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Ride The Pipe taps people, places and opinions about Enbridge's planned pipeline

Faces along the pipeline included famed artist Roy Henry Vickers. - Paul Fletcher
Faces along the pipeline included famed artist Roy Henry Vickers.
— image credit: Paul Fletcher

Average folks in B.C. and Alberta are divided about the economic benefits and eco-costs of Enbridge's planned pipeline.

But Ride The Pipe motorcyclists Paul Fletcher and Daniel Sikorskyi also found, during their summer road trip, people in both provinces share opinions on Ottawa's handling of the controversial oil pipeline.

"The farther west we went, the deeper the knowledge of the project — and the resistance to it," Fletcher said.

Faces and biases of folks affected by the proposed pipeline were captured by still and video cameras during their three-week motorcycle marathon.

Fletcher and Sikorskyi, both 59, covered 5,200-odd kilometres aboard Harley Davidsons.

They reached communities that could reap benefits, or disaster, from the line carrying bitumen and condensate west and south from northern Alberta's oil sands.

"Our main interest was Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C.

"I wanted to hear from people less directly involved in the issues," said former Duncan councillor, Fletcher, who rode an 883cc Sportster.

"We basically focussed on the average guy in pubs, coffee shops and restaurants.

"I wanted to give people a voice about the project."

They spoke through 1,000 frames on his Nikon D-700.

Ultra-Classic Harley-owner Sikorskyi shot landscapes and people.

Ride The Pipe, from Aug. 10 to 31, saw them travel from Duncan to Calgary then Edmonton, Dawson Creek, west to Kitimat (the line's tanker port to Asia), Prince Rupert, Port Hardy, then back to Cowichan.

"We made many little side trips, too," noted Fletcher.

Some 50,000 people learned about Ride The Pipe through social media, he reckoned.

Fifty of Fletcher's shots, pictures by Sikorskyi, and video-documentary from friends Michelle Staples and Judy Stafford's summer pipeline shoot, will appear in a spring show.

Staples and Fletcher are slated to speak at Thursday's 7 p.m. Duncan United Church screening of Frank Wolf and Todd McGowan's pipeline documentary On The Line.

To many of the 100 or so folks met by ex-oil-patch worker Fletcher, the line's risks to land and water far outweigh its job and tax benefits.

"The boon in Alberta is that you see so many people with quick money.

"Chances of a spill are very high, no matter how well constructed it is," he said, cognizant of scientific hazard data.

"It's the human-error aspect."

Still, Fletcher found common ground among pro-pipe Albertans, and anti-pipe British Columbians.

Albertans seemed to want the oil refined in Alberta, then pumped to eastern Canada.

"Many disliked the idea of shipping (raw material) to China. Suddenly the divide wasn't so great," he said, "But I don't think our federal government wants us having that conversation."

One of the public's messages to pro-pipeline Prime Minister Stephen Harper was simple: "Start thinking about using our resources to benefit Canadians. The same goes to (B.C.) Premier Christy Clark about exporting our raw logs."

Folks were also leery of Harper's private talks with Chinese leaders about the project opposed by many Aboriginal elders whose lands the line would be cross.

"The whole process isn't transparent because of the desire to make money as fast as possible.

"For 270 full-time jobs in B.C., and a bunch of construction jobs, you're risking a Native culture thousands of years old," he said.

"First Nations are the front line, and will lay down their lives for (stopping) this pipeline."

Meanwhile, Fletcher and Sikorskyi survived their occasionally soggy Ride.

"A black near leaped out the ditch right beside us near Bonanza, Alberta," Fletcher said of the bruin's surprise appearance.

"We also had bad weather, with lightning bolts in Alberta."

Fletcher hopes to Ride The Pipe again, hitting Fort McMurray plus other pipeline communities.

"But I'd need a $30,000 motorcycle, and some super-waterproof rain gear."

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