Pipeline opponents continue the battle from treetops and in insurance company boardrooms.
LEGAL CHALLENGES to the Trans Mountain pipeline are at a standstill, following the July Supreme Court of Canada dismissal of an appeal by several First Nations. However, opponents vow the battle is not over and are mustering supporters to continue fighting as construction nears some of the most controversial portions of the route.
Years of protests and legal skirmishes were instrumental in Kinder Morgan developing cold feet and pulling out of the project in 2018. The Trudeau government then stepped in and bought the pipeline, which, when the expansion is completed, will almost triple the amount of diluted bitumen that can be carried from Alberta’s oilsands to a marine terminal in Burnaby.
Costs of twinning the existing pipeline are escalating and are now estimated at $12.6 billion, on top of the $4.5 billion purchase price paid by the federal government.
As budgets dive deeply into the red while governments struggle to pay for COVID-19 relief, some groups are pushing for the government to abandon Trans Mountain.
“Canadians don’t want to see their hard-earned tax dollars wasted on a white elephant. It’s time to change course while we still can and invest those billions in clean, sustainable economic recovery projects,” according to Dogwood, which is running a letter writing campaign aimed at federal politicians.
Pipe installation began in Alberta last year and Trans Mountain officials have said they expect construction to be underway along every section of the route by the end of this year.
That is a plan that opponents are determined to derail.
Tim Takaro, 63, a former Vancouver doctor and health sciences and environmental health professor at Simon Fraser University, is staging a treetop camp-in on an aerial sleeping platform in the cottonwood trees close to the Brunette River on the Burnaby/New Westminster border.
Tim Takaro’s treetop sleeping platform
Activists say the project calls for the trees to be felled before September 15. Takaro, with the help of supporters on the ground who provide supplies and who, if necessary, will take over the sit-in, says he will do anything necessary to delay the construction because he is convinced the pipeline must not be built.
“We are in a climate emergency. This emergency is even more dire, in fact, than the COVID-19 pandemic that we have been so responsive to,” 63-year-old Takaro said in a video. “We need renewable energy and an energy supply that is not planet-destroying as our current fossil energy supply is,” he said.
Reports detailing the climate-killing effects of the pipeline have not been addressed by the National Energy Board, Takaro added. “So, I now find myself in a tree, 25 metres off the ground, blocking construction.”
Will George, a member of the Tseil-Waututh Nation and the group Protect the Inlet, is among Takaro’s supporters.
“We, at Protect the Inlet, will support anyone willing to do direct action, as our window gets smaller and smaller to stop the construction of the pipeline that, if completed, will increase tanker traffic through our waters by 700 percent,” he said.
Tanker traffic increases in sensitive areas of the Salish Sea and its effect on endangered resident killer whales have been among the most visceral objections to the pipeline by British Columbians.
Sven Biggs, Stand.earth Canadian oil and gas programs director, in an appeal for donations, said a construction delay could halt the work for an entire season because crews have only a few weeks to drill close to the Brunette River before salmon spawning season. The river supports chum and coho salmon and the endangered Nooksack dace.
“The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has ruled that Trans Mountain must complete this work in what is known as a ‘window of least risk to fish’ which runs between August 1 and September 7,” Biggs said in an email.
“A whole host of strategies could delay construction past the September 7 deadline,” he said.
Meanwhile, a coalition of groups is calling on companies to stop insuring the pipeline because of Indigenous rights violations and its contribution to climate change.
It is a tactic that is already having some success. Zurich, one of the pipeline’s main insurers, is dropping out and several other companies have signalled that they are having second thoughts about backing major fossil fuel projects.
A letter signed by 140 organizations was sent this month to major insurers such as Lloyds, Liberty Mutual, Chubb and AIG, calling on them to drop their coverage of Trans Mountain. “Trans Mountain puts Indigenous communities, drinking water and our shared climate at grave risk. We urge you to rule out insuring Trans Mountain and exit the tar sands entirely,” the letter says.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs president, said in a news release that companies insuring Trans Mountain are accelerating climate change and violating Indigenous rights. “Now is not the time to finance a huge expansion of some of the world’s dirtiest oil. The pipeline does not have the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of all Indigenous communities across whose land this pipeline passes,” he said.
A Trans Mountain spokesman said the decision by Zurich not to renew was anticipated and changes in insurance companies are a common occurrence. “There remains adequate capacity in the market to meet Trans Mountain’s insurance needs and our renewal,” she said.
However, as the world slowly transitions away from fossil fuels and awareness of Indigenous rights takes root, opposition to the pipeline may be enough to send shivers of doubt through the boardrooms of major insurance companies.
Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith