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PROTESTING THE PIPELINE

Thousands Rally Against Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline

Jeevan

Recently, thousands of protestors gathered in Burnaby, British Columbia to oppose the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Overseen by the Canadian division of Texas-based oil giant Kinder Morgan, the $7.4-billion project will expand the current 1,150-kilometre pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby. The new extension is set to increase the capacity of oil flowing from Alberta to British Columbia from 300,000 barrels per day to almost 900,000. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued that the pipeline was in Canada’s best interest and approved its extension in 2016, the project has garnered opposition from Indigenous peoples, environmental groups, and municipalities throughout British Columbia.

Opponents of the expansion project claim that increasing the flow of oil would swell the risk of oil spills and pollution in Burnaby and the surrounding areas. While Kinder Morgan recently affirmed its commitment to environmental protection and comprehensive spill response measures, the anti-pipeline demonstrators remained steadfast in their beliefs. In a demonstration led by elders of the Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam, and Squamish First Nations, protestors marched towards an Indigenous “watch house” near Burnaby Mountain. Referred to as “Kwekwecnewtxw,” the cedar structure was traditionally built by Coast Salish First Nations to watch for enemies.

For Reuben George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, the environmental threat posed by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion constitutes such an enemy. According to George, protestors will occupy the watch house to observe the activities taking place on the Kinder Morgan worksite. The Tsleil-Waututh First Nation is one of several Indigenous groups that have taken legal action against the oil company. The lawsuit alleges that federal approval of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is unconstitutional because the consultation with First Nations was insufficient.

Many protestors have spent the last several weeks beating drums, carrying picket signs, and speaking out against expansion of the pipeline. “Water is life,” “No consent, no pipeline,” and “Keep it in the ground” were chanted by the thousands in attendance at the Burnaby rally. For Robert Nahanee, an elder of the Squamish First Nation, however, opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline struck a more personal tone. “My family were food gatherers. We gathered clams, crabs, oysters, fish – everything. That’s how I grew up. Now we can’t even do that,” Nahanee said. “We need to stand up and hear our voices. My voice is: O, Canada, you’re on native land.” While many of the demonstrations have been peaceful and law-abiding, local police have reported making dozens of arrests.

Rex Weyler, a co-founder of Greenpeace International, was detained along with forty-two others after attaching themselves with zip ties to a chain-link fence near the Kinder Morgan worksite. He told reporters that he hoped to impede the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline in order to protect communities and wildlife around British Columbia’s Salish Sea from potential oil spills. According to Weyler, “A tanker spill in this body of water is going to impact all our communities, all our economies, our fishing economy, our tourism economy. It’s my goal to stop this ridiculous project.” While media outlets have focused predominantly on the ant-pipeline activists in Burnaby, several hundred pro-pipeline demonstrators converged in downtown Vancouver recently to voice their support for the expansion project.

According to Stewart Muir, Executive Director of Resource Works Society and an attendee at the pro-pipeline rally, the decision to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline does not have to pit Canada’s environment against its economy. “Canada can have both,” Muir said. “We can have the environment protected and respected and we can have the economic benefits that will allow Canada to be in the future what it has been in the past.” For others, like service rig operator, Bernard Hancock, Canadians need well-paying jobs like the ones Kinder Morgan is offering in order to support their families and save for retirement. “The oil patch provides good paying work,” said Hancock. “It’s the only thing that’s ever paid me.”

Jonathan Wilkinson, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, issued a statement recently in which he offered his support for the expansion project. “The fact is the Kinder Morgan pipeline already exists – it has been delivering oil to the port of Vancouver safely for over sixty years, and carrying diluted bitumen for three decades,” Wilkinson said. “This project would simply add capacity to the existing pipeline, and we’ve set one hundred and fifty-seven binding conditions to ensure it can be constructed and operated safely.” He claims that the federal government is adequately protecting the coast of British Columbia with its Ocean Protection Plan, a $1.5-billion plan that promotes marine safety and responsible shipping and has consulted over one hundred Indigenous groups who may potentially be affected by the project.

The debate over the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline has reached interprovincial proportions with Alberta and British Columbia locked in a bitter dispute. Last month, British Columbia Premier John Horgan proposed new spill restrictions on oil that would flow through the expanded pipeline. Retaliation was swift with Alberta Premier Rachel Notley threatening legal action and economic sanctions against the province of British Columbia for putting up another roadblock in the expansion of the pipeline. At the federal level, however, the matter seems to already have been put to rest. Jim Carr, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, recently affirmed Parliament’s commitment to seeing the Trans Mountain pipeline expanded, despite the interprovincial conflict over whether the project should proceed.

In addressing the Burnaby protests and the interprovincial fracas between Alberta and British Columbia, Kinder Morgan publicly stated that it plans to move forward with the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. However, numerous permits and federal condition approvals still need to be obtained before construction can begin. In the haze of political posturing, legal disputes, and fervent protests, it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty when or how the issues surrounding the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline will be resolved. If one thing is for certain, however, it is that these issues will not soon be forgotten.