A proposal to more than double a pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to tanker terminals in Burnaby, British Columbia, and Anacortes and Ferndale, Washington, is drawing fire from First Nations on both sides of the border who say the risks to traditional territories and waters are unacceptable.
Amid the hubbub and controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline through the United States, and the Northern Gateway pipeline proposed by Enbridge Inc. across pristine indigenous territory and wilderness in British Columbia, a third company with existing pipelines has been quietly pushing an expansion plan.
Energy giant Kinder Morgan insists that its plan to increase its existing TransMountain pipeline from 300,000 to 750,000 barrels a day by adding a second set of parallel pipelines is safe from oil spills or marine accidents. While the proposal has not yet been submitted to Canada’s National Energy Board for the 710-mile-long, $5 billion expansion, the firm is consulting with 100 Native communities along the route in hopes of drumming up support.
“We’re interested to know where their concerns are,” said Kinder Morgan’s aboriginal engagement lead for the project, Gary Youngman, in an interview with Indian Country Today Media Network. “The nice thing is we have an existing pipeline… So, they’ve lived with the pipeline for sixty years. They know very well what the problems are… Where we think they’re significant enough, we’ll mitigate and go around, or do something that might be able to accommodate them.”
But across the border in Washington, a number of bands have expressed their opposition to the project, joining aboriginal and environmentalist critics in B.C.
“We are not supportive of having yet another industry come into our waters and our homeland, that would impact the human health of our citizens, that would impact the treaty right resources that Washington tribes have,” said Debra Lekanoff, coordinator of the Coast Salish Gathering and intergovernmental affairs liaison for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community. “It also would impact how we would preserve this place that we all call the Salish Sea for generations to come. The first nations—the Washington tribes and our regional tribes—have determined that our natural resources are too important for us to squander for a fast dollar today. The Salish Sea is not for sale.”
Likewise, Coast Salish nations along the Burrard Inlet in B.C.’s Lower Mainland are questioning the safety of increasing the number of oil tankers on the waterway. In September, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh nations signed a declaration opposing the pipeline and tanker traffic after paddling an armada of ocean-going canoes between their territories.
“The Salish Sea has been our watercourse that’s connected all the Coast Salish peoples,” Squamish Chief Ian Campbell told ICTMN. “We maintain those connections each and every year through tribal journeys; traveling up and down the coast in our traditional canoes, we continue to hunt and fish. And we’re seeing the impacts, decade after decade, of the greed and the mentality of Western management, that continues to consume without any spiritual connection to the lands or the waters.”
Youngman said the company stood by its safety record.
“We appreciate people have their views and opposition to it,” said Youngman. “But our pipeline is very safe. It has been safe for a long period of time. We basically just run on our safety record; it speaks for itself.”
Though Campbell agreed with Youngman’s assertion that Kinder Morgan’s safety record “speaks for itself,” it was for very different reasons. He cited a 2007 pipeline rupture in Burnaby to dispute company safety claims, as well as the notion that there is no marine impact.
“There have been ruptures and leaks pretty much every year for the past ten years,” he said. “They can’t assure there won’t be any technical failures. It’s the cumulative impact of that type of oil impacting the Salish Sea, when we’ve been working decades to find accountability in government decision-making and industry, and their impact on aboriginal rights and title. We have a right to make decisions.”
The company boasts that its pipeline has regular aerial and ground monitoring, as well as frequent inspections. Ultimately, Campbell acknowledged, the company is listening to criticism.
“The company has responded to it,” he said. “There hasn’t been a spill on the waterways, and of course, the waterways are not our responsibility; they’re the responsibility of the shippers.”
Youngman said a number of first nations had signed early agreements, but when asked which ones, he refused to provide names.
“We don’t want to get into that right at this time,” Youngman said. “There’s levels of engagement, and there’s support for the project, which usually come up closer to the application period of time, usually after there’s been an identification of what kinds of rights concerns they have, and the level of mitigation that could take place.”