BC First Nations Fight to Stop Enbridge Pipeline
"It's really not a question of if there’s going to be a spill, it’s when and where,” says Tara Marsden, former Director of Pipelines with B.C.’s Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC). The CSTC is one of 28 First Nation groups fighting to stop Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway Project. The proposed project would involve the construction of a 1172 kilometer pipeline to transport oil from the Alberta oil sands to the west coast of B.C, and the shipment of oil through B.C.’s northern coastal waters to ports in Asia.
The controversial pipeline would pass through the traditional territories of over 50 First Nation communities, and cross more than 1000 rivers and streams. According to CSTC’s research, there has been an average of one spill per year over the past 16 years on Enbridge pipelines across North America, with an average volume of one million litres per spill. The most recent spill happened earlier this week when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in southwestern Michigan, leaking more than 3 million litres of oil into local waterways and causing a state emergency.
To prevent Northern B.C. from becoming part of the next oil spill statistic, CSTC and their member nations are working hard to voice their opposition to the Northern Gateway Project, and convince others to join them. Three member nations in particular - Nadleh Whut'en, Nak'azdli, and Takla Lake First Nations - have been fighting the project for five years. Over the years, they have tried a number of strategies to stop the pipeline, including legal action, environmental research, and investor and media campaigns.
Their next action will be to walk the route of the proposed pipeline to highlight environmental implications of the project and voice their concerns. They are currently raising funds to support the walk, through an online giving organization called the Small Change Fund and directly through other means, and planning to film their trek to raise awareness.
Despite Enbridge’s promise of more money, more jobs, and even “a brighter future”, the three nations have expressed concerns that the project is all risk and no benefit for First Nations: stating that the pipeline would pose a threat to the rivers and salmon stocks they rely on; and that the project would not provide long-term jobs or other benefits to their communities.
Other opponents of the Northern Gateway Project have focused their criticism on the company’s plan to send over 200 oil tankers through B.C.’s northern coastal waters, fearing a repeat of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. A moratorium on north coast oil tanker traffic was imposed in 1972, but in recent years a debate has raged over whether or not it is still in force.
Enbridge’s proposal is currently under review by the National Energy Board, so the pressure is on for the CSTC and other opposition groups. “Our rivers are currently faced with multiple developments, and our salmon stocks are in severe decline,” stated members of the CSTC in a recent document. “The prospect of an oil condensate spill on our precious rivers is unacceptable."
Written in collaboration with Becky Thomas, Small Change Fund volunteer