Law students help pipeline enthusiasts click through evidence

Law students help pipeline enthusiasts click through evidence
Information surrounding Kinder Morgan’s expansion project can be difficult to understand, let alone research for the public due to the extensive amount of data available on the ever-expanding pipeline from official sources such as the National Energy Board.

A couple of environmentalist and law student activists have created an easy-to-navigate web site shedding some light on the extent of the issue, the process, and the participants involved.

“I hope this stirs conversation amongst the public. The public over here is already talking about this all the time, and pipeline projects are very top of mind [and] in the news a lot,” says Erin Gray, a recent University of Victoria law graduate currently articling with the university’s Environmental Law Centre.

The web site organizes the issues around the expansion into eight major areas: oil spills, hazards and dangers, human health, environmental impacts, indigenous evidence, economy, earthquake risks, and wildlife.

Once a category is selected, evidence shows up from various intervenors on the specific topic. Groups can submit evidence as well as read evidence already presented.

“I hope this helps people talk about it, in a less ideological and more evidence based way, and then hopefully this allows people to understand the review process better,” explains Gray.

The National Energy Board review can be a long and confusing process.

Often, news updates will give bits and pieces of information of various decision deadlines, she says, “and I don’t know that people necessarily know on what basis they are making these decisions. Hopefully, the web site clears some of that up . . . that’s what I would see as success for this project.”

So far, the site has “had 5,753 views total, and it has been shared on Facebook 901 times, so that has definitely exceeded my expectation,” says Gray.

“The responses have been uniformly positive,” says Adam Cembrowski, the web site co-creator and 2L student at the University of Alberta. “People have been excited to see this evidence.”

People are very curious to find out about all sorts of evidence such as how the project may affect whales or what has been written about fish, says Cembrowski.

“We’ve had some wonderful days. We’re probably averaging 50-plus viewers a day, a couple thousand page views,” he notes.

While there is a small team of law students working with Gray and Cembrowski, the project is definitely their baby. It came into existence within a month of conception.

“It’s all us, because it’s WordPress, we’ve paid everything out of pocket,” says Cembrowski.

Coming from a science background, Cembrowski, who already has a master’s degree in evolutionary biology, says in his experience, a lot of research and journals having to do with environmental issues never get released into the public domain and, even if they do, “most people weren’t aware of what’s going on.

“I have been very excited and very passionate about making sure . . . when people put a lot of time and effort into some kind of research or some kind of project that could have a large impact on people’s lives, they have access to it.”

He built the web site, while Gray, who became interested in environmental issues gradually, co-ordinated the project.

Enivironmentalists say the Kinder Morgan trans-mountain expansion pipeline project will affect various elements of the environment in a number of ways, including possible oil spills, indigenous disruptions, earthquake risks, and human health deterioration among others.

Job growth opportunities and communities being built with the added resources may go hand in hand with environmental deterioration affecting many forms of wildlife, they say.

The law students want to make sure that the review process of the project is transparent, easy to comprehend, and available for informed public discussion.

“Sparking discussion, giving people evidence that they can go through and they can look through themselves and figure out how they feel about something rather than just a gut reaction [is key],” says Cembrowski.

“We’ve had quite a few people that have submitted evidence,” he adds. “We’ve had some cities, we’ve had interest groups; we’ve had a couple indigenous groups that have done stuff or that have OK’d us to summarize evidence.”

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