Proliferation of pipeline shutdowns creates challenges for Enbridge – and for protestors

Avid pipeline watchers will no doubt recall the pair of high-profile direct actions against Enbridge’s Line 9 last month.

On December 7, a pumping station near Ste-Justine-de-Newton, Quebec, was occupied and the valve allowed Line 9’s diluted bitumen to pass through was closed. The badass activists conducting the action then locked themselves to the equipment, which resulted in the pipeline’s complete shutdown for an entire day.

Then, on the 21st, a trio of rad land defenders replicated the action in Sarnia, Ontario, in the shadow of the notorious Chemical Valley. Speaking after her arrest and subsequent release, activist Vanessa Gray, a member of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, said, “It’s clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.”

Aside from helping to keep the vital debate over Line 9 alive in the weeks and months after the pipeline’s reversal became official, these high-profile actions have had one major effect, the implications of which are still being sorted through: they’ve demonstrated clearly to anybody interested that pipelines like Line 9 are incredibly vulnerable and can be shut down relatively easily by anybody with some bolt cutters, some basic research skills, and a willingness to face charges.

Pumping stations dot the length of the line, and it quite simply isn’t practical for Enbridge to provide intensive round-the-clock security at all of them. In order for emergency shut-down valves to be effective, they have to be readily accessible and easily operated. It turns out that the infrastructure of tar sands transportation can easily be turned against its own purposes.

The problems this poses for Enbridge are obvious. Their entire business model is built on the steady and reliable flow of oil. The lengthy delays to Line 9’s reversal that the plan’s opponents caused cost the company nearly $100 million last year. Tenacious and ongoing resistance by just a handful of determined folks could wreak further havoc on their balance sheet.

And there are unconfirmed assertions of further copycat actions. Today, somebody anonymously claimed on hardline resistance news site It’s Going Down that they shut down Enbridge’s lesser-known Line 7 near Cambridge last night. At press time, there’s been no confirmation or denial that this event took place, nor have any further details emerged that I was able to track down. (If you have links to more details about this action, please let me know in the comments below!) [UPDATE: Enbridge has confirmed that Line 7 was shut down for several hours due to “protestor activity”.]

They cited their motivation as being to show solidarity with the folks who’ve taken similar actions “in the traditional territories of the Huron-Wendat, Mohawk, and Anishinaabek people…to swing back at the grossly inflated charges those in Sarnia received, and show that we will not be cowed.”

The “grossly inflated charges” the source mentions include “mischief endangering life”, a charge which the Council of Canadians suggests is unprecedented, unfounded, and intended as “a heavy handed attempt to intimidate anyone who is considering taking similar actions.”

Of course, activists who are chaining themselves to pipeline valves almost certainly know that they’re likely to get hit with some pretty serious charges. “Will”, who was involved in the Ste-Justine-de-Newton action, explained part of his group’s motivation in a detailed account of the day’s events on Media Co-op:

This whole action was a test of Canada’s new anti-terrorism law C-51, which expands the definition of terrorism to include tampering with critical infrastructure, specifically naming pipelines. Our line of
thinking was this: If they charged us with terrorism, what they’d be saying is that a large segment of the population supports terrorism, and the state would lose the usefulness of the terrorism label to demonize an isolated political element. It wouldn’t be in their interests, but it would be good for our movement, since in all likelihood, once C-51 is tested in court it will (eventually) get thrown out as unconstitutional.

And the sooner that happens, the better. So get out there and start pushing the envelope, comrades!

C-51 does pose a major challenge to pipeline resistance – but it’s not necessarily the threat of charges under the noxious anti-terror law, at least not while there are brave folks willing to take those charges and fight the law in court. Instead, it’s the threat of major infiltration and “disruption”.

C-51, if you’ll recall, allows law enforcement agencies to break the law in order to “disrupt” perceived threats. And we know full well that Canada’s security apparatus considers the environmental movement to be a threat. From last February, when the battle over C-51 was raging:

In highly charged language that reflects the government’s hostility toward environmental activists, an RCMP intelligence assessment warns that foreign-funded groups are bent on blocking oil sands expansion and pipeline construction, and that the extremists in the movement are willing to resort to violence.

“There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed anti-Canada petroleum movement that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels,” concludes the report which is stamped “protected/Canadian eyes only” and is dated Jan. 24, 2014. The report was obtained by Greenpeace.

“If violent environmental extremists engage in unlawful activity, it jeopardizes the health and safety of its participants, the general public and the natural environment.”

DeSmog adds some critical analysis:

The report is meant to provide critical infrastructure stakeholders, such as pipeline operators, with a “law enforcement assessment of current [critical infrastructure] protection issues.”

The existence of the RCMP report lends credence to concerns that the Harper government’s new anti-terrorism legislation will be used to label pipeline opponents and First Nations as ‘terrorists.’

Bill C-51 would give the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) extended powers to conduct surveillance, something they call ‘disruption,’ or make arrests if the individuals in question are seen as a potential threat.

The RCMP, CSIS as well as Public Safety Canada are all ‘Critical Infrastructure Partners’ in Canada. A Public Safety Canada Plan for Critical Infrastructure for 2014–2017 recommends increased collaboration between critical infrastructure partners and industry. The plan includes granting security clearance to oil and gas industry representatives so they can be brought in on sensitive information and secret intelligence. [my bold]

In other words, Canada’s security and intelligence agencies have been partnering with oil industry leaders for years to combat resistance to major infrastructure projects. Those same agencies are now legally empowered to engage in all manner of “dirty tricks” in order to damage or shut down the anti-pipeline movement. And any actions they took along these lines would never have to come out in a court.

Of course, both the RCMP and CSIS have been engaging in these “dirty tricks” for years. It was actually an investigation into RCMP dirty tricks which led to the shuttering of its intelligence service and the creation of CSIS in 1984. In the years since, CSIS certainly hasn’t been a paragon of virtue, being condemned by the toothless oversight body SIRC in 2009 for continuing to engage in exactly the same types of illegal disruptive activities.

As for the RCMP’s history of dirty tricks, one chillingly relevant incident was their bombing of an Alberta oil well as part of an investigation into sabotage of Alberta oil wells (with the approval and active participation of the oil company which owned the well) back in 2000 in an effort to manipulate public opinion:

The RCMP’s original plan was to blow up one of AEC’s [the oil company] trucks. The company convinced the police to change the operation even though AEC had already given its approval, offered up a truck to be bombed and said it would pay for any major damages. Company officials were having second thoughts.

According to the RCMP’s own files, the head of AEC’s northern operations met with the police to say his bosses were concerned that bombing a vehicle would cause ‘undue stress and fear’ for employees driving company trucks.

So the company offered an alternative, a shed covering one of its “out of service” well sites not far from the suspects’ property.

The bomb was set off Oct. 14, one week before AEC hosted two tense and emotional town hall meetings. Worried residents who turned out, were told by an expert, who was flown in by AEC, that they were the victims of ‘eco-terrorists’…

The RCMP’s intention with this operation, was to build a strong case again [Wiebo] Ludwig and [Richard] Boonstra [suspects in unrelated oil well bombings] by establishing the credentials of an informant, who was trying to gain their confidence.

What I’m saying is that it’s not exactly far fetched that either the RCMP or CSIS (or both) will go to some pretty extreme lengths to insert themselves into and disrupt the anti-pipeline movement, including directly organizing and participating in these actions themselves in such a way that the movement is discredited, especially now that this shit is perfectly legal for them to engage in.

For instance, they may be willing (with Enbridge’s involvement) to arrange things such that a pipeline shutdown goes wrong, causing damage to the infrastructure and perhaps even a small spill. Instantly, all activist credibility when it came to questioning the line’s safety would be undermined.

So here’s the challenge for activists, then: with Enbridge looking uniquely vulnerable, they have to move with incredible care and patience. They need to be cautious in their choices of whom they collaborate with, regardless of whether they aim to shut down the line or to drop a banner or to organize a fundraiser. They need to find a way to seize the moment without allowing the unholy alliance of cops, spies, and tar sands capitalists to seize their movement.

ICYMI Monday is a weekly examination of newsworthy stories that failed to win the news cycle and were therefore grossly undercovered. You can reach me by emailing me at or by leaving a comment below.

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