Blog: Harper approves Northern Gateway pipeline, June 17, 2014
Pipeline basics: The Enbridge Northern Gateway project involves two pipelines. One pipeline would ship 525,000 barrels of oil daily from Alberta to the coastal community of Kitimat. The other pipeline would move 193,000 barrels a day of condensate, which is used to dilute tar sands bitumen so it can flow through the pipelines, to Alberta.
The route: The pipelines would cross a 1,177 km path through northern B.C. including more than 50 indigenous territories. It would cross ecologically sensitive areas including hundreds of salmon-bearing rivers and streams, the Great Bear Rainforest, and mountainous and landslide-prone lands. Tankers would bring the crude through ecologically sensitive coastal waters known for being perilous because of high winds and waves.
Opposition: More than 130 indigenous communities and First Nations have endorsed the landmark “Save the Fraser Declaration,” which opposes the project based on the upholding ancestral laws, title, rights and responsibilities. In 2010, nine coastal First Nations signed the Coastal First Nations Declaration that pledged “oil tankers carrying crude oil from the Alberta tar sands will not be allowed to transit our lands and waters.”
The Union of BC Municipalities and the city councils of Terrace, Prince Rupert and Smithers have all said “no” the Northern Gateway pipeline. The Council of Canadians, alongside many other social justice and environmental organizations, are opposing the project through campaigns, events and grassroots mobilization. Public polling in B.C. shows the majority of residents do not support the project.
Continued opposition will include future legal battles, particularly over indigenous rights, as well as acts of non-violent civil disobedience.
There are many reasons why opposition to the project is strong and growing, including the pipeline’s role in helping to drive unsustainable expansion in the tar sands and the risks posed to the environment and tourism and fishing industries from pipeline or tanker spills. The transport of tar sands crude – also known as bitumen – poses heightened spill risks. Bitumen is more viscous and corrosive then conventional crude oil and needs to be mixed with diluents (solvents such as naphtha and natural gas condensate) and transported at higher pressures and temperature. A spill from a tar sands supertanker could release up to one-half of the oil spilled in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, and would be devastating for coastal communities, First Nations, and the environment. Between 1999 and 2010, Enbridge was responsible for more than 800 spills in Canada and the U.S., with a total of more than 7.8 million gallons of oil released into the environment. A recent study by Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management predicts that an Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker spill could occur every 10 years and 776 spills during the pipeline’s 50-year lifespan.
Project approval: In June 2014, the Harper government approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The NDP, Liberals, and Green party, have said they do not support the pipeline.
Taking action: The people of B.C. and First Nations remain opposed to the pipeline. After the pipeline was approved, communities mobilized across B.C. with major rallies, MLA office occupations and creative forms of non-violent direct action to send a clear message to Prime Minister Harper and Enbridge: the Northern Gateway pipeline will not be built. The threats of First Nations’ legal challenges and civil disobedience campaigns have made pipeline investors wary. The Unist'ot'en continue to blockade the pipeline in their territory, which is on the pipeline route.
With HoldtheWall.ca, spearheaded by the Yinke Dene Alliance, more than 25,000 people have pledged to stand with the First Nations "with [their] voices, in the streets, or on the land" to stop the project from being built.
First Nations’ legal challenges: The Haisla Nation, Gitxaala Nation, Council of the Haida Nation, Gitga’at Nation, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, Kitasoo/Xaixais Nation, Nadleh Whut’en First Nation and the Nak’azdli First Nation are challenging the constitutionality of the federal government’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline. These legal challenges, combined with nine court cases filed in 2014, have the potential to stop – or at least significantly delay – the project.
In June 2014, First Nations’ rights and title were strengthened by the Supreme Court of Canada’s affirmation of the Tsilhqot’in declaration of aboriginal title. The decision affirms the right of First Nations to decide what projects happen on their land. The decision affects places that do not have treaties – unceded territory – which is most of B.C. First Nations in B.C. that could assert that they have title now have more power to stop the Northern Gateway Enbridge pipeline from going ahead.
Pull Together is a grassroots campaign that was started in spring 2014 to raise funds to support the legal challenges of six First Nations. The Heiltsuk, Kitasoo-Xai’xais and Gitxaala Nations are located on B.C.’s central and north coast, along the proposed route of oil tankers. The Nadleh Whut’en and Nak’azdli Nations are in the northern interior of B.C. along the proposed pipeline route. The proposed tanker routes also encroach on Haida marine territory. In solidarity, people from across B.C. and Canada have added their support by contributing to these critical First Nations’ legal challenges. Several Council of Canadians chapters in B.C. have hosted Pull Together fundraisers.