BY: TYLER FYFE
PHOTOGRAPHY: CONNOR BRIAN
Economy is not the opposite of environment. Profit is not synonymous with prosperity. Our idea of progress is its definition.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline was approved June 17th 2014, marking the beginning of the largest industrial project in Canadian history. Regarded by its supporters as an economic catapult, and by its opponents as an environmental landmine, there has largely been a false binary pushed on public opinion.
If this were really a case of money versus trees, the match would be rigged. You can’t have paper without pulp.
The Harper Government introduced Omnibus Bill C-38 in 2012, which rendered the Joint Review Panel process to a recommendation rather than an approval. This allowed Cabinet full power to approve the pipeline and made significant changes to the Environmental Assessment Act.
Federal MP Nathan Cullen, an elected NDP representative for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley, says
“We called Bill C-38 the Pipeline Enabling Act, because while it was meant to be a budget bill of some kind, it mostly gave in to the interests that were coming from the Oil Lobby.”
In the 41st Parliament, 2nd session, Cullen stated on record: “The Environmental Assessment Act has been weakened. Previously, the federal government enacted somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 environmental assessments a year. The Auditor General of Canada now tells us that those assessments will be reduced down to between 12 and 15 per year, under the Conservative government’s stripping away of protections.”
The tailings ponds in Alberta when combined are approximately 176 square kilometers.
The omnibus bill was the first of a growing trend of legislation to pave a more direct path for oil sector expansion. Since signing the Equivalency Agreement of 2010 and thus agreeing to whatever the Joint Review Panel recommends, B.C. Premier Christy Clarke introduced two new bills, streamlining the process for future construction. The passage of Bill 4 makes way for industrial development through previously protected parklands . Bill 24 established two zones of importance within the Agricultural Land Reserve, which some say draws into question the future of British Columbian’s food security.
M.L.A. Spencer Chandra Herbert, The Official Opposition Environment Critic says
“ What the Liberals are doing with Bill 4 and the Bill impacting the Agricultural Land Reserve, is they are telling British Columbians that they don’t care about the environment and they don’t care about the long-term sustainability, both economically and in terms of the use of our land, water and air. They are basically selling British Columbia out for private interests.”
The common belief is that royalties designate revenues to the economy and subsidize taxes, but truthfully when too much focus is put on a single sector the public interest is undermined. If you aren’t being taxed, you aren’t being represented. Harper’s hand on the democratic scale was no more apparent than when the advertising budget for the Natural Resource sector reached 40 million dollars in November of 2013.
71% of Oil Sands production is owned by foreign shareholders.
Chief Namox John Ridsdale of The Wet’suwet’en Nation, who participated in the JRP hearings, dismissed the process as “Smoke and mirrors.” The Northern Gateway stands to directly cross 173 kilometers of Wet’suwet’en territory, although it is believed the regional water flow will threaten the entire 22,000 square kilometres.
Ridsdale says “ We as chiefs were given a limited amount of time to speak. I believe if we weren’t part of the process our words wouldn’t get heard, but unfortunately the way it was directed was not open or honest.”
In Canada, under Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act 1982, First Nations Groups are recognized as a national government on a government-to-government basis with the Canadian Federal Government. Still in recovery mode from the cultural genocide of Residential Schools, the pipeline stands as the largest threat to traditional indigenous culture since.
Chief Namox John Ridsdale says, “Every time we get on an equal playing field, the field tips. Every time we get near the goal post, the post moves back.”
The lack of stewardship in contemporary politics is a point of passion with many First Nations groups who plan to take action against the recent Federal approval decision. Although some First Nations groups are likely to take the battle to the courtroom, some will take to the streets in civil disobedience as historically seen in the Lyell Island Blockade of 1985. Aboriginal Law will be tested in a way that it hasn’t been to date.
Promoted as economic counter shock, Northern Gateway’s own assessment claims 907,067 person years of employment. While this appears substantial (although internal figures are almost always inflated) there remains the weakening effect the project will have on traditionally important economic sectors such as fishing and tourism. Also, Northern Gateway’s own analysis by economist, Robert Mansell, includes in its figures induced jobs by consumer spending (retail) and indirectly related jobs like legal services.
According to Robyn Allen, The Former ICBC President and Senior Economist for the B.C. Central Credit Union,
“The whole impact of how this project would crowd out legitimate existing businesses was not properly examined. It is fascinating that the existing economic activity was not given as much weight as the possibility of Northern Gateway jobs.”
The economic case against the pipeline does not reside with the projection of profits or designated royalties, but rather lies with the exploitation of resource for short-term benefit. Money itself is only a promissory note for a return on a future resource. If that resource is not there anymore, that promissory note is meaningless.
So goes the Cree Prophecy, “only after the last tree has been cut down. Only after the last river has been poisoned. Only after the last fish has been caught. Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.”
Oil Sands operators used the equivalent of the residential water use of 1.7 million Canadians to extract bitumen in 2011 alone.
The Former Chief Councilor of The Haisla First Nation, Joe Amos says “We are in such a hurry as a society to get things done and to grow the economy that we are going to grow ourselves out of existence.”
Most discourse has focused on-route but there are larger and more dangerous implications on the ends of the twin-pipeline.
The influx of super tanker traffic poses large threats to coastal communities aside from oil spill hysteria. The combined ecological contamination from the bilge water of hundreds of ships creates significant hazard to keystone species like salmon, which would also devastate the upper levels of the food chain. According to Cetacealab, the noise pollution underwater from tanker traffic will have significant effect on the reproduction and communication of whales, which use sound in the same way humans use sight.
The $5.5 billion project has already been approved by Transport Canada to have 250 super tankers to the Kitimat port each year. It is interesting to note that community consultation is not required for future capacity increase should Enbridge wish to institute the pipeline’s full capacity under a section 58 application.
On the eastern end, the 525,000 barrels per day moving westward will fuel an unprecedented expansion of the Alberta Oil Sands.
This is not just some benign cancer that is confined to an unlucky province.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report of 2013 states that human activity is responsible for the changing land surface properties as a result of atmospheric concentrations of aerosols and greenhouse gases. This unseen climate activity in the last 1,300 years is not just an obstacle to oil sector public relations campaigns, but is rather an obstacle facing human survival.
Mark Jaccard, Professor at The School of Resource and Environmental Management and the former CEO of The British Columbia Utilities Commission says, “Right now global emissions are rising faster than ever, especially because developing countries’ lack of environmental regulation. Harper’s approach seems to take this as license to increase our emissions, so we are really heading full speed towards a Tragedy of the Commons.”
90% of water used in oil sands operations never ends up back in the river, but sits in toxic tailings ponds for decades.
According to Environment Canada in its report Emissions Trends 2013, further expansion of The Oil Sands will undoubtedly prevent Canada from reaching its 2020 emissions target of 17% below 2005. This means we are moving critically close to the two degree Celsius temperature rise that climate experts label as dangerous.
Climatologist and Geophysicist, Michael E. Mann says, “The total amount of mineable fossil fuels in the Athabasca Tar Sands, has enough carbon emissions to give us as much as a half a degree Celsius of additional warming, plus another half a degree once it is inside the pipeline.”
The inherent danger of tipping points is that you only know you have arrived once the threshold is crossed.
Mann continues “It is like we’re blindfolded and just feet away from a cliff and the only safe move is to not walk any further but we seem to be walking precariously closer to the edge.”
The effects of merely one single foot of global sea level rise can be seen in the devastation of New Jersey during the surges of Hurricane Sandy, the most intense tropical storm to move that far North. In two separate studies by NASA and The University of Washington, both found that we have likely committed to the melting of The West Antarctic Ice Sheet, enough melting to feed 10 feet of Global sea level rise.
Mann says, “If we set in motion the melting of The Greenland Ice Sheet then we are talking about another 15 feet of global sea level rise. We are talking about a world where Manhattan is completely submerged.”
The recent approval of a pipeline effort to subsidize the expansion of the Oil Sands marks the death of the waning idea of stewardship in contemporary politics. This is not a battle between the interest of Canadians and First Nations, inland people versus coastal peoples or environmentalists versus economists. The only valid binary is public versus private interest.
Guujaaw, famed Lyle Island protestor and former President of The Council of The Haida Nation says “The fight that we are in right now is not just a fight of First Nations. It should be everybody’s fight. It affects us all. Everyone’s voice must be counted.”
80% of Bitumen is too deep for open pit mining. In situ and SAGD operations are the future of oil industry expansion.