Enbridge under fire for animation erasing islands in Northern Gateway pipeline tanker route

Critics have called Enbridge's public campaign to sell Canadians on the Northern Gateway pipeline project tone deaf and the uproar over a company video suggests not much has changed.

Opponents of the massive project to pipe oil sands bitumen from northern Alberta to Kitimat on the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia say an animation showing the route creates a misleading impression about the waters where the export terminal is located.

The Victoria Times Colonist reported about a thousand kilometres of islands have disappeared from Douglas Channel, the coastal fiord supertankers will have to use to get to the port.

The video on Enbridge's Northern Gateway web site shows the channel as a wide, open funnel from Kitimat to the Pacific. Missing are the narrow channels through its myriad islands and rocky outcrops.

The discrepancy was pointed out by Lori Waters, a Vancouver Island researcher, who created overlays and maps showing what Douglas Channel really looks like and posted them on her Facebook page.

Waters' exercise triggered an outcry among Northern Gateway opponents.

"If a tar sands pipeline and supertankers project looks too dangerous, what do you do? If you're Enbridge, you delete islands off of public videos and maps to convince the public the project is less dangerous than it really is," said the web site Sum of Us, which posted Waters' illustration alongside Enbridge's depiction of Douglas Channel.

"I find the pictures shocking. It's reprehensible behaviour," University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver told the Times Colonist.

"These images are disturbing enough to make me no longer trust anything coming from Enbridge. It's utterly shameful."

But Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier pointed out the animation is preceded by a disclaimer that it's "broadly representational," which is also seen in small print as the video runs.

"That video is meant to be for illustrative purposes only. It's not meant to be to scale," Nogier told the Times Colonist.

"It's meant to illustrate the pipeline route, not the marine aspects of the operation."

The uproar echoes a similar one over a promotional TV ad Enbridge aired last spring touting the economic benefits of the project.

[Related: Vancouver Province pulls cartoonist's Enbridge parody, triggering charges of censorship]

The Enbridge web site also contains a tanker-safety video showing Douglas Channel in detail and to scale, together with technical reports on every aspect of the marine route, Nogier said.

That video depicts the channel as wide and deep, and spells out safety precautions such as the the use of double-hulled tankers, powerful tugs and experienced pilots to take the giant ships to the terminal.

But project opponents say they think the animation is an attempt to mislead.

Eric Swanson of the Dogwood Initiative said the video fits with recent Enbridge advertising campaigns that feature "hyper-positive imagery."