From North To South, Activists Fight Tar Sands Pipelines

by Katie Valentine

Last November, 12,000 people formed a human chain around the White House in opposition of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Now, nearly a year later, thousands again have gathered – this time, nearly 3,000 miles away from D.C. – to oppose a different pipeline, but with still the same goal in mind: to stop the spread of tar sands oil from the Alberta tar sands.

Protesters gathered in front of the British Columbia legislature in Victoria, B.C. on Monday in opposition to the Northern Gateway Pipeline, a proposed Enbridge, Inc. project that, if completed, would transport tar sands crude 731 miles from Bruderheim, Alberta to a port Kitimat, B.C., where it would be shipped on tankers to Asia.

The protest was organized by Defend our Coast, a coalition of Canadian environmental and social groups and First Nations leaders that formed in opposition of the pipeline. The protest was aimed at showing the provincial and federal government that British Columbians were not in favor of the pipeline’s construction. Though no one was arrested at the event, organizers made clear that civil disobedience had not been out of the question.

“Today in Victoria many thousands of Canadians came to the BC Legislature with every intention of getting arrested – if that’s what it would take to stop these tar sands pipelines and tankers,” Defend our Coast’s website, which live-blogged the event, states. “This was one of the largest acts of mass civil disobedience in the country’s history. Five thousand people gathered on the Legislature lawn, listened to speeches, and symbolically staked a 245 meter long ribbon of black fabric – the same length as a supertanker – into the ground.”

British Columbia Premiere Christy Clark has laid out five demands that must be met if the province is to approve the pipeline, including ensuring the province receives a fair amount of the project’s economic benefits – a requirement some protesters denounced, saying Clark would sell the coastline “for the right price.”

Some of the major reasons Canadians oppose the pipeline include:

  • The pipeline’s proposed path crosses the territory of more than 40 First Nations’ groups, whose land rights are affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada. More than 100 First Nations tribes have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration, which opposes all pipelines that cross through indigenous territory and all oil tankers in the migration path of the Fraser River salmon.
  • The Pipeline crosses over the Northern Rockies and the Coast Mountains of B.C., through 30 Important Bird Areas and over 800 rivers and streams, including important salmon spawning watersheds. A Polaris Institute report found that 804 spills occurred between 1999 and 2010 across all of Enbridge’s operations, releasing 161,475 barrels of oil into the environment. When considering the mountainous terrain of the Northern Gateway’s route, many fear the risk of spills will only increase.
  • The project would add approximately 225 oil tankers on B.C.’s northern coast, an area which contains no bulk crude tanker traffic. The waters off of British Columbia’s northern coast are home to a diverse marine ecosystem that supports commercial and sport fisheries and that are tied to the First Nations’ traditions and livelihoods.
  • Oil from tar sands is some of the most carbon-intensive fuel on earth, and tapping completely into Alberta’s Athabasca tar sands, as climate scientists James Hansen puts it, would mean  “game over” for the climate.

Defend our Coast has organized a second protest on Oct. 24, this time in communities across B.C. The Canadian government’s three-person environmental review panel has until the end of next year to finish its assessment of the Northern Gateway, and even if the pipeline is given the go-ahead by the federal government, the B.C. government still has ways to block it.

The Canadian protests come as activists in Texas engage in sustained civil disobedience to stop construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is designed to transport tar sands from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries.

Katie Valentine is an intern on the energy policy team at the Center for American Progress. She graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism.

4 Responses to From North To South, Activists Fight Tar Sands Pipelines

  1. catman306 says:

    The Odom School of Ecology may soon have to add a program in Forensic Ecology.

  2. tbachand says:

    The Keystone Mapping Project provides the public with detailed route information for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline. Neither TransCanada Corporation nor the U.S. Department of State have been forthcoming with this project’s GIS information. This has made it impossible to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline.