The leaders of several Pacific Northwest Native American tribes are asking Canadian regulators not to approve a huge expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline, saying approval would result in a huge increase of oil tankers coming through tribal waters every day, increasing the risk of a devastating spill.
Tribal leaders from the Washington-state based Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the Suquamish Tribe on the Kitsap Peninsula testified before Canada’s National Energy Board in Chilliwack, B.C. on Wednesday, and leaders from two more U.S.-based tribes are expected to testify Thursday. All four groups’ testimonies are in opposition to the $5.4 billion Trans Mountain project, which would nearly triple the flow of oil through the existing Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to the British Columbia coast.
If the pipeline is approved, the number of oil tankers coming through the Salish Sea — a marine ecosystem that sustains a number of First Nations and Native American tribes on the west coast — would increase from five oil tankers a month to 34 oil tankers a month.
“It’s not if, but when, one of these tankers run aground somewhere,” Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Community, told the panel. “We are salmon people and [the water] is very, very important to us. It’s central to our culture.”
This is the first time U.S. tribes have testified before Canadian energy regulators, according to the AP.
The U.S.-based tribes testifying to Canadian regulators this week are Coast Salish peoples, indigenous people from both Washington state and Canada who base their living off the Salish Sea. More than seven tribes of Coast Salish peoples announced their intention to intervene in the legal proceedings regarding Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline in February.
The proposed pipeline expansion 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 the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would carry from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Environmental law firm Earthjustice is representing the tribes in the legal proceedings. Their case is based on the assertion that the Salish Sea is already ecologically stressed, and that the pipeline expansion opens up unacceptable risks of a pollution event that could wipe out the tribes’ way of life.
“The fishing grounds of the Salish Sea are the lifeblood of our peoples,” Mel Sheldon, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, said in a statement. “We cannot sit idly by while these waters are threatened by reckless increases in oil tanker traffic and increased risk of catastrophic oil spill.”
Trans Mountain’s head of aboriginal engagement told the Associated Press that the company would respectfully consider the tribes’ input and that it values its relationship with U.S. native tribes. “We will continue to be committed to minimizing impact and protecting the marine environment,” he told the AP.
As tar sands oil 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.”
Native groups at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota also held a blockade in 2012 to stop trucks from bringing parts of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline through the reservation. Months later, another tribe blockaded Idaho’s Highway 12 to the Alberta tar sands fields, preventing trucks carrying mining equipment from coming through.
Tar sands oil is controversial because of its unique, thick, gooey makeup. Because of this quality, producers must use “non-conventional” methods of getting the oil out of the ground and making it viscous enough to use, such as pumping superheated steam underground to make the sand-laced oil easier to extract. Those methods are more carbon-intensive, meaning they emit more greenhouse gases than conventional oil production.