In the last decade, a diverse array of people came together to slow development of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline (ENGP). It remains a bitter fight. Legal issues around pipelines are still in dispute. Community members who spoke out and members of First Nations who resisted the pipeline have been branded terrorists in a leaked draft of a Canadian anti-terrorism law (akin to the Patriot Act). The development pressure centers around attempts to develop the tar sands--the world’s third-largest proven crude reserve and a centerpiece of Stephen Harper’s economic plans. Regionally, development of fracked natural gas in northeast BC has created a cavalcade of proposed gas pipelines slated for Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
Canada’s Tar Sands are the world’s third-largest proven crude oil reserve. A centerpiece of the country’s economic plan, production of 5.1 million barrels of tarry, sand-infused oil per day are permitted, but only two million are produced. This creates a massive demand for pipelines like the well-known Keystone XL and several others in various stages of development. Our focus is the 1,200 km Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, approved last summer to transport tar sands oil (diluted bitumen) from Central Canada to the British Columbia Coast and from there onto super tankers bound for Asian energy markets. Since approval, over a dozen lawsuits have been filed against the pipeline by First Nations, environmental organizations and a labor union. These cases will be heard in the fall of 2015.
From 1871 to 1921 the Canadian Government signed eleven treaties with First Nations that ostensibly transferred vast amounts of land from First Nations to the Government. However, in much of British Columbia and the Yukon, treaties were never signed, the lands remain unceded and the question of who manages those lands is yet to be decided.
We will speak with young members of First Nations as well as elders and visit resistance camps built on the path of proposed pipelines. We will talk with local recreational operators, activists, loggers and business owners about the affects of development in the area and the pressure to build pipelines.
Following weeks of interviews we will ski along the ENGP route’s most treacherous terrain between Houston and Kitimat. The route will start in the Unist'ot'en reoccupation camp, cross the confluence of the Clore and Burnie Rivers and cross Nimbus Mountain before dropping into the Kitimat River valley. The section between the confluence and Nimbus is especially important as the ENGP plans to tunnel through the mountains in this area. The remote landscape in the region is pristine and home to some of the best backcountry skiing in North America.
Like the proposed pipeline, our trip finishes at the coast. Nowhere is the risk posed by tar sands oil greater than in the winding channels and islands that lie between the pipeline’s terminus at Kitimat and the Pacific Ocean. Opposition from coastal First Nations and the town of Kitimat centers around the risk of an oil spill. These waters are the literal economic and cultural lifeblood of the region. In Kitimat, we will speak with local politicians and leaders of the First Nations, who will take us on their boats into the waterways near Kitimat at the end of our journey.
International and national policies have failed to create the scale of change necessary to reduce carbon pollution. However, place-based campaigns aimed at keeping carbon in the ground, led by grassroots resistance movements, have been successful representing one of the best ways to reduce carbon emissions. Nowhere else is there a story with equal magnitude in terms of the consequences for the climate, environment and aboriginal rights. It’s a story of hope, an ongoing victory for climate change and a symbol of progress for aboriginal rights, even as pressure to develop the Tar Sands remains as strong as ever.