Even for folks who follow these issues closely, it’s hard to keep track of all the nightmarishly ill-conceived energy mega-projects that cartoonishly diabolical corporations are proposing or constructing in Canada right now. And to be fair, when you’ve read one apocalyptically gloomy worst-case if-it-breaks-we’re-all-fucked scenario, you’ve read them all.
But the devil is (usually) in the details, and that’s quite true in this case. Oil and natural gas companies are multi-billion-dollar enterprises, and they’re not exactly well known for their compassion or naivety. It should be no surprise that they have detailed and nuanced plans to get their politically toxic pipeline projects built, whatever the costs may be.
It also shouldn’t have been surprising to me that the pipeline that’s closest to being built is one that I personally hadn’t heard of up until a few days ago, but I was surprised nonetheless.
I mean, most activisty types have heard of Line 9, or Northern Gateway, and Keystone XL made quite a name for itself as well. But if you’ve heard of the Pacific Trail Pipeline, well, congratulations, I guess. You either live in Kitimat or you’re contending for your town’s Activist of the Year award. For the less-well-informed, here’s a backgrounder from Vice:
With preliminary clearing underway, Chevron’s Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) is the furthest along of more than a dozen hydraulically fractured (fracked) gas and diluted bitumen (dilbit) pipelines proposed to push through BC’s north. Collectively, the pipelines intend to weave over and bore through mountains, cross thousands of waterways, and carve through rainforests en route to the coast.
The majority of these pipelines are proposed to service a new liquefied natural gas (LNG) export industry that BC’s premiere Christy Clark, who has populated her cabinet with former Enbridge lobbyists, has promoted at great expense.
If built, LNG projects would necessitate the construction of tens of thousands of new fracking wells, up to 11 new gas pipelines, a contentious hydroelectric dam called Site C, and up to 18 coastal gas liquefaction and export facilities.
Just part of this infrastructure could more than double BC’s carbon emissions, disrupt vital salmon-spawning estuaries, jam the coast with thousands of super-tankers, generate emissions worse than coal, flood vital agricultural lands, and permanently remove hundreds of billions of litres of freshwater from the hydrological cycle…
Although tar sands infrastructure—like Northern Gateway—has attracted far more attention and public vitriol than any LNG project, a recently leaked document shows that the furthest developed piece of ‘LNG’ infrastructure, Chevron’s Pacific Trails Pipeline, could be used to export diluted bitumen from the tar sands instead of gas.
Yeah that’s right – it’s a stealth tar sands pipeline. In a letter from Chevron’s VP that was leaked to the press, the company touted its plan to sell the pipeline within five years of it going operational to any company interested in shipping diluted bitumen out to Kitimat, BC, which – and I can’t believe people need to keep repeating this – would involve up to 900 supertankers a year passing through one of the world’s most dangerous and tumultuous bodies of water, which is also home to a diversity of animal life, including humpback whales and spirit bears. Just for some context, supertankers are too big to pass through the Panama Canal, and they’re being expected to navigate rocky, stormy, narrow channels literally eighteen hundred times a year (once in, once out) without any incident. Also see this detailed takedown by an experienced mariner on just how infeasible and dangerous the whole scheme is.
There are also legal complications for the project. Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously found that First Nations must give their approval to any resource extraction projects on their territories. And as it turns out, the PTP passes directly through unceded indigenous territory – and the folks living there aren’t too happy about Chevron’s plans:
“This pipeline will not be built” has become a common adage for indigenous nations and coalitions like the Yinke-Dene alliance or the Coastal First Nations, who have banned oil pipelines and tankers from their territories under laws that are much older than Canada. Nowhere is this promise more strongly articulated than at the Unist’ot’en encampment, in the mountains of interior BC, where I type this in a cabin that was built specifically to blockade the Northern Gateway pipeline corridor.
The cabin is home to Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en camp’s leader, and her husband Toghestiy—a hereditary chief of a neighboring clan. With rumours of an impending court injunction against the camp, a trespass order, or an RCMP raid, the couple barely blink when reached with news of Enbridge’s approval. There can be no two ways about it. “We’re not going anywhere,” Toghestiy says.
“This is not just the blockade, it’s our home… they can’t put a court injunction on our home,” said Freda…
Nearby, the only bridge into this territory is blockaded, open only to those who gain consent from the camp. To build the Northern Gateway, Enbridge must cross this bridge—though they are banned from doing so under Witsuwit’en law. A veritable border crossing, the bridge is an entry point into an unsurrendered nation. It is a point where free, prior, and informed consent—a right enshrined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—is ardently enforced.
It just so happens that the right of way for Chevron’s PTP project also runs through Unist’ot’en territory – and recently, both Chevron and the RCMP have been making an effort to move forward with the project, ignoring the continued objections of the blockaders.
Late last month, the Unist’ot’en camp drew attention to Chevron’s new office in Houston, B.C., and the issuing of permits by the BC Oil and Gas Commission to Chevron to begin work on the pipeline project. After cutting through some of the legal bullshit language surrounding this decision, the Unist’ot’en closed with some soaring rhetoric:
We will not be swayed from protecting our lands from these invaders and Con Artists. All people who side with Oil and Gas development are involving themselves in an act which directly attacks the safety and health of the rest of the human population. The responsibility of stopping these pipelines lies in the hands of everyone who sees a healthy life for relatives far beyond our own time on this earth. If we do not embrace that responsibility we do not deserve the privilege of sharing the space in what is left of this already ailing planet.
Sadly, their suspicions were confirmed, as over the last several weeks they’ve been increasingly harassed by the RCMP, working on behalf of Chevron. Last week they issued a call-out for support, either physical, financial, or symbolic, which I’ve reprinted here in its entirety:
Dear Friends and Supporters,
It is becoming clear that the situation here is moving toward an escalation point. Chevron has set up a base in Houston in order to do work on the secton of Pacific Trails Pipeline that crosses our traditional territory.
In recent days a low-flying helicopter has flown over the camp several times following a route that corresponds to the path of the proposed PTP pipeline. We were also visited by the head of the RCMP detachment who clearly stated to Freda that they intend to “ensure the work crews can do their work safely.”
Our supporters maintaining an Unist’ot’en check point on Chisolm Rd were also visited and threatened by the police. In both cases, the officers asserted that we could be arrested for blocking a “public road”.
It is clear by the timing of these recent police actions that they are working in tandem with the pipeline companies.
We have made it clear to the police and industry that we are not blockading the road. We are establishing check-points on the boundaries of our unceded Unist’ot’en territories. People and companies who gain our consent are allowed to enter.
Many of you have visited our yintah (territory) and have experienced first-hand our critical infrastructure of water, salmon, berries and medicines. We are determined to protect this land for future generations, and in the process do our bit to shut down the toxic fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens all forms of living life on this planet.
At this time we would like to ask our supporters for the following things:
1) If you have been to our camp before and/or if you feel comfortable to put your self on the front-line to stand with us against Chevron, you can register here:
2) If you are unable to assist in person but would like to send financial support to help us with equipment and operational costs, donations can be sent by email transfer to fhuson(at)gmail.com (please send seperate email with security answer)
Or if you would like to donate online you could contribute to the Healing Centre fundraiser: https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/axsMd/ab/24dGu0
Cheques can be made out to “Tse Wedi Elth”, 620 CN Station Rd, Smithers, BC, V0J 2N1.
3) You could organize solidarity actions where you live, either against Chevron directly or one of their investors.
Sne Kal Yah!
The importance of the work being done at this encampment can’t be understated.
I’ve talked in the past about the limits of traditional mass-mobilization rally-style protests, especially in regards to the environmental movement – and the Unist’ot’en model offers a pretty viable way forward. It’s not an original idea, but it’s a solid one – get in the way! Don’t allow the atrociously bad plan to move forward. Protect us all, and future generations, and the animals, from this greedy profit-driven madness.
With the passage of Bill C-51, such disruption of economic activity could be considered terrorism – and so could financial support for it. This sets up a monstrous clash of values, with government and industry championing profit above all other considerations, while people – and especially, on this issue, First Nations people – demanding that the health and well-being of the earth and its inhabitants be given priority could be imprisoned under anti-terrorism laws.
Many feel that such a disconnect will inevitably lead to open conflict, with some chiefs stating that an Oka-style showdown over pipelines is a clear possibility.
The stakes here are incredibly high. These pipeline mega-projects are an unimaginable disaster waiting to happen, and one of the greatest services that we in this country can do for the world right now is do everything we can to stop them from ever being built.
If there is anything that you can do to support the Unist’ot’en Camp, please please please consider doing so!