Nearly two weeks after Kinder Morgan completed its test drilling inside a British Columbia city's conservation area, opponents of its proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are proclaiming victory and vowing to continue fighting the energy giant.
In addition to dropping all contempt charges against protesters, a Supreme Court of B.C. judge on November 27 refused the Houston-based company's request to extend its injunction against disruptive protests through December 12, effectively ordering Kinder Morgan to clear its equipment out of the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area.
Police had arrested more than 120 people since November 14, when a judge had granted Kinder Morgan an injunction to prevent protesters from obstructing their work on Burnaby Mountain—although activists had set up a makeshift camp in the wooded city park in mid-September, after company workers chopped down trees in the city park despite objections from the mayor.
The November protests were the opening salvo in skirmishes that have long been promised by oil sands and pipeline opponents in the province, with dozens of First Nations vowing to block the project from going ahead. Critics say they are concerned about oil spill risks on land and sea, as well as damage to aboriginal lands and lifestyle. They also argue that they have not been adequately consulted on the project, despite this year's Tsilhqot'in nation victory at the Supreme Court of Canada.
A recent intertribal treaty, signed by 15 tribes on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, pledged to protect the Salish Sea from oil tanker traffic and environmental damage, and asserted indigenous sovereignty over the pipeline and shipping routes.
Houston-based Kinder Morgan is behind a proposal to nearly triple flow through its Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to Burnaby, British Columbia for export to Asia. If approved, it would increase oil flow to 890,000 barrels a day, with a sevenfold increase in oil tanker traffic through the heavily populated Burrard Inlet. That proposal is under review by the federal National Energy Board (NEB), which recently wrapped up indigenous oral testimony and is set to begin its remaining public hearings in the New Year.
“In this process, we asked for consultation directly with the government,” said Rueben George, with Tsleil Waututh Nation's Sacred Trust. “In our presentation at the NEB, we went there to say it's a flawed process, and we left. We stated who we are and how long we've been around—since time out of mind—and … we've been governing our lands. We have our laws around our lands, we've been protecting our lands. That's our case.”
However, in a teleconference Kinder Morgan Canada CEO Ian Anderson said he remains confident that the company will earn the support of Indigenous Peoples in B.C., and will continue reaching out.
“We're in consultations with literally dozens of First Nations communities—some on the path of our existing line, some remote to it—all of whom would have traditional territorial claims to lands impacted by this project,” he told reporters, adding that 16 First Nations communities have already signed agreements related to the project. Asked which ones, Anderson said he was not authorized to reveal them.
“I can't divulge at this point individual ones,” he explained. “They're subject to confidentiality agreements that in due course will be made public.”
One of those arrested for crossing the Burnaby Mountain police tape on November 27 was Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“It was a decision I didn't take lightly,” he told Indian Country Today Media Network in a phone interview. “I truly believe that leaders need to not only talk the talk, but also need to walk the walk. We can't ask others to do what we've not prepared to do ourselves.”
He said that the standoff in the conservation area was “incredibly significant” in demonstrating the “enormous opposition” to any heavy oil pipelines coming into British Columbia. Burnaby Mountain, he added, became a “flashpoint” that, in its last days, was drawing pipeline opponents from further and further afield in the province.
“Kinder Morgan and Enbridge have had a glimpse of the intensifying opposition to these heavy oil pipeline proposals,” he said. And if the National Energy Board approves the Trans Mountain project?
“Then I think you're going to see the next wave of civil disobedience,” he predicted, and in much higher numbers than on Burnaby Mountain. “It will continue to escalate if we go down that path if there is an attempt on the part of government and industry attempting to ram these projects though. There's not any doubt about that.”