Campaign Blog

Emotion mounts over feds’ scramble for pipeline support in BC

Posted Sep 15

By: Jenny Euchi & Linda Solomon, Vancouver Observer

"Frankly, it's a national shame," Tom Rivest, a biologist and co-owner of Great Bear Nature Tours in Port Hardy, said.

Rivest echoed what many told the Vancouver Observer on Friday as reporters talked with a wide range of people about a recent announcement that a "parade" of federal ministers are coming to BC next week to try and win support for  pipeline projects from First Nations and other opponents.

For reasons reasons from environmental risk to economics, people throughout BC said Harper's latest pipeline push was going too far.

Unnatural approach to 'Super, Natural' BC

People like Rivest, who benefit from BC's $13-billion tourism industry, strongly oppose the idea of the province becoming for a conduit for Alberta's oil for the Asian market. As one of the last great wilderness areas left in the world, British Columbia has far greater value in its natural state than becoming a crude oil tanker port, they said.

"The relatively undeveloped coastline of BC is a national treasure and should be protected for future generations," Rivest said.

"Why should Alberta or Ottawa reap the benefits of the tar sands while we on the BC coast take the bulk of the risk?"

"BC is marketed worldwide as being 'Super, Natural'...relatively few operations in BC would be left untouched by an oil spill in the province, whether along the pipeline route or from a tanker on the coast," Wilderness Tourism Association of BC executive director Evan Loveless said.

"All of BC's tourism would suffer from the tarnishing of our 'Super, Natural'  brand."

Like a Trojan horse

First Nations -- whose are a key focus of the cabinet ministers' meetings this month -- expressed strong skepticism toward the project. The government's recent outreach efforts are believed to be an effort to patch up pipeline negotiations with BC's First Nations, which a new federal commissioned report described as being a 'mess'.  But having been denied previous meetings with the federal government, and  having had their rights threatened by the controversial Bill C-45, some Aboriginals remain wary.

“This government has done everything it can to stifle dissent,” said Caleb Behn, a Dene attorney, noting that many First Nations were going to perceive the meetings as a "Trojan horse."  

Gitga'at Nation Councillor Cam Hill, whose traditional territory is in the Great Bear Rainforest area, knows that if the Enbridge proposal gets approved, oil tankers will navigate the Douglas Channel, near where he lives.  Douglas Channel is one of the most dangerous channels in Canada to navigate, prone to harsh winter storms. What's more, tanker traffic would disrupt the communication patterns of whales along the channel.

“I’m very skeptical about any good faith initiative with regard to this project," Hill noted grimly.

"It's exceedingly poorly timed, especially given that the meetings follow on follow straight on the heels of Reconciliation Week," observed West Coast Environmental Law staff counsel Brenda Belak, a specialist in Aboriginal law.

She said the bureaucrats' hurried outreach effort "shows how they fail to understand the depth and breadth of First Nations opposition".

"Too little, too late"

NDP MLA Jen Rice, a former city councillor for Prince Rupert in Northern BC, felt the government was making a "last ditch" effort to save a project that had lost all support in northern BC.

"The federal government is now realizing there's four more months until the conclusion of the JRP, so there's a mad scramble to do some consultation," she said.

She said she was disturbed by the Harper government's drastic cuts to environmental regulations and changes to the National Energy Board Act to limit public participation in hearings.

"I think it's very autocratic. It's frightening, actually," she said. "It's an erosion of our democracy, and shows where Harper's interests and his allies lie, which is with the oil industry."

Fragile rights

Rice's sentiments were echoed by  David Core, president of the Canadian Association of Energy and Pipeline Landowners Association, who has been helping BC landowners along pipeline routes.

"Obviously, the government seems to be directly involved in this project before a decision is even made. This is nothing new, but I've never seen a government quite so forward about it as what's happening here (next week)," he said. 

Core works to help landowners challenge pipeline companies that enter their land, and then leave decommissioned, corroded pipelines on their territory.

He strongly recommended that BC landowners along pipeline routes study the law before signing agreements, which could criminalize them for crossing pipelines on their own territory. Core noted that they are in a much weaker position than BC's First Nations to challenge corporations when it comes to land rights.

"As for non-First Nation landowners along the pipeline, (the government) knows it can just expropriate them, and there's no questions asked," he said.

What part of 'no' don't they understand?

Environmental groups expressed frustration that the federal government was still pushing to sway British Columbians to support Northern Gateway, even though the province officially rejected the project in May.

"I think it's interesting that Harper prorogued Parliament so that they can come out west and act as salespersons for the oil industry," Wilderness Committee campaigner Eoin Madden said.

"It's alarming," he said. "[Oil lobbyists] have created a situation in which the government doesn't even feel it has to represent us anymore."

Pat Moss, Executive Director at the Northwest Institute for Bioregional Research, called the cabinet ministers' trip a "desperate last effort" that is insulting to First Nations.

"Over 160 First Nations have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, prohibiting the transport of tar sands crude through their lands and waters. What part of 'no' does the federal government not understand?" asked Caitlyn Vernon, a Sierra Club BC campaigner.

Doubts over proposed Kinder Morgan expansion

As for the Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion in southern BC, academics who have studied oil spill risks say the costs far outweigh the benefits.

UBC Fisheries Economics Research Unit director Dr. Rashid Sumaila said he wasn't against the pipelines from an ideological standpoint, but thought the risks outweighed potential gains from the project.

"The insurance issue has come up again and again, especially when you look at the Enbridge Northern Gateway. The potential losses can be over nine billion dollars, if a big spill were to happen."

In the case of a tanker or pipeline spill by Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline, he said the costs could be even higher.

"As a society, we need to take this into account. Who will pay? [In a crisis], we don't have the time or luxury to argue over who must pay."

"It ends up falling back on the taxpayers' shoulders," he said.

When a reporter asked Dr. Erica Frank, a Canadian Research Chair in public health at UBC with credentials from Harvard, Yale and Stanford, for her view on the ministerial visit, she wrote back comments addressed directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Dr. Erica Frank, Canadian Research Chair, public health

"I believe that Canada is sitting on the three most valuable resources of the coming centuries," she wrote. "One, you've identified: those last drops of oil that could become plastic or some other irreplaceable resource.

"The second, in my professional opinion the far-longer and much-larger economic gain: our water. And the third:  a healthy and safe population, by having made intelligent health care policy, public health, and safety decisions."

"Of course, all three of these resources are profoundly threatened if this carbon gets extracted, piped across Canada, and shipped to be combusted and converted to greenhouse gases."

Wrong path, wrong place

Allan Hunter is part of a group of BROKE, Burnaby residents opposing Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. The group, which contains 200 members, was formed partially in response to the Kinder Morgan pipeline in Burnaby in 2007.

Hunter fears that the path towards increased dependency on oil will end in disaster and turn the world into "an unlivable nightmare."

He believes that the Northern Gateway pipeline's prospects have all but died, and worries that the Harper contingent is really here to muscle the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion through.

"There are also thousands of Vancouver residents who walk around Stanley Park and see the tankers but don't know what they carry," he said. Stressing that even a small accident could completely "ruin" their experience of the coast, Hunter argued that the Prime Minister is going down a path of rapid energy development that wouldn't benefit Canadians in the long run.

"Instead of investing in sustainable energy and green jobs, Harper gives tax breaks to foreign multinationals," he lamented.

"This is not the future we want."

LNG and Enbridge

When Lee Brain spoke before the Joint Review Panel last year, he moved thousands with his personal story in a stirring testimony to why he opposed the Enbridge pipeline.  Brain's father is an oil executive who hoped his son would follow in his path and pursue a career in the oil industry. Brain told the panel of his experience working at an oil refinery in India and his despair at witnessing the negative impact the oil infrastructure had on the local culture.

His respect for his father apparent in every word he spoke (watch video below), Brain recounted how he walked away from the lucrative career in oil, and moved to Prince Rupert, where he continues to urge people to transition off of fossil fuel.

He worries that the broad support for liquified natural gas (LNG) in his region may inadvertently help the case for an oil pipeline through northern BC.

"Right now the debate is more and more about LNG," Brain said. In the future, he predicts, "a lot of [oil pipeline proponents] are going to be saying, 'look, you already have LNG pipelines so why don't we just piggyback Enbridge on that one? I think the strategy is to get everyone sold first on LNG, saying it's cleaner, and once the infrastructure is in place, say 'now that it's there, we'll piggyback on that.'"

But on the eve of the Harper government's push on the oil sands pipelines, Brain reaffirms that Enbridge Northern Gateway won't win support in Prince Rupert.

"[Enbridge] didn't do a good job in the initial stages at engaging anybody here, and now all of a sudden they're saying, 'trust us'?" he said, with disbelief in his voice.

"This whole region rallies against it.  No one is supporting it."

Standing on the sidewalk of Burrard Street Saturday night, David Eby,  NDP MLA from Point Grey, shook his head. From his height of six-foot-four inches or so, he looked down at a reporter and laughed at the idea of a parade of federal ministers coming next week to the province to convert opponents.

"So, now they care about BC?" he said.

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