Tag Archives: Tar sands

ICYMI – B.C. Supreme Court ruling against Northern Gateway a huge win for First Nations and pipeline resisters

Image description: An illustrated pipeline drawn to resemble a snake slithers across a map of Alberta and British Columbia along the route of Northern Gateway, with its tail in an oil-splattered factory and its head on the Pacific Coast. Oil drips off the snake. Written across its body are the words “Enbridge: Dirty Oil Burned the Last Bridge”. Above and below in red are flaming letters reading “NO PIPELINE” (Image credit: vanessasong/UBC)

2016 is shaping up to be a year of major victories for pipeline resisters across (so-called) Canada. And once again, the latest major victory was made possible through the leadership of First Nations directly impacted by untrammelled resource extraction.

In a serious blow to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled last week that the (so-called) province of B.C. abdicated its duty to consult First Nations when it signed an “equivalency agreement” with the federal government in 2010 which gave the National Energy Board (NEB) “equivalent” status and the authority to conduct these consultations on the province’s behalf.

Analysts suggest that British Columbia is unlikely to appeal the ruling, given that the Supreme Court confirmed the existence of powers they most likely do not want to surrender.

And as for the implications for Northern Gateway…well, I’ll let the litigants brag for themselves: Continue Reading

With provincial election looming, did B.C. Liberals announce opposition to TransMountain due to public opposition?

In exciting news out of British Columbia yesterday, the provincial government announced that it will be recommending that the National Energy Board (NEB) deny Kinder Morgan’s proposal to construct the TransMountain pipeline.

The reason for their rejection of the proposal, ostensibly, is that Kinder Morgan didn’t meet their “world-leading” safety standards – an explanation that the always-good-for-a-giggle Financial Post didn’t find entirely convincing:

Of the four major export pipeline projects proposed to open new markets for Canadian oil production, the TMX expansion should have been the easiest to pull off because it twins a pipeline that has been safely transporting oil from Alberta to the B.C. coast for 60 years.

But in its final argument to the NEB, which is in the last days of a two-year review, B.C. threw the book at the project, claiming: “the company has not provided enough information around its proposed spill prevention and response for the province to determine if it would use a world leading spills regime.”

This after a review that, according to TMX proponent Kinder Morgan, was one of the most comprehensive in the board’s history and involved the filing of a 16,000-page application, answering 17,000 questions, participation of more than 400 intervenors and of 1,250 commenters, not to mention more than $300 million in costs.

There’s more snarky disbelief further down in the article, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The thing is, I think the FP is on to something here. Because I can just as easily imagine the B.C. government using those exact same statistics to label the consultation and review process “exhaustive” and throwing their support behind the project.

This is the B.C. “Liberal” Party we’re talking about here, after all – in a province where the Conservative Party failed to capture a single seat in the last election, they are the pro-business right-of-centre option. Mining, forestry, and construction corporations have given them nearly $50 million over the last decade, and their victory in the 2013 provincial election was celebrated by the B.C. Chambers of Commerce as “good news for business owners“.

Which is to say, one can easily imagine a parallel universe in which they spun the research and the data in the other direction and supported TransMountain. So why didn’t they IRL? Continue Reading

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. Continue Reading

As 2015 comes to a close, these major ongoing issues aren’t going anywhere

This awkward week jammed in between Christmas and New Year’s is when some of the year’s most half-assed journalism gets cranked out, in the form of phoned-in Year in Review pieces, or worse, Top Ten Blanks of 201x listicles.

I don’t have a problem with retrospectives. It’s just that the last week of December is only ever the actual turning point in current events by pure chance or accident. More often than not, major stories are still developing, trends are still unfolding, and it’s too soon to pass judgement on what the legacy of recent events will actually be.

So in my final post of 2015, I’m going to eschew the lazy conventions of the genre by highlighting a few stories which are very much ongoing affairs as the year comes to a close. Continue Reading

Trudeau’s lacklustre approach to pipelines means direct action is (still) our best hope

Image description: A person (presumably Vanessa Gray) is led away from a pipeline shutdown action by two police officers. Caption reads: ‘”The tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred.” – Vanessa Gray, Anishnaabe’

What Mr. Harper has consistently misunderstood about what happens in the 21st century is you cannot make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy. Mr. Harper continues to say oh, we can’t do anything on the environment because we’ll hurt the economy. And not only has he not helped our environment, but he’s actually slowed our economy. He cannot get our exports to market because there is no public trust anymore. People don’t trust this government to actually look out for our long-term interest. We – he hasn’t convinced communities of the rightness of his – his pipelines, of the proposals he supports. He hasn’t been working with First Nations on the kinds of partnerships that are needed if we’re going to continue to develop our natural resources. Canada will always have an element of natural resources in our economy, but the job of the Prime Minister is to get those resources to market. 

– Justin Trudeau, Maclean’s leaders’ debate, August 7 2015

Numerous times throughout this year’s election, Justin Trudeau tried to position himself as the candidate who could do what Stephen Harper, for all his efforts, never could manage to accomplish: get major tar sands pipeline construction projects approved. With a cavalier well-of-course-we’ve-gotta-exploit-the-tar-sands attitude, he insisted, again and again, that the flaw in Harper’s approach wasn’t that his government was pushing fundamentally flawed, dangerous, and ecocidal proposals, but instead was an issue of tone, of building public trust, of performing the proper consultations, of going above and beyond to assuage local safety concerns.

In some cases, that’s meant publicly opposing major proposals, like the Northern Gateway pipeline, which Trudeau’s Liberals oppose on account of its traversal of the Great Bear rainforest. But in other cases, it’s meant picking up right where Harper left off, as with Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion’s spectacularly ill-timed renewal of the Harper government’s advocacy for the Keystone XL pipeline literally one day before U.S. President Barack Obama announced the project couldn’t go forward. And let’s not forget that one of Trudeau’s campaign co-chairs, Dan Gagnier, was simultaneously working as a lobbyist for TransCanada, that the Liberal Party knew about this lobbying work, and that Gagnier was advising the pipeline company on how best to lobby the new government before the election was even over.

And a lot of the time, it’s left the now-PM sounding spectacularly ill-informed to folks who are aware of the latest climate science, as when Trudeau insists that if Canada must improve our environmental reputation if we want to continue pushing tar sands projects. There exists a broad international consensus that a majority of fossil fuel reserves, including upwards of 85% of the tar sands, absolutely need to stay in the ground if the world is to avert the worst effects of runaway climate change. Continue Reading

The Canadian government’s constantly changing climate goals

“Everybody has thrown out numbers and different targets, and what they’re going to do and what is going to happen…What we need is not ambitious political targets.”

– Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, CBC interview, October 10, 2015

“[On] the question for framing the temperature goal, we support reference to striving for 1.5 [degrees Celsius of warming] as other countries have said…If we want to achieve this temperature goal, everyone needs to be part of this. We need maximum participation where everyone puts their best efforts forward.”

– Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Paris COP21 summit, December 7, 2015

How the hell do we square these two statements with each other?

Because make no mistake about it, a temperature target of 1.5°C is both an ambitious target and a political one.

Major industrialized nations, including the United States and the European Union, favour a target of 2°C. The 1.5°C target, favoured by nations in the Global South, and particularly low-lying and island nations, is the more ambitious of the two targets on the table during Paris negotiations, as it requires a much more rapid transition away from major sources of carbon emissions. It is a matter of life or death for hundreds of millions of people living at or near sea level: Continue Reading

ICYMI – badass direct action shuts down Line 9B

Although Enbridge must have known that they would face protest when they first proposed reversing their Line 9B to pump diluted bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal, there’s no way they could have anticipated the ferocity of the opposition that’s resulted.

A massive and widespread citizen campaign to stop the project sprung up across southern Ontario and Quebec, including many First Nations communities. Line 9B’s reversal has been subject to multiple disruptive direct actions interfering with the infrastructure of the line as well as the process of approval by the industry-captured National Energy Board (NEB). The project has also been subject to a massive court case brought by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nations over Enbridge’s lack of proper consultation, a case which is now making its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.

For those readers unfamiliar with the catastrophe-in-waiting that is Line 9B, here’s a summary from an older post of mine on the issue:

Line 9 is an already-existing pipeline which runs from Montreal to Sarnia, and for the past forty years or so it’s been transporting refined light crude oil westward. Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, applied to the National Energy Board for permission to reverse the pipeline’s direction, increase the volume it was allowed to transport, and switch over to transporting unrefined tar sands bitumen.

There’s a lot of issues with this plan. Bitumen has to be transported at a considerably higher pressure and temperature than light crude, and there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forty-year-old pipeline. A similar Enbridge pipeline of similar age burst near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010, spilling over three million litres of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The fact that bitumen, unlike crude oil, sinks in fresh water made the disaster significantly worse, necessitating a complicated multi-year cleanup and causing massive damage to wildlife and the health of local residents.

That the oil spilled in a river is significant, because Line 9 crosses 36 different tributaries of Lake Ontario. A major spill of bitumen could be catastrophic for the world’s fourteenth-largest lake, which is the source of drinking water to over 9 million people in Canada and the United States.

And on top of all that, tar sands extraction is quite literally one of the most short-sided and ecocidal policies the human race could be pursuing right now. Making it easier for Enbridge to bring tar sands bitumen to international markets would be a terrible idea even if the structural integrity of Line 9 was guaranteed.

Despite this tenacious and active opposition and the weight of the arguments against the project, Enbridge was granted final approval to reverse the line a few weeks ago, and the company began pumping bitumen eastwards on December 3.

But even after the NEB’s approval and the line’s full reversal, the opposition to Enbridge’s project continues. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why did green groups endorse Alberta NDP’s plan to increase tar sands production and build pipelines?

When Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley announced her government’s plan to combat climate change late last month, it was widely perceived as bold and ambitious. Hailed by green organizations across Canada and embraced by many in the business community, the plan seemed to be a major breakthrough on the contentious issue of tar sands extraction.

But the unholy alliance of oil companies and environmental advocates should have been a clue that all was not as it seemed.

To be sure, there’s a lot to like about the NDP’s plan. The total phasing out of all coal-burning plants in the province over the next fifteen years is laudatory, as is the government’s commitment to dramatically increase sustainable energy generation in Alberta.

But Alberta doesn’t have a bad rap on climate issues because of its coal plants or dearth of windmills. By far the single greatest source of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions is the oil and gas industry, and for any Albertan climate plan to be effective, it would have to successfully tackle this well-financed behemoth. However, the initial hype surrounding the Premier’s announcement of a cap on tar sands extraction is looking increasingly misplaced under closer scrutiny.

The fact that a cap had been imposed at all was, the government and its boosters insisted, cause for celebration in and of itself – “one of the first times that an oil jurisdiction has placed a limit on growth,” gushed Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema. “The days of the infinite growth of the tar sands are over and investors should take note.”

Caveatting that the significance of the cap “cannot be overstated”, Hudema did also point out that, from a scientific point of view, the cap’s limits aren’t remotely sufficient. But the size of the cap was obscured in media coverage, partly by the unwieldily scale of the numbers involved. A 100-megaton annual limit was imposed on tar sands production in the province – and if you can calculate, off the top of your head, whether or not that allows for tar sands expansion, and if so, by how much, then you get a lollypop.

Thankfully for those of us who aren’t environmental scientists, the Edmonton Journal did the math – and it’s not exactly encouraging: Continue Reading

NEB consultation process with First Nations is bureaucratic racism at its most absurd

A vital legal issue which has emerged from the ongoing battles over major pipeline projects across Canada revolves around the government’s constitutional duty to consult First Nations on energy and resource extraction projects which impact their territories.

The National Energy Board (NEB), a committee of appointees charged with reviewing proposed energy infrastructure projects, has been holding these consultations on the government’s behalf. Not good enough, say many First Nations; they assert that they have a treaty right to be consulted directly by government, on a nation-to-nation basis, rather than by an arms-length bureaucratic entity widely viewed as a rubber-stamping sinecure for well-connected energy/pipeline industry professionals.

One band, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, is pushing its challenge over lack of proper governmental consultation all the way to the Supreme Court in relation to Enbridge’s Line 9B, a case that I’ve covered in some detail here before.

There was some initial hopefulness after the election of Prime Minister Trudeau that the new government would take a different approach in this regard. They made encouraging noises about ratifying the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Trudeau instructed his new Natural Resources Minister, Jim Carr, to “modernize” the NEB process to ensure it is more “inclusive” and “confidence-inspiring”.

However, APTN revealed today that there will be no additional consultation of First Nations beyond the NEB’s process, a real blow to hopes that Trudeau was serious about establishing meaningful nation-to-nation relations.

But issues with the NEB’s consultation of First Nations go far beyond the question of whether they are the correct body to be conducting this process, constitutionally speaking. The actual process of consultation itself is a bureaucratic absurdity, with the byzantine (and frankly racist) rules governing which kind of evidence can be presented and when dictated largely by the energy and pipeline companies pushing these projects.

Just take a look at this: Continue Reading

Bursting the Trudeaumania bubble

Look, I don’t wanna be a party-pooper. I don’t wanna piss on anyone’s parade. It’s really wonderful to see so many people being so enthusiastic about federal politics, so inspired by the notion of real meaningful change, and I wish that I could join in on the enthusiasm and excitement.

But I can’t, because as earnestly felt as the swell of goodwill towards the new Trudeau government is, it’s misplaced.

Now first of all, to be clear: it’s obviously fantastic that Trudeau appointed the most ethnically diverse cabinet in Canadian history, as well as the first to feature an equal number of female and male ministers. And I don’t have any patience for those crypto-racist/patriarchal arguments about how cabinet positions ought to be doled out on the basis of merit and not arbitrary quotas. “Merit” is such a fuzzy term, easily defined to mean just about whatever the user wants it to mean, and in a white-cis-hetero-patriarchal-colonizer society, merit has traditionally been almost exclusively an attribute of white cis heterosexual men. (Surprise, surprise.) There’s definitely a place for quotas in an inherently unequal society, because a lot of people who are entirely capable of doing big and important jobs aren’t ever able to try because of systemic oppression.

In fact, good on Justin Trudeau for setting a strong precedent by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet. It will now be incredibly difficult, politically speaking, for any of his successors to go back to male-dominated cabinets of the past.

But representation by members of diverse communities does not inherently mean that the concerns of those communities will be addressed. A lot has been made about the appointment of rookie MP Jody Wilson-Raybould, an Indigenous lawyer and regional chief, as Minister of Justice. And don’t get me wrong – it’s awesome than an Indigenous woman is in a position to do so much to address the injustices that have been heaped upon Indigenous communities by Canadian governments since before this nation was founded, and I sincerely hope that she is able to do just that.

Issues like the ridiculously disproportionate incarceration rate for Indigenous folks, the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the establishment of meaningful nation-to-nation relations using the treaties as a framework, and of course a national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women, would fall at least partially under Wilson-Raybould’s purview.

All of which is very exciting – but I can’t help feeling cynical. I’ve seen this movie before – a member of a marginalized and oppressed community achieves a position of power in which they can make some meaningful change, and then…they don’t.

The most direct parallel I can think of is Eric Holder, the first black Attorney-General of the United States. Continue Reading

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