Protests Increase Against Canada’s Alternative to Keystone XL
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is currently visiting China to forge alliances and open up the Asian market for Canada’s environmentally-disastrous tar sands crude.
Harper may be making friends in China. But he’s certainly not making any friends in the environmental and conservation communities in the U.S. or Canada.
As Americans fight an increasingly intense political battle over the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Canadian groups are stepping up their opposition to a proposed domestic pipeline that they say would destroy pristine wilderness and jeopardize the way of life of First Nations living in the path of the project.
This past weekend saw a new round of protests in British Columbia against the Northern Gateway project, a proposed 731-mile pipeline that would transport crude from a terminal near Alberta’s tar sands to the Douglas Channel — located in a sensitive rainforest — for export to China and other countries.
More than 1,000 people gathered in Prince Rupert, British Columbia to voice their deep concerns about the project. The demonstration was organized by First Nations and featured a variety of local politicians who said that the protests were “bringing people together” to protect British Columbia’s environment.
The groups were demonstrating against both the pipeline and the proposed shipping route that would allow hundreds of massive oil tankers to travel a treacherous path through pristine wilderness.
The Natural Resources Defense Council released a report last fall detailing the route:
At Kitimat, a tank farm at the edge of the water would facilitate the transfer of oil to holding tanks and then into large oil supertankers. These supertankers would then traverse 185 kilometres of inner coastal waters, including the Douglas Channel, before reaching open ocean in the unpredictably dangerous Hecate Strait, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Dixon Entrance. There is a reason that large oil supertankers have not used these waters in the past: the route poses many navigational challenges for large vessels, even under ideal conditions.
…To export tar sands oil, supertankers called “Very Large Crude Carriers” (VLCCs), with a capacity of 2.2 million barrels of oil (320,000 tonnes), would be required on a much more frequent basis. There is already strong opposition to large oil tanker traffic in coastal waters among local citizens, First Nation communities, and organizations concerned about the potential impacts of an oil spill in the ecologically sensitive marine habitats of the coast.
The people of the Gitga’at First Nation who live in the area have expressed deep concerns about the shipping route. In 2006, a ferry transporting 101 people ran off course and sank while sailing these inner coastal waters, killing two people. The vessel was only a fraction of the size of the supertankers that would be carrying crude:
[Bob Hill, a treaty coordinator and negotiator for the Gitga’at] noted it was Gitga’at residents of Hartley Bay who rescued passengers off the B.C. ferry Queen of the North when it sank in 2006.
“And it’s an example of what a small community is faced with in regards to tanker traffic — and the Queen of the North is minute compared to the size of the tankers they’re talking about.”
Hill said the view of the Gitga’at is, “No matter how careful we are in improving technology, and the safety concerns we have, there’s always that chance that human error will enter the equation and do the damage to the environment.”
With the fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline uncertain in the U.S., the Canadian government is looking to increase exports of carbon-spewing tar sands crude in other ways — and the Northern Gateway pipeline is key to that strategy. But the project has been in the works for almost six years and continues to face long delays because of extended environmental reviews and a strong opposition movement.
If the tar sands opposition movement continues to expand like it did in the U.S. last year, then Northern Gateway may suffer the same fate as Keystone XL.
So what would the Northern Gateway project mean for British Columbia’s rainforest? Watch the amazing documentary below, called “Spoil,” to get a sense for the consequences. In the film, the International League of Conservation Photographers spreads out across the BC rainforest documenting the unique wildlife and the special relationship the Gitga’at First Nation has with the land.
The film is 45 minutes long, so be sure to make time to watch the whole thing: