind and humbled culture of the East – regardless of the portrayals the media would have you believe.
I spent each day with 2-3 different managers from each department, and was able to learn a large portion of each faculty of discipline during my time there. I was very fortunate to have received such an in-depth, bird’s eye view of the entire project — and not even the most qualified engineering intern would have had this opportunity. The experience itself changed who I am, fundamentally, forever.
I learned about the entire EPCM – that is, the production process from engineering, procurement, construction, and management – I spent many hours and days with managers from piping, documentation control, distributed control systems, civil, biological, chemical and environmental engineering instrumentation, quality control, marine operations, water management -electrical and on-site power production – from construction management, procurement and materials, product creation and commercial supply, safety and security, and loading and unloading via rail, truck, VLCC (very-large crude carriers) and ULCC (ultra-large crude carriers).
I am not exactly sure if the average person could fully appreciate the sheer magnitude of the operation, and the intricate interrelationship dynamics between workers, departments, managers and corporate headquarters. It is nothing Discovery Channel would ever be able to portray.
The experience made me question many of the fundamental assumptions I had been making regarding the industry itself. I was realizing just how tricky of a situation we are in globally. My naïveness of the reality and immensity of this substance was not fully actualized until I had this experience. I can say right now, that I fully respect the power of oil.
One such day on the refinery stood out in particular. It was a hot, sunny and humid day, after monsoon rainfall my entire time there – I think it was most likely the Prince Rupert weather following me overseas – and on that day a hand full of managers thought it would be fun to take me out to the Jetty, where they loaded and unloaded the super tankers. Situated a lengthy route away from the refinery itself, we drove down to towards the coastline.
On our way there, we drove past many different villages. Each one looking extremely impoverished. I learned later that this was not always the case. There was a time in this region where fishing, farming and the local economy truly flourished. But once the refinery project was approved, among other projects in the region, they built a pipeline directly through nine different villages. Over a period of time, there was pipeline breakage which contaminated an underground aquifer, and spoiled the wells and water supply of the majority of the surrounding villages. As industry expanded, and land bought and sold, men were forced into cheap labour at the refineries, after lifetimes of sustainable farming and fishing – now dependent on one or two companies for employment. Women, children and elders went starving after losing access to fresh water, with no accountability for cleanup – just left to fend for themselves. I ask, what would be the case here in our region? Do you see any potential similarities?
Converging onto a thin strip of man-made road spanning about two miles in length, we arrived at the Jetty, greeted by military personnel. After a lengthy process of clearing me for entry, we walked onto couple massive docking stations. To my right, men were conducting repairs on a rather standard sized vessel, no larger than the ones you would see here in our Harbour. In the distance, an ULCC fresh from the Middle East was rolling in from the horizon. The size of the vessel stopped me in my tracks. After 10 minutes, the ship stopped and made a slow bank horizontally out at sea.
I asked one of the managers — Jitesh was his name — why the ship stopped so far out. He told me that because of the size of the ship, they had a floating unloading station, and through another piping system they unload and load way out there, and that connects to the main routing station at the Jetty, to be piped a few miles back to the refinery.
I asked him why, and he said ‘even though we have docking stations here, it is for the smaller vessels that are used for domestic purposes. But these larger vessels that come from the Middle East can run aground easily.’
This, in open seas, I thought.
So we all stood there, suspended in what felt like an eternal moment -the heat waves rising above the calmed Arabian Sea, and the ship danced in the horizon as I stood dumbfounded by its sheer mass. One man comments: “I always forget just how large those vessels are.”
A few moments pass as we all stood, just watching.
Out of the silence, Jitesh says to me “Do you see what we are doing here Mr. Lee?”
I asked “What’s that, Jitesh?”
He replied, with an unexpected, sobering tone: “We are destroying future generations for now, and forever.”
And in this kind of slow motion life moment, I felt this kind of tingling feeling on the top of my head– and with sweat dripping down from the inside of my hard hat onto my face, the sun beaming into my eyes – I squint over at six men slowing nodding their heads in silent agreement.
It was such a profound statement, and in that moment, there was silence.
On the way back, I had a lengthy discussion with Jitesh about the ‘whys’ of it all – about life, the human condition, and the challenges we face in the 21st century. Although I will not cover that conversation due to procedural constraints, I will say that I learned some extremely valuable lessons that day.
I learned that it is not because every man and woman who participate in industry are all evil, bad people – being in India, on this refinery, there was this certain kind of ‘rush’ I felt. I felt a kind of new power within myself –being in a productive, hard working, problem solving environment Where there is grit, and dirt, and sweat, and mud and building and pumping and drilling and hammering and huge turbines at massive pressures doing crazy stuff. There is this feeling you get when you’re working with other professionals in a high stake environment — and on some very obscure and messed up level, I can understand how those who work in industry can get excited about growth and yet subsequently, can turn their eyes off towards any adverse impacts they are creating as a result.
Like I said, on a very obscure and messed up level.
And I just have to be fully honest and mention this, the feeling is addictive – you can literally feel it in your veins. And this coming from just one month of experience, with a totally different ideological perspective.
The major thing I witnessed in my time on the refinery that I feel constitutes as evidence was my observations of the relationship dynamics between corporate headquarters and the managers on the refinery. What I witnessed time and time again, was the technical experts knowing the damage, risk and adverse effects of the project, versus what corporate would portray to the general public after reading their materials.
There was a clear and present dual world operating simultaneously – completely undeniable if you are on site. So what I saw, first hand, was this dynamic between ‘what is really happening’ and what the corporate headquarters will have people believe is happening. And as we have seen in our planet, this situation is not an isolated event.
Based on my experience, what I learned was that the global system of infinite growth attracts men and woman of a certain… level of understanding, a certain type of person who will be attracted to the ideals of the current economic measurement that coordinates the global psychology of things, and a type of person who externalizes themselves and detaches from connection, and so whole-heartedly believes in their reality, their perception of things, that they project their fears out onto everyone else — and their ego becomes the driver, blindly leading them down a path of self-destruction. And they are people of high intellectual prowess, but unfortunately have yet to develop the deep wisdom that we all possess within us as human beings.
And we call these people CEO, and Prime Minister.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway Project is simply just one of thousands of projects across the globe that are bi-products of a severely flawed global system. Even if this pipeline does not go through, there will be another proposal of the same magnitude appear somewhere else – and this will go on and on, until we either address the fundamental root of the issue – or face the slow decline of our civilization.
We are psychologically stuck. We are good at what we know, but are too scared to try anything else. If we could directly transfer the mobilization power of oil into a new energy economy, into a new economic measurement, into a new level of coordination and cooperation -where the true cost of development is clearly laid out -we may have a chance.
Because you simply cannot infinitely grow, within a finite system of resources – period.
So I do not sit here today, in anger, or in blame, or in judgement. And on behalf of my generation, I forgive these men and women for their lack of awareness, heart and understanding.
They too were born into an established system, conditioned into a certain way of thinking, and as far as they know, they did and are doing their best. But now, it is time to let go of the 20th Century, and enter into a new global direction towards a path of healing and new design.
In closing, it’s time now for a full scale, mass mobilized transition process off the fossil fuel economy. We need to use all of our resources we have left wisely to create a whole new system of operation that is global in scale. This process needs to have the mobilization power comparable to the proportions of the Manhattan project, and then some. It’s time for us to journey into a new dream, a new way, with new design and new fundamental principles. It’s time for us to end a millennia of pain, suffering, shame and unconsciousness. It’s time to create resilient, sustainable and flourishing communities, that have the adaptive capacity to respond to any challenges they may face in their external environment – and be able to effectively respond specifically to the coming age of peak oil, climate change and rampant global economic instability.
It’s time for us to dismantle the institutions that are beginning to imprison us. It’s time for us to un-learn, to remove the power structures, and to decentralize the grid so that individual communities can produce their own food, energy and own internal means of production for hundreds to thousands of years to come.
And ultimately, it’s time for us to become the true masters we are meant to become – true, planetary mastery — in balance with the emotional, cultural, spiritual and psychological wellbeing of every inhabitant. It’s time for us to embrace the new consciousness that is emerging at this time, where by busting open the hearts and minds of our people, we will propel ourselves forward into a new golden age of humanity that is imminently upon us.
We are those people.
So, if on one hand, you had an unpredictable path, that leads into a new dream, a new way of life for all of mankind and on the other hand, you had a predictable path that leads to the slow, inevitable decline of a civilization.
Which path would you choose?