Friday, January 18, 2013
Hundreds of Vancouver residents create an 'uberdrop' outside the Joint Review Panel hearings on Friday
In this week's particularly foul issue of The Dirt: The Enbridge Joint Review Panel hearings get underway in Vancouver; researchers share a new report on the toxic tailings of Tar Sands settling ponds; #IdleNoMore steps up their actions; and Greenpeace reveals just how much the oil industry is driving Canadian Prime Minister Harper's environmental policy.
Quote of the Week
“Enbridge has shown by their record, to be an incompetent corporate actor who cannot be trusted to manage such a complex and dangerous system.” ~ Andrew Browne, presenting to the Joint Review Panel in Vancouver
On the first day of the last round of oral hearings about the of future Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, First Nations with Idle No More joined with Pipe Up Against Enbridge activists to let the Joint Review Panel know, if only from outside, that new pipelines and more oil tankers were not welcome in B.C. More than a thousand activists, and a glowing, nine-metre-long whale named Hope, gathered at the Sheraton Wall Centre hotel to make it clear they were not supportive of Enbridge’s pet project or a hearing process that is, they say, designed to prevent the kind of thoughtful public conversation necessary to fairly assess the costs and benefits of such a major project.
“You can’t make reference, for example, to the oilsands and the bigger picture,” Suresh Fernando, one of the protest organizers, told the Vancouver Sun. “You can only speak to issues relating to Enbridge. They’re constraining the dialogue.”
To drive home the point, several protestors not scheduled to speak interrupted the hearings on Tuesday morning. After making their way to the front of the hotel conference room, they stood their ground and refused to move, while others blew whistles. Police took them away in handcuffs.
If this raucous greeting is any indication, the next two weeks promise to be tough going for Enbridge and the Joint Review Panel. Last week, in Victoria, a marine consultant with a quarter-century of experience told the panel that the risk of a spill from an oil tanker carrying Northern Gateway’s tar sands crude is too great to allow the project to proceed. Gerald Graham, of Victoria-based Worldocean Consulting Ltd., pointed out that Enbridge’s own analysis indicates there is an 8.7 to 14.1 per cent chance of at least one tanker spill greater than 31,500 barrels over a 50-year period, which would devastate B.C.’s coastline.
“The consequences of a major oil spill along B.C.’s north coast … could be catastrophic and irreversible,” Graham said in his oral submission to the panel. “Couple this potentially disastrous outcome with a one-in-seven chance of one or more major spills occurring, and the overall threat level posed by Northern Gateway becomes unacceptably high.”
The values at risk are enormous: First Nations communities, shellfish-harvesting areas, commercial fishing, ecotourism, marine life — especially diving birds — and protected areas. And then there’s the spike in climate changing greenhouse gases and the toxins being spewed into the air and water in northern Alberta that no one’s allowed to talk about.
Few of the protestors will be speaking at the last of the oral hearings, slated to last until February 1, but hundreds of others have registered to have their voices heard over the next fortnight, in a debate that has seen a majority of British Columbians side with the protestors gathered in Vancouver. On the first day alone, all 19 speakers – young and old, men and women, planners and politicians, scientists and engineers, teachers and wilderness guides – spoke about Enbridge’s poor safety record, the inevitable increase in the price of gasoline in BC, the corrosiveness of the bitumen and its impact on pipeline safety, the inevitability of a devastating oil spill and the near impossibility of cleaning it up, inadequate consultations with First Nations, the impact of tanker traffic on whales, greenhouse gas emissions and the dangers of climate change, the beauty and serenity of B.C.’s wild West Coast.
And every single one of said no to the permitting and construction of the Northern Gateway pipeline and the tanker traffic that would accompany it. Expect more of the same from the other 311 speakers. With so much heartfelt opposition, it is impossible to conceive of the Joint Review Panel giving it the green light.
Cleaning Up Dirty Oil
Contrary to government and industry claims, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) provides damning evidence that tar sands development has been causing carcinogenic pollution in Alberta as far as 50 miles away.
Lead author of the study, Queen’s University Professor John Smol, told the New York Times, we now “have the smoking gun.” The study, funded by Environment Canada, found that tar sands development has been contributing dangerous, carcinogenic pollutants to the watershed since large-scale oil sands production began in 1978, and they are steadily rising. Samples from one test site now show 2.5 to 23 times more polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in recent lake sediments than in layers dating back to around 1960. Smol said that wilderness lakes in the region are now as polluted as lakes in urban centres, and the most heavily contaminated lake has been exceeding Canada’s interim sediment quality guidelines for PAHs since the mid-1980s.
But the study tells us much more than what’s in the water. It also illustrates just how incompetent and impervious to factual information are oil companies and Alberta politicians. It indicates that these people cannot be trusted to manage the tar sands in the responsible manner Canadians demand.
After years of unfair treatment as their traditional lands are destroyed, and after asking the courts to hear their constitutional challenge to tar sands expansion, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) warns that they may have to resort to more drastic measures if they continue to be ignored. Northern Alberta organizers of the Idle No More movement have said they would not hesitate to blockade Highway 63 near Fort McMurray if they don’t get a fair hearing.
“At this time we have no plans to organize or facilitate the organization of a roadblock on highway 63,” AFCN Chief Allan Adam said in a statement. “However, the people are upset with the current state of affairs in this country and things are escalating towards more direct action. As a leader I have been talking to the people, talking with governments and industry to try and diffuse the situation that is coming to the surface. However, neither government nor industry seems willing to move on the issues and the people have said that enough is enough.”
Adam said that the federal government has made sweeping changes to federal legislation to enhance the economic interests of oil, gas and pipeline industries. He also said that weakening environmental protection and avenues for challenging industrial development the government has weakened it’s respect and fiduciary obligation to uphold the Canadian Constitution and inherent treaty and aboriginal rights in Canada. It’s time for Canada to negotiate the terms of adequate environmental protection in partnership with treaty and aboriginal rights.
The announcement was made at an Idle No More rally in Edmonton on Friday, January 11, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper met with First Nations in Ottawa. Four hundred people marched through downtown Edmonton in support of First Nation treaty rights and the Idle No More movement.
These are not idle threats. Aboriginal protesters held rallies and blocked roads in cities across the country. On Saturday, protestors blocked a bridge in Calgary for a number of hours. Members of the Sturgeon Lake Cree Nation also have blockaded Highway 43 between Grande Prairie and Valleyview several times over the past two weeks. In Ottawa, Ontario Chief Theresa Spence approached the sixth week of her hunger fast.
The Globe and Mail reported that last week’s meeting with Harper was met with “mixed reviews,” and that the talks seem “unlikely to quell demonstrations planned by [F]irst [N]ations members across the country.”
It comes as little surprise that the oil and gas industry had lobbied hard for the legislative changes that have so angered First Nations and environmentalists. CBC reported that a letter obtained by Greenpeace through access to information laws indicates that the oil and gas industry wanted the federal government to change a series of environmental laws to advance "both economic growth and environmental performance."
“The purpose of our letter is to express our shared views on the near-term opportunities before the government to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada," wrote the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI) – which is made up of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (now the Canadian Fuels Association) and the Canadian Gas Association – in a December, 2011 letter to Environment Minister Peter Kent and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
A year later, four of the six pieces of legislation that had been named in the letter – the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act – had been completely rewritten or replaced.
Makes you wonder who the Harper conservatives are representing, the people of Canada or the corporations granted the social license to do business here.
Cleaning Up Dirty Pipelines
Although environmentalists are always accused of never being content, it’s Big Oil that always wants more (and more and more). Kinder Morgan wants to increase the capacity of its proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project by almost 20 per cent, to 700,000 barrels a day of oil. These new plans make it even larger than the Northern Gateway proposal, which would send 520,000 barrels per day to the West Coast.
“We are not at all surprised that this news of increasing the capacity has come up,” Tsleil-Waututh First Nation councillor Carleen Thomas told the Vancouver Sun. “We are still adamantly opposed to it and will continue to push for nation-to-nation conversation and dialogue about this expansion. The risks are too great to accept. We all know that’s not if a spill happens. It’s when a spill happens.”
Dogwood Initiative’s Eric Swanson said the expansion indicates Big Oil wants to get more oil to the West Coast, but “most British Columbians don’t seem to be interested.”
“The question for British Columbians is whether we want to accept this category of catastrophic risk increasing at all,” Swanson told the Vancouver Sun. “And we have quite a bit of evidence that most British Columbians — depending on what polls you look at, a wall of First Nations and a significant number of local governments — don’t want it at all.”
If you thought the opposition to the construction of the south leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline began and ended in East Texas, think again. More than 100 protestors stormed the lobby of TransCanada’s offices in Houston, spilling black “tar sands” balloons on the floor and hanging neon orange hazard tape around the lobby. After police forced them outside, they performed street theatre to illustrate their opposition to what they called TransCanada’s corporate greed. It was the largest demonstration in a months-long campaign by Tar Sands Blockade and Texas landowners to prevent the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“This is the biggest issue humanity’s ever faced,” said one gray-bearded protestor. “This pipeline will not be built as long as I am breathing.”
In Stroud, Oklahoma, indigenous and environmental activists served notice that the Keystone XL pipeline was not welcome on Sac and Fox land. The group marched along segments of buried and unburied pipe, participating in round-dances near the work sites. The demonstration was intended as a small act of civil disobedience to inaugurate a sustained campaign of direct action intent on stopping the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Oklahoma.
Protect the Sacred Gathering
Indigenous Nations from across the US and Canada and their Allies including farmers and environmental leaders will converge in South Dakota for a "Gathering to Protect the Sacred From the Tar Sands and Keystone XL.” January 23rd-25th, 2013. They intend to sing an international treaty to effectively block Keystone. Learn More: www.protectthesacred.org
Keep the East Tar Sands Free
A solidarity action will take place on January 26, 2012 in downtown Portland, Maine (not Oregon). The action is aimed at stopping both the Enbridge Line 9 in Canada and the Exxon pipeline in New England. Dozens of local solidarity actions are being planned to coincide with the Maine event in more than a dozen communities in Ontario, Quebec and New England. Click here for more details.
Plan on Heading to Washington, DC for President’s Day
Looking to make vacation plans for President’s Day? Why not join thousands of fellow Americans and head to D.C. to tell Obama that the Keystone XL pipeline has no place in a future he “quote from Obama’s speech.”
After the hottest year in American history, a horrible ongoing drought, and SuperStorm Sandy, it’s time to show President Obama the connection between importing tar sands crude and a future full of Sandys. So on President’s Day 2013, a weekend dedicated to the legacy of great leaders, why not join us for a massive climate rally in Washington D.C.?
It promises to be a humdinger of a protest. Three thousand people signed up in the first 24 hours after the announcement, but there’s room for plenty more. Sign up today!