National Pipelines in Canada – Context for Protest (by Emery Hartley)

Sunrise over Victoria (and portion of Kinder Morgan tanker route)

Sunrise over Victoria
(and portion of Kinder Morgan tanker route)

I was first introduced to National Energy Board (NEB) pipeline reviews while on Haida Gwaii in 2012.  I was there during the height of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel (JRP) hearings. The hearings took place across northern BC, and represented one of the only opportunities for the public to present their concerns regarding this massive proposal.  During the process, I got to witness real testimony: the strength of the Haida Nation as they stood together and rejected oil-tanker traffic that would endanger their ways of life, their local economies, and irreparably damage their environment. For the Haida it was not a question of IF oil would spill, but WHEN. In the end their voices, and most others in the proposed corridor were condensed into the 209 conditions of the approval.  We learned that the NEB review process was never about whether a project should go ahead, but how best to proceed.


In 2014, the NEB was engaged in the lengthy approval process for the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline (TMEP). Despite reservations, the community I was living in engaged in the NEB review and we tried our best with scattered volunteers to draw a clear picture of the impacts a 7-fold increase in oil-tanker traffic would have on the west coast of Vancouver Island: a region that had previously suffered from a distant oil spill. Being a low-lying coastal community, climate change was also on our list of concerns, but the NEB refused to hear any of these type of concerns. Nor would it have made much difference, there is no national strategy to deal with emissions under which the NEB could frame expanded emissions from the Kinder Morgan pipeline.  In the closing months of 2015, our group and many others followed the lead of prominent intervenors and dropped out of the review process; after a year our capacity was stretched thin, and it was evident our core concerns would not and could not be addressed through the NEB process. The fight had always been a political one; (and indeed that is all it has done to date).


Unfortunately, with the recent Kinder Morgan and line 3 approvals, we see that the Trudeau government has extended the “best way to proceed” logic of the NEB into the political process. Throughout the climate town hall consultations this summer, and the federal government’s political review of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, one refrain has been repeated add-nauseum: “There isn’t a country in the world that would find 200 billion barrels of oil and leave it in the ground.” Click here to see this statement read in the House of Commons. Not only does this lack the leadership ambitions displayed by Trudeau at the Paris 2015 climate conference, the quote reflects a “Burn it all” mentality about fossil fuel extraction. It is emblematic of this government’s unwillingness to negotiate a transition away from fossil fuels and instead seeks to entrench the expansion of the Alberta Sands.


There is no National Energy Strategy or Climate Plan under which the NEB or the Trudeau government can say that they considered the broader implications of more pipelines and more sands expansion on our national carbon footprint or the international carbon budget. Authors that have, clearly state that if Canada is to do its fair share to limit CO2 emissions globally, then about 80% of Canada’s proven oil reserves must remain in the ground (McGlade and Ekins 2014). When Trudeau claimed on Nov. 29th to have science on his side, many of us working in the climate change movement had to stop, scratch our heads, and run the numbers one more time. Currently, Alberta produces 2.3 M barrels of oil per day (bpd) (AB gov’t stats), but has access to over 4 M bpd of pipeline capacity. The two pipelines approved by Trudeau would carry 1.65 M bpd, 910 thousand of which would be new capacity. An industry that produces 2.3 M bpd of oil but has been authorized ability to export 5 M bpd is one poised for expansion. Pipelines are significant and long lasting infrastructure.  If we are to pull our weight to meet international climate targets we need to be having a national conversation about how to phase out these technologies and industries, not committing to another 40 years of expansion and exploitation of one of the most carbon intensive oil products available.


Nationally we are at a crossroads; proposals such as the Leap Manifesto and a People’s Bank are not fringe ideas but necessary attempts to align national policy with strong science-based objectives and real human and community needs. Indigenous resistance to pipeline infrastructure is growing, not as a NIMBY movement, but as the result of resurgence and self-determination among Indigenous Peoples. Flowing from the mountains in BC and the ice flows below Baffin Island, to the streets of Montreal, Toronto, and Halifax, and the sovereign governments of Indigenous Peoples, thus begins a new national narrative. The Trudeau government may grant the permits, but our communities will not step aside to grant the permission.



Emery Hartley is a Master student in the E4A project and is part of the energy cohort.

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