New Pipeline Would Bring Tankers Of Tar Sands Through Tribal Waters Every Day

CREDIT: AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Ancestors of the paddlers, the Coast Salish Indians, had paddled the same waters to Washington state for hundreds of years, using canoes as spiritual vessels. In this 2009 photo, some of the canoes towed U.S. Geological Survey equipment to measure the health and quality of the water.

As the battle over President Obama’s impending decision regarding the controversial Keystone XL rages on in the public eye, another similar tar sands pipeline is in the works — the environmental implications of which are just as nasty as Keystone, according to a coalition of Native American and First Nation tribes who are fighting the project.

More than seven tribes of Coast Salish peoples, indigenous people from both Washington state and Canada who base their living off the Salish Sea, on Thursday announced their intention to intervene in legal proceedings regarding Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project. If approved, the $5.4 billion Trans Mountain project would nearly triple the flow of oil through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast.

The new pipeline would increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline system from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day, more than the 830,000 barrels that Keystone XL would carry to the Gulf Coast. The demand to keep the pipeline full would guarantee that more tar sands would be mined, and more carbon dioxide would be spewed into the atmosphere.

The Coast Salish tribe’s concerns around the project are numerous, as the environmental law firm Earthjustice explains:

  • The project would result in “a quantum leap” of the number of oil tankers that navigate through the Salish Sea, a single marine ecosystem that has sustained the Coast Salish people since their very beginnings. Under the proposal, the number of tanker loadings through the marine terminal there would increase from five oil tankers a month to 34 oil tankers a month.
  • Put another way, the Kinder Morgan pipeline project would have 444 total tank loadings at the Salish sea terminal per year, meaning one tanker through tribal fishing grounds every day, and two tankers on every fifth day.
  • Because the tankers arrive empty, they need to discharge “ballast water” — the water the tankers were filled with at their original location to maintain stability during transit — which can result in the introduction of invasive species. Invasive species “can devastate the ecosystems that are relied on to provide harvestable surpluses of salmon and shellfish,” Earthjustice says.
  • With more tankers and barges, there will also be an increase in tug boat traffic and the use of anchorages, further interfering with tribal fishing.
  • Kinder Morgan filed their application to build the pipeline back in December, and it is now before Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB), which will hold hearings about the risks, harms, and benefits of the project, ultimately issuing a recommendation to the Canadian federal government on whether the project should be approved. The Coast Salish tribes, which include the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in Washington state and the Musqueam nation in British Columbia, indicated on Thursday that they intend to take part in the proceedings.

    “Our people are bound together by our deep connection to Burrard Inlet and the Salish Sea,” Chief Maureen Thomas of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation said in a statement. “We are the ‘People of the Inlet’ and we are united in our resolve to protect our land, water and air from this risky project.”

    As tar sands production booms, Native American and First Nation opposition to proposed pipeline projects has grown with it. In a movement called “No Keystone XL pipeline will cross Lakota lands,” the Honor the Earth, the Oglala Sioux Nation, Owe Aku, and Protect the Sacred tribes are peacefully resisting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which many tribes are calling “The Black Snake.” In March 2012, native groups at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota held a blockade to stop trucks from transporting parts of the Keystone XL pipeline through the reservation and in August 2013, members of the Nez Perce tribe blockaded Idaho’s Highway 12 to the Alberta tar sands fields bringing trucks carrying mining equipment to a standstill. The tribe later won a court battle to stop the shipments from crossing its lands.

    The fight over Trans Mountain also serves as a reminder that Keystone XL is not the only enormous pipeline project in the works. Rapidly increasing production from Alberta’s tar sands and vast oil and natural gas deposits around America means pipeline proposals are popping up like daisies — and many are likely not getting the scrutiny they need.