Thousands turned out Saturday in Vancouver, B.C., for a march and demonstration against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby.
BURNABY, British Columbia — Thousands of opponents of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil-pipeline expansion filled the streets of metro Vancouver on Saturday in the biggest pushback yet against the $7.3 billion project.
Planned along the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to Burnaby, the expansion already approved by the federal government of Canada is intended to nearly triple the volume of diluted bitumen oil flowing from Alberta to Burnaby in British Columbia to slake overseas markets’ thirst for oil. But the project has hit a buzz saw of opposition from First Nations and tribes on both sides of the border, the province of British Columbia and municipalities from Burnaby to Vancouver to Victoria.
Rooted in concern over climate change, oil spills, species extinction and indigenous rights, the battle lines are drawn — just as they were at Standing Rock in North Dakota, where thousands of Native peoples and their allies sought to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline.
What to watch for next
Court cases challenging the pipeline expansion, including an appeal of the National Energy Board’s approval, pending in Canadian federal court, and a lawsuit brought by the Province of British Columbia to stop the project.
First Nations challenges asserting they were not adequately consulted before project approval.
Political opposition by the Province of British Columbia, municipalities of Vancouver, Burnaby, and Victoria, and civil-disobedience movement to block the pipeline launched by First Nations members and their allies.
“I will lay down my life to stop this,” Cedar George-Parker of the Tulalip and Tsleil-Waututh nations said of Trans Mountain pipeline, as demonstrators massed at a rally at the end of the march.
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Not just a one-day march but an ongoing movement, the Protect the Inlet campaign that launched Saturday is intended to keep pressure on the expansion project until it is stopped, by delay, disruption and ongoing civil disobedience.
The march terminated near a clearing in a cedar grove in the shadow of Kinder Morgan’s tank farm, where opponents erected a cedar structure, Place to Watch From. Opponents vowed to occupy and utilize the house as a ceremonial encampment to stop the pipeline.
Kinder Morgan said the structure is in its right-of-way and that it would request the city of Burnaby to issue a stop-work order. The company supports the right to peaceful protest but also is certain the project can be built safely and in accordance with the values of all Canadians, said spokeswoman Ali Hounsell.
Indigenous women from Canada’s interior have launched The Tiny House Warrior movement and are building structures in the path of the pipeline. The wave of civil disobedience follows a turnover of the government of the Province of British Columbia, which has filed a lawsuit to overturn permits from the previous government.
Another 15 lawsuits have been filed, including by First Nations who assert they were never adequately consulted and that the project crosses unceded territory without their consent.
“There are three ways this could be stopped: political, the courts, or through some kind of direct action, and all three are coming to a head right now,” said Kennedy Stewart, member of Parliament for Burnaby South, the neighborhood where the protests were held, as he marched arm in arm with First Nations leaders Saturday. “The company says it’s a done deal. It is far from that.”
The pipeline would run for more than 700 miles — alongside a line that has been in service since 1954 — and would move 890,000 barrels a day from Alberta tar-sands deposits to the coast.
More oil means more oil-tanker traffic, increasing from about five tankers per month to about 34 using the shipping route from Vancouver Harbor to Victoria, B.C., to enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca then turn toward the open Pacific.
Kinder Morgan says the expansion can be run safely and will provide economic benefits, including jobs.
The strategy of delay
If the opposition movement in British Columbia and Washington state has a totem animal, it is the critically-endangered southern resident killer whale that travels the waters even more tankers will use if the pipeline is built.
Demonstrators marched through Burnaby carrying giant inflatable orca whales, salmon-shaped wood cutouts on sticks waved high over their heads in schools of opposition, and they hoisted multiple pods’ worth of orca fins, moving them through the river of people coursing through the streets.
Will George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and spokesman for Protect the Inlet, said opponents intend to stop the project by every means possible. “Our plan is to delay them, delay them and delay them, until their investors back out,” George said.
The crowd was estimated at about 5,000 people, said Cpl. Daniela Panesar, media officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Burnaby. There were no incidents or arrests.
Unlike in the U.S., many First Nations in British Columbia that oppose the project did not sign treaties ceding their lands, and a series of Canadian court decisions has increasingly found in favor of tribes asserting their right to free and informed consent to projects that affect them.
As volunteers sawed and hammered to erect the 18-by-21-foot cedar structure Saturday morning, George said he was called by his elders to occupy the Watch House. And he has no intention of leaving until the pipeline is stopped. He invited supporters to join him, saying this is everyone’s fight, across the border in Washington, too.
“It is the same body of water,” he said of the Salish Sea. “You eat the same salmon. You harvest the same food as us, and it is just as important as it is to us. The same landscape. I encourage everybody to come up here.”
Jay Julius, chairman of the Lummi Nation, said his tribe is backing the resistance. “Environmental degradation knows no boundaries,” Julius said. “When an oil spill takes place — and it is when, not if — it is going to affect Lummi Nation, it is going to affect the Salish Sea. We only have one Earth, one Salish Sea.”
Lummi and the Suquamish, Tulalip and Swinomish tribes all were formal intervenors in the case before the National Energy Board, arguing the project endangered their lands and waters and treaty-protected fishing rights. The board approved the project in May 2016, with 157 conditions.
From stoking climate change with more fossil-fuel production, to threatening the lives of animals the tribe regards as relatives, the tar-sands oil-pipeline project is a mortal threat, said Fred Lane, a member of the Lummi Indian Business Council.
“This is our home,” Lane said of the shared waters of the Salish Sea. “We speak not just for human beings, but for the four-legged ones, the winged creatures, for the salmon.”
In downtown Vancouver, B.C., supporters of the project turned out to rally for the jobs and economic boost they want the project to provide.
“We need leadership from government to ensure not only that the pipeline gets built, but that democracy and the rule of law are respected,” said oil-field worker Bernard Hancock. “Our jobs and perhaps even our (Canadian) confederation depend on it.”
In approving the expansion in 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the project was in the national interest to provide market access for Canadian crude to export markets that shippers hope will bring higher prices than in the U.S., which is awash in its own oil supplies.
The primary purpose of the project is to add transportation capacity for crude oil from Alberta to markets in the Pacific Rim including B.C., Washington state, California and Asia, said Hounsell, the Kinder Morgan spokeswoman. “We basically are leaving money on the table every time we send a barrel to the U.S. rather than international markets,” Hounsell said. “What the pipeline does is help all Canadians get the maximum benefits from our resources, as we are no longer tied to just one customer, the U.S.”
The company has begun some work at Burnaby, but lawsuits have prevented full-tilt construction.
“We want a clear line of sight before we can start into full-swing construction,” Hounsell said.
The Washington Department of Ecology has put Canada on alert as to Washington’s concern that it meet or exceed the state’s own oil-spill prevention standards and response capacity, said Dale Jensen, Ecology spills-prevention program manager. Canada’s readiness isn’t quite there yet.
“We are seeing encouraging progress,” Jensen said. “But you never know until it really happens.”
As part of its approval for the expansion, Kinder Morgan is committed to $150 million in enhancements to Western Canada’s spill-response capacity for the coast, Hounsell said. This includes future additional tug escorts for laden tankers leaving its terminal and keeping escort pilots along for longer parts of the journey.
For all its green identity and aspirations, Washington is a major customer of Canadian bitumen oil, already taking anywhere from 40 percent to more than 50 percent of the oil coming through Trans Mountain’s existing pipeline to four Washington refineries making jet fuel, gasoline, diesel and other products. The nation’s fifth-biggest refinery state, Washington has managed to move some 20 billion gallons of oil around every year arriving by rail, tanker, barge and ship, yet maintains one of the lowest spill volumes in the country, Jensen said.
If the pipeline expansion is built, some 350 more tankers a year will cruise the Salish Sea. That, Jensen said, increases the risk.