Opposition mounts in Canada to Kinder Morgan tar sands oil pipeline expansion

A vigil against the Kinder Morgan held in front of Queens Park in Toronto, Canada. (Photo credit: Jillian Kestler-D’Amours)

Canadians held vigils in over 45 different locations across the country this week as opposition to an oil pipeline expansion project continues to grow. Activists say the Trans Mountain pipeline poses serious risks to the environment and tramples on indigenous rights. FSRN’s Jillian Kestler-D’Amours has more from Toronto.

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Protesters rallied in downtown Toronto this week to send a clear message to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: Reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

More than 100 people huddled together in winter coats, hats and scarves, as part of a countrywide day of action to show their opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

“I think that we have to decrease the amount of fossil fuels and move to renewables. And I think that’s where our future is. There are jobs in that,” says Elaine McKee, who was among the protesters. “We just have to stop burning the fossil fuels. We have to stop taking it out of the ground. We have to build for the future, not just for right now, this minute.”

The Trans Mountain pipeline was first built in 1953. It currently spans over 1,100 kilometers – that’s over 700 miles – from Edmonton, Alberta, to an export terminal in Burnaby, in Canada’s western province of British Columbia.

Kinder Morgan estimates that the expansion to a twinned pipeline would almost triple the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil per day to 890,000 barrels of crude oil and refined petroleum from the Alberta tar sands.

The Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby will also be expanded to serve 34 tankers and three barges per month. The product is expected to be exported primarily to Asian markets.

Kinder Morgan Canada did not respond to FSRN’s request to comment on the protests.

The company says the project, which is projected to cost around US$5 billion, is needed to get Canadian oil to international markets. It also says it will create jobs and generate important export revenues for Canada.

The National Energy Board of Canada, a regulatory body that decides on oil and natural gas projects across the country, recommended in May that the government approve the Trans Mountain expansion project, as long as 157 conditions were met.

But serious concerns remain about the potential environmental risks and how the project can be consistent with Canada’s promises to fight climate change and respect Indigenous sovereignty.

Several First Nations communities along the pipeline route and across Canada have voiced staunch opposition to the project.

Amanda Peltier is an indigenous activist based in Scarborough, Ontario. She said the fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline is tied to other Indigenous struggles across Canada and in the United States: “This is empowering the people to know that people are more important than pipelines. People or pipelines? We don’t care about money; we care about each other. We can live without it and we’ve just got to find different ways to make that change and be that change.”

A report put out by a group of citizens in British Columbia found that four oil spills had been recorded along the Trans Mountain pipeline route since 2005.

The Conversations for Responsible Economic Development report also said the project would create only 50 permanent jobs while an oil spill would put over 200,000 positions at risk.

The Trans Mountain pipeline is part of a larger push to green light large-scale resource development projects across Canada.

In September, the government approved one of the largest natural gas projects in Canada’s history, the Pacific Northwest Liquid Natural Gas project. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives called the project a “carbon bomb.”

Widespread criticism of the Kinder Morgan project prompted Canada’s federal government to appoint a ministerial panel to evaluate what may have been missing from the NEB review process.

It released its own report on November 1 and raised questions about how the pipeline would impact the environment and Indigenous rights.

Prime Minister Trudeau said in a televised press conference earlier this year that his government seeks to balance these concerns with Canada’s economic interests: “One of the fundamental responsibilities, historically, of any Canadian prime minister, is getting our resources to market. But doing that in the 21st Century requires a level of public trust, the public confidence, that goes with rigorous science, independent processes, partnerships and attention to communities’ concerns and engagement with Indigenous communities.”

The government now has until December 19 to make a final decision on the pipeline. If approved, construction could start as soon as next year and the new pipeline would be expected to be operational by 2019.

Protesters in Toronto meanwhile vowed to continue their fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline and other similar projects across Canada.

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