The Site C Dam: Government Doublethink in Action
“He presented himself with propositions—’the Party says the earth is flat’, ‘the party says that ice is heavier than water’—and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them.” (1984 George Orwell)
In 1975, during the heyday of the cultural revolution, China’s Banqiao Dam failed. It was built in 1950 and deemed unbreakable—referred to by Chinese officials as the “Iron Dam”. Those who lived downstream from the dam in the Henan province described it as "the coming of the river dragon" killing thousands of people and destroying millions of homes. The disaster became a state secret. None of that stopped the Chinese government from promptly replacing the dam. Four years later in 1979 the Machchhu dam in India burst and sent a wall of water through the town of Morbi, again killing thousands of people.
In 2021, a state in northern India called Uttarakhand experienced a devastating glacial event that collapsed the Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant. It was well known by environmental scientists that over the past 40 years Himalayan glaciers were melting and this would very likely lead to landslides and avalanches. It did not deter the Modi government from going ahead with the dam project.
Much as Winston Smith, the latter politicians trained themselves in not seeing or not understanding any arguments or data that might demonstrate the folly of pushing ahead with dam mega-projects. When things were predicted to go wrong, those who spoke up were dismissed and replaced by those who were properly servile to government officials. Willful blindness and mulish determination not to map out complexities or potential risks prevailed, and disaster inevitably followed.
That is what we are talking about with respect to the recent decision by the Horgan government to go ahead with the Site C mega-dam project at a newly estimated cost of $16 billion. BC hydro engineers who warned of potential geotechnical problems as a result of weak foundations were replaced by two ‘independent’ experts who concluded what the government wanted them to conclude—that all was well and it would be safe to proceed with construction.
Former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen remarked to The Narwhal that “A rational person would have said ‘enough is enough’, let’s stop now”.
But, forget rationality; forget about the facts; forget about the destruction of fragile and precious habitats, and rich farmland; forget about governments responsibility to public safety; forget about running roughshod over Indigenous treaty rights and destroying sites of cultural and spiritual significance; forget about the fact that the power site C generates could be easily matched by less expensive green energy through wind and solar projects; forget about the fact-based conclusion by UBC researchers that this dam project will have more serious adverse environmental effects than any project ever examined in the history of Canada’s environmental assessment act; forget about the fact that the site C dam is being built in a fault-riddled zone close to nearby fracking that will cause earthquakes; forget about the fact that billions in taxpayer dollars have already been burned with absolutely nothing to show for it; forget even that this dam has never been about powering BC homes, but ultimately energy for export to LNG plants and powering natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations in northeast B.C.
That is what we are talking about—not cheap power for BC residents, but keeping alive the LNG fracking industry. Without the latter there would simply be no need to build this dam for domestic consumption in BC—either today or into the distant future. Fracked liquid natural gas is not a ‘middle ground’ or ‘bridge fuel’ but a toxic climate-warming fossil fuel. It is composed primarily of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. During the fracking process methane leaks into the atmosphere. These fugitive emissions not only contribute to global warming but release toxic pollutants into the air. The methane released during fracking is more than 80 times as effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.
Moreover, extraction of natural gas (methane) through fracking harms ecosystems by causing erosion and fragmenting wildlife habitats and migration patterns. It uses hazardous chemicals during drilling that pose health risks to nearby communities through contamination of groundwater and drinking water. Fracking forces fluid into rock layers deep underground in order to crack the rock and release oil or natural gas. In so doing, it can cause what is called ‘induced seismicity’—another word for human-caused earthquakes. These earthquakes occur near where the rock is being fractured, 2,000 to 3,000 meters below ground—and right near the Site C Dam.
The construction of the Site C dam underscores the perils of a growing human footprint in environmentally sensitive areas. The Horgan government's push to build this dam regardless of the environment, indigenous rights, or the landscape’s structural integrity is nothing other than a recipe for disaster. Horgan has said that if BC did not build this dam hydro rates would skyrocket. That is completely disingenuous since moving forward with Site C will inevitably end up in higher rates for BC residents anyway.
However, with a push from the LNG industry, and in true doublethink fashion, Premier Horgan has trained himself not to see or understand any argument or empirical data that might demonstrate the folly of going forward.