Aboriginal peoples organize opposition to tar sands pipelines across Alberta, BC

Four articles to follow on the movement against the two, proposed Northern Gateway (tar sands) pipelines in northern British Columbia:

1. First nations fiercely opposed to Northern Gateway

Part of a nine-part series in the Vancouver Sun on the (two) proposed Northern Gateway pipelines: Jan. 2: About Enbridge; Jan 3: An overview of the players, the issues and the public process; Jan. 3: The impact on the First Nations; Jan. 4: Environmentalists weigh in; Jan. 5: The business community; Jan. 6: The risk of pipeline spills; Jan. 7: The risk of tanker spills; Jan. 9: The politics of the project; Jan. 10: The view from Kitimat.
Part three
By Gordon Hoekstra, Vancouver Sun, January 3, 2012
The Gitga’at First Nation has been saying no to the Northern Gateway pipeline project since 2006. The project will bring more than 200 huge tankers annually through the waters next to their tiny community of 160 in Hartley Bay at the entrance to Douglas Channel on B.C.’s northwest coast. Another 500 Gitga’at live elsewhere, including in Prince Rupert, also on the northwest coast.
The risks and effect of an oil spill are simply not worth any economic benefits, which the first nation views as nil, says Marvin Robinson, a spokesman for the community. It’s a familiar refrain among B.C. first nations. Despite the argument that opening up a new market for Alberta oilsands in Asia will benefit all Canadians — and an offer of a 10-per-cent ownership stake in the pipeline for first nations — almost all first nations’ voices in British Columbia have been raised in protest.
Unlike in Alberta, most aboriginal land claims in British Columbia have not been settled with treaties. Court decisions, including at the Canadian Supreme Court level, have stipulated that first nations must be consulted and accommodated when their traditional lands are affected by industrial development.
Last month, more first nations signed their names to a declaration calling for an “unbroken wall of opposition” to pipelines and oil tankers along B.C.’s coast. More than 60 first nations along the pipeline route, Fraser River and coast have signed the declaration.
Among those are the Gitga’at, whose concerns on the Enbridge project increased following the sinking of BC Ferries’ Queen of the North in 2006. Hartley Bay residents were first on the scene to rescue passengers. The fallout from the sinking — the leaking of diesel fuel and oil onto surrounding beaches, including clam beds — woke them up to the potential harm of a larger oil spill, said Robinson, who runs guided tours of the remote coastal area. “It’s almost like a test run. You get to see little mistakes and things that shouldn’t happen. We’re talking about a really light oil — diesel — [from the Queen of the North]. Imagine if it’s one of these [large oil tankers]. That’s the part that really scares us,” said Robinson.
Some of the tankers will be able to carry as much as two million barrels of oil. Called VLCCs — Very Large Crude Carriers — their length is longer than three football fields.
The Gitga’at are among nearly 20 first nations from B.C. that have signed up as interveners in regulatory hearings that begin Jan. 10 in Kitimat. Enbridge has said it has aboriginal support and it expects a majority of the nearly 50 first nations with territory along the pipeline route to sign on to its ownership offer, but only one B.C. first nation has declared its support publicly.
And when Gitxsan hereditary chief Elmer Derrick announced the nation in northwest B.C. had signed an ownership deal that would provide $7 million over a 30-year period, it sparked an immediate battle with other leaders in the community who say they don’t support the project.
Unlike in B.C., most Alberta first nations have not said whether they support or reject the 1,172-kilometre pipeline. More than a dozen Alberta first nations have signed up as interveners in the hearings overseen by the National Energy Board, but none have issued public declarations on the pipeline project. Contacted before Christmas, Alexis Nation leaders said they were not ready to say anything about the project. Other first nations in Alberta — including the Horse Lake First Nation — did not respond to requests for comment.
But at least one Alberta first nation is saying no to Northern Gateway pipeline. Driftpile First Nation chief Rose Laboucan told The Vancouver Sun that following the recent completion of a traditional land-use study, the community of 2,000 has rejected the project. About 1,000 band members live on the Driftpile reserve, west of Edmonton. “The permanent right of way will be about a 25-metre-wide scar running through the territory, harming the plants and animals, things we rely on,” said Laboucan.
She said it is ridiculous to believe there is not going to be an oil spill. “I understand there has to be progress. I understand they want markets outside of Canada, to Asia. But at the same time, when do we balance our Mother Earth? In my opinion, it’s in pain now,” said Laboucan.
The band had reached a deal earlier with the Pembina Pipeline Corp. to build a safe house in the community over a different project, noted Laboucan. But she said Enbridge’s take-it-or-leave-it approach of its ownership offer in Northern Gateway turned the community off.
First nations who oppose the Enbridge project stress they are not opposed to economic development. But it depends on the development.
The Nadleh Whut’en First Nation, located in north-central B.C., has signed on to an ownership deal with the $1.2-billion Pacific Trails natural gas pipeline, but is opposed to the Enbridge oil pipeline. The community of 470 — about 250 of whom live on the shores of Fraser Lake — supports the natural gas pipeline because if there was a rupture the gas would dissipate, says chief Larry Nooski. There is no support for the Northern Gateway project because the oil from a pipeline leak could remain in the environment for a long time despite efforts to clean it up. Nooski points to the more than 22-year-old Exxon Valdez tanker spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where research has shown that oil remains in the environment.
Nooski said that community meetings early on showed this as a concern. “The impacts on the aquatic life and salmon was just too great for our people to even consider something of this nature,” said Nooski. “If there is an interruption in our fishing, a lot of people would be without food. I know it sounds strange today because you have the Safeways and what have you. Personally, I still rely on my catch. I still rely on the fish that is caught in the summer and fall,” he said.
He said the first nation is already involved in the forest sector through its logging business. Nadleh Whut’en also recently became involved in Thompson Creek Metals’ nearby Endako molybdenum mine and operates a 350-person camp for the $375-million Endako mine expansion and modernization project.
2. Pipelines will fuel plenty of talk
Final call on proposal expected at end of 2013, following multitude of hearings and reviews
Part two
Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline project began life nearly a decade ago as a market study on how to open up Alberta’s oilsands resources to ocean trade with Asia. And now, public hearings on the $5.5-billion dual-pipeline proposal are set to begin Jan. 10.
The company and the federal government are pushing for approval, characterizing the project as a national imperative worth $270 billion to the Canadian economy over its lifetime. In the eyes of many environmentalists and first nations communities, however, the project represents the risk of a major oil spill – either from pipeline rupture or a tanker accident off British Columbia’s pristine north coast.
Aboriginal concerns are a key issue in the project’s progression, with 130 first nations vowing to block the development, including a large number whose land claims cover a huge swath of the pipeline route.
Chief Dolly Abraham from Tatla Lake First Nations holds a declaration as she and supporters march along Burrard Street en route to the Enbridge offices. One hundred and thirty first nations have vowed to block the Northern Gateway project.Chief Dolly Abraham from Tatla Lake First Nations holds a declaration as she and supporters march along Burrard Street en route to the Enbridge offices. One hundred and thirty first nations have vowed to block the Northern Gateway project.
“[Enbridge’s] objective is to outline the credibility of the application,” company spokesman Paul Stanway said in an interview. “We have detailed engineering and environmental studies to prove [the pipeline] can be operated safely, and we’re confident at this point we can make a very good argument,” for its regulatory approval, Stanway said.
Bitumen from the oilsands near Fort McMurray is now shipped through a network of pipelines to Bruderheim, Alta. Enbridge’s Northern Gateway bid is to build two pipelines from Bruderheim, 60 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, along a 1,172-kilometre route to Kitimat on the B.C. coast. One would be a 36-inch pipe, which would deliver to Kitimat for export up to 525,000 barrels per day of mostly diluted bitumen – the raw product extracted from oilsands – or synthetic crude oil – the product produced after the first stage of refining bitumen. The other would be a 20-inch pipe that would carry up to 193,000 barrels a day of imported condensates – a kerosene-like fluid used to dilute bitumen so it flows more easily – back in the opposite direction.
The pipeline’s route travels through Alberta, over the Rocky Mountains just east of Tumbler Ridge, then takes a path across B.C.’s northern interior through Fort St. James, Burns Lake and Houston before piercing the Coast Mountains with two six-kilometrelong tunnels before reaching the Kitimat terminus. The condensate and bitumen will be imported and exported by giant tankers, between 190 and 250 per year, which will dock at Kitimat.
And while Enbridge initially had difficulty securing firm commitments from potential users of the pipeline, the company has enlisted a roster of 10 supporters, each of which has put up $10 million to back its development during the regulatory process. So far, the only named supporter is state-owned Sinopec, China’s second largest oil producer and refiner. Enbridge has not identified the others, though in August announced it had reached commercial agreements with shippers that want to use the pipeline.
Stanway said Enbridge has also committed $100 million to developing the project’s design and carrying it through the regulatory process, the price of which could rise to $300 million before it is over.
The job of weighing the project’s benefits and risks is about to hit the public phase. The National Energy Board – which has been charged with conducting a joint review of the project under NEB regulations and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act – is holding community hearings in the Haisla First Nation of Kitamaat Village on Jan. 10, near the project’s proposed terminus on the Douglas Channel on British Columbia’s north coast. Under NEB rules, the review will determine Canada’s need for the project and decide whether it is in the national interest, while the CEAA review will assess environmental safety.
The three-member joint review panel that will conduct the assessment will be chaired by Sheila Legget, a biologist and the NEB’s vice-chairwoman. The other two are energy lawyer and NEB member Kenneth Bateman, and geologist Hans Matthews, who is also experienced in aboriginal community development and consultation. Matthews is a member of the Wahnapitae First Nation of Ontario.
Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver, in an emailed statement to The Sun, has said the federal government is “committed to a thorough environmental assessment and consultation with aboriginal groups,” about the project. However, in recent months Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made it clear the federal government considers it a priority to break Canada’s dependence on the United States market for oil exports, something Oliver repeated in his statement. The project has the potential to generate “hundreds of thousands of new jobs, trillions [of dollars] in economic benefits,” as well as billions of dollars in taxes and royalties to support government services, Oliver said.
The NEB anticipates the public process will run through 2012 and end in June 2013 while it considers oral submissions from 53 of the 216 registered interveners to the project and more than 4,000 public comments. CEAA spokeswoman Annie Roy said most of the interveners giving evidence are first nations communities, and the initial community hearings give their members a chance to present evidence that doesn’t lend itself to written submissions, such as traditional stories spoken by elders. Interveners range from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to environmental organizations such as ForestEthics and aboriginal communities to individual citizens.
After Kitamaat Village, the first round of community hearings picks up in Terrace then moves to Smithers, Burns Lake, Prince George, Edmonton, Fort St. James, Bella Bella, Prince Rupert, Masset and Queen Charlotte City on Haida Gwaii, Grand Prairie and Courtenay. Dates for hearings in Hartley Bay, the Gitga’at First Nation community at the mouth of the Douglas Channel, Bella Coola, Kitkatla and Klemtu have yet to be finalized, but the NEB expects to complete the hearings by mid-March.
Then, Roy said, there will be another round of community meetings expected to last until mid-July, allowing some of the 4,000 members of the public who have registered to make public statements to the panel.
Enbridge’s Stanway said the company won’t play a role in those initial rounds, “except to listen, and we’ll be there listening to what people have to say.” Interveners will have a chance to cross-examine Enbridge representatives or others who have presented evidence, in formal hearings scheduled for September and October. “We’ll be required to provide panels of technical people who can be crossexamined under oath,” Stanway said. “So it is extremely rigorous.”
Stanway said Enbridge has already responded to almost 4,000 written questions through two rounds of written requests. He said the company fully supports the process. “We want to deal with it in a very respectful way,” he added. “The bulk of interveners in this first round will be first nations and Metis organizations. That’s something we take very seriously and want to listen to what they have to say.”
Haisla First Nation Chief Councillor Ellis Ross said his group’s evidence will focus on demonstrating how their people still use the land and harvest wildlife resources, and how the consequences of an oil spill would interfere with that. “We have had enough of environmental degradation at the expense of the Haisla,” Ross said, referring to the effects from industrial development on the Kitimat River Valley, including the original Alcan aluminum smelter, a now-closed pulp and paper mill and defunct methanol production plant.
From the Haislas’ perspective, there is enough future development, in the form of natural gas pipelines and natural gas liquefaction plants, destined for the West Coast that they don’t need to risk an oil spill which would be difficult to clean up. “I don’t think they can justify the infringement to our rights and title, based on what I’ve read through the [joint review panel],” Ross said.
Infringement of aboriginal title is a cornerstone of the opposition voiced by more than 130 first nations communities.
Environmentalists are somewhat skeptical of the NEB process, according to Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner for the group ForestEthics. “The process is biased toward approving this project,” Skuce said in an interview. Skuce said that assumption is based on the NEB’s past record with similar reviews and the makeup of the three-member panel, which has no representation from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and no members from B.C.
“However, I do think that it offers a process that allows for community participation and for people to vocalize alternative points of view,” she added.
ForestEthics will be out to prove Northern Gateway “is not in the national interest” by highlighting the effect oil exports could have on climate change, and by arguing that Canada’s existing pipeline network has enough capacity to handle planned expansions in oilsands production without any new routes.
Skuce said ForestEthics has spent decades working to preserve the central coast region known as the Great Bear Rainforest, the area where Northern Gateway’s shipping routes would carry tankers, and she doesn’t want to entertain any possibility of an oil spill. “This is an incredible area that is not worth the risk, no matter what it is,” she said.
Stanway said it is wrong for project opponents to talk about the inevitability of a major pipeline rupture or tanker spill. “Those things are not inevitable,” Stanway insisted, “and we need to explain why that’s the case and the safety measures that we have in place.”
In 2010 an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan, spilling 23,000 barrels of oil into the Kalamazoo River, but Stanway said the company “[takes] lessons from that situation and [will] use that information to ensure nothing similar to it can happen again.” The U.S. Transportation Safety Board has not yet released the results of its investigation into the cause.
Stanway added that the proposal has a strong economic case to make, starting with an estimated $2.4-billion-per-year increase in revenue to Canada’s oil industry through higher prices producers would be able to generate from selling into wider markets. “The real driving force behind Northern Gateway is the strategic argument for Canada having access to world markets for its most valuable export product,” Stanway said.
In its application, Enbridge noted that existing production from Alberta’s oilsands totalled about 1.3 million barrels per day of oil, with an additional 2.1 million barrels per day of production in some form of development or planning. The company estimates Northern Gateway would create about 3,000 jobs at the peak of its construction, then support 1,150 jobs – including 560 in B.C. – over an anticipated 30-year period after completion. Enbridge is also forecasting an $81-billion boost over 30 years to provincial and federal coffers through resource royalties and taxes.
Canada does ship a small amount of oil off B.C.’s coast through Vancouver via Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline, noted David Collyer, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), so “it’s not a brand new idea.” CAPP is an official intervener to the Northern Gateway regulatory process, but Collyer said the organization, which represents Canada’s oil producers, is only doing so to speak generally in support of expanding West Coast exports. “The importance, or significance of West Coast market access is going to continue to grow,” Collyer added.
The National Energy Board panel has a long way to go before completing its assessment of all the evidence and arguments. On the schedule as it exists now, the joint review panel will not hear the final arguments from Enbridge, government departments and interveners until April 2013, and it doesn’t anticipate releasing its environmental assessment report until that fall, with a final decision due by the end of the year.
3. Environmental groups line up star power against Northern Gateway pipeline
Fourth in a series: Opponents run gamut from well-funded U.S. advocates to small-budget local operations
Fresh off its win helping delay the Keystone XL oil pipeline in the United States, the Natural Resources Defense Council is directing its star-studded cast against the $5.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline. The U.S.-based environmental group, which raised $94 million in 2010, will bring its expertise and 1.3 million members to an already-formidable array of largely B.C.-based environmental groups actively campaigning to stop the controversial project. It will also bring a new element — celebrity power.
The defence council counts among its directors actors Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio. Its senior lawyer is Robert Kennedy Jr. Redford has already written publicly about his concerns regarding the Northern Gateway pipeline. And when the defence council wanted to educate its members about the Northern Gateway project, actor Kevin Bacon narrated a short video about it.
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) international program director Susan Casey-Lefkowitz said the group has entered the Northern Gateway campaign because delaying the Keystone XL project means there will be even more pressure on the Northern Gateway pipeline to proceed. U.S. President Barack Obama postponed a decision on the $7-billion Keystone XL pipeline until 2013, pending further environmental review. The Republicans have tried to force an earlier decision, but Obama has said there is not enough time for a review, which could cancel the project.
Environmental opponents wanted the 2,700-kilometre Keystone XL pipeline halted because it would deliver so-called “dirty oil” from the Alberta oilsands to the U.S., and also over concerns a spill would harm a major water aquifer in Nebraska. Casey-Lefkowitz said the Northern Gateway pipeline and tankers threaten a beautiful landscape, the spirit bear (rare white black bear) and the greatest fishing rivers in the world.
The 1,172-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline is meant to open up new markets for Alberta oilsands’ bitumen in Asia. A second, smaller pipeline would transport condensate — a kerosene-like liquid used to thin bitumen for transport in pipelines — from the coast back to the Alberta oilsands. “These are all things of global interest,” said Casey-Lefkowitz, who is based in Washington, D.C. “We are bringing an international community that cares very much about the B.C. coast.”
The NRDC is no stranger to environmental battles in B.C., having pushed to protect areas along the central and north coast now known as the Great Bear Rain Forest. In November, the NRDC partnered with the Calgary-based Pembina Institute and B.C.-based Living Oceans Society to release a report that argues bitumen from the oilsands is more corrosive and heavier than conventional oil, making a pipeline failure or tanker leak more likely. Calgary-based Enbridge has said it will build and operate the Northern Gateway pipeline to the highest safety standards.
The NRDC’s members have also sent 60,000 emails opposing the project to B.C. Premier Christy Clark, and another 40,000 to Enbridge president and CEO Patrick Daniel. The mostly B.C.-based environmental groups have already been fighting the proposed Enbridge pipeline for years. There are about a dozen such groups, including the Dogwood Initiative, ForestEthics (with offices in B.C. and the U.S.), West Coast Environmental Law, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust and the T. Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation. All have similar concerns: the risk and the potential catastrophic effects of a pipeline or tanker spill on the environment and communities; and the expansion of the Alberta oilsands and increases in greenhouse gas emissions.
The Victoria-based Dogwood Initiative has an active campaign to halt the project. Recently it ran a campaign that helped sign up 1,600 people to testify at the National Energy Board’s regulatory hearings that begin Jan. 10 in Kitimat. Although the Dogwood group says the decision on Northern Gateway should be made by British Columbians, it has no problem with the addition of the American-based NRDC to the campaign. “The more attention that can be placed on this issue, the better,” said Dogwood Initiative official Eric Swanson, who heads the group’s no-tanker campaign. “We all share the planet, and we share the Pacific coast with many others,” he added.
In Alberta, the environmental opposition against the pipeline does not have as many voices as it does in British Columbia. And groups like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the Pembina Institute have focused their opposition on the oilsands. The Pembina Institute, which advocates transitioning away from a fossil-fuel economy, has called for a halt in developing Northern Gateway until the upstream effects of the oilsands are addressed.
While Pembina is concerned about the risks of the Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker spills, its main concerns are over oilsands tailings seepage, industrial air emissions, greenhouse gas emissions and reclamation of wetlands. “Our perspective is that oilsands development could proceed responsibly if it was being developed in accordance with science-based environmental limits,” said Jennifer Grant, director of Pembina’s oilsands program. “[But] limits on oilsands development are not being addressed,” she said.
The fight against the Northern Gateway project is also being carried out by a coterie of recently created, locally based groups in northern B.C. Those include the Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance in Prince George, the Douglas Channel Watch in Kitimat, Lakes District Clean Waters Coalition in Burns Lake and the Fort St. James Sustainability Group.
Some of the homegrown groups, which operate on shoestring budgets, are using social media to get their message out. The Sea to Sands Conservation Alliance has more than 900 members on its Facebook site. The Douglas Channel Watch has more than 550 fans.
Margaret Stenson, a representative of the Douglas Channel Watch, said the group started after like-minded friends starting talking to each other. Now, about a dozen to 20 people attend its meetings, which have increased in frequency to once or twice a week in preparation for the regulatory hearings. “I think we have a lot of support, but there are a lot of people who haven’t found out that much about [the Northern Gateway project],” Stenson said. “You think they would. Our Douglas Channel is so important to us. And the Kitimat River is our drinking water, and this pipeline goes about 70 kilometres, I believe, along the river.”
4. Keystone inspector alleges shoddy work on original pipeline
By Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press
A former inspector for a company that did work on TransCanada Corp.’s original Keystone pipeline is accusing the Calgary-based company of a cavalier disregard for the environment. Mike Klink was an engineer for construction company Bechtel Corp., a contractor that worked on the first portion of the Keystone pipeline that carries Alberta oil sands crude to refineries in the U.S. Midwest. It was completed in 2010; the controversial Keystone XL would extend that pipeline to Gulf Coast refineries.
In an opinion piece published over the weekend in Nebraska’s Lincoln Journal Star, the 59-year-old Mr. Klink says he raised a series of concerns about alleged substandard materials and poor craftsmanship along the Keystone pipeline. The Indiana man says he was fired by Bechtel as a result, and filed a complaint about his dismissal with the U.S. Department of Labour in March 2010. In his formal complaint, also sent to the U.S. Office of Whistleblower Protection Program, Mr. Klink says the company began treating him as a “problem inspector” culminating in one supervisor angrily ordering him to quit before he got fired. “Let’s be clear — I am an engineer; I am not telling you we shouldn’t build pipelines,” he wrote in the Nebraska newspaper. “We just should not build this one.”

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