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North Van's Tsleil-Waututh oppose pipeline expansion
Tsleil-Waututh Nation hereditary Chief Ernie George solemnly recalls a time when life was simpler.
Before there was TV. And when planting a stick in the ground and batting it with another stick could satiate him on an idle summer afternoon.
Diving into the Burrard Inlet every morning before breakfast and the daily chores was routine.
“So our entertainment was the water, it was the beach,” says George. “And we had to catch our own lunch.”
That entailed digging for clams or fishing. A common saying amongst the Tsleil-Waututh was: “When the tide went out, the table was set.”
But now industrialization has encroached upon the area and polluted the waters east of Maplewood Flats. Crab fishing is the only sustainable food resource left for “The People of the Inlet.”
There have been other environmental changes as well. George estimates that he has lost 35 feet off the west side of his oceanfront property, as the water creeps closer and closer.
“High tide in my day was 12 to 13 feet. We are getting to 16 foot 7 (inches) now. That’s a lot of water,” says George.
The elder was speaking to a group of mainly Tsleil-Waututh members and a handful of Deep Cove residents gathered at the Burrard Band’s community centre on Feb. 10 for a roundtable discussion on the implications of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion proposal.
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, member of the Lubicon Cree First Nation in Alberta, was on hand to offer the Tsleil-Waututh a cautionary tale. In 2011, her village, which is located 30 kilometres outside of Peace River, was hit by one of the biggest oil spills in Alberta’s history.
Close to 28,000 barrels of crude oil contaminated more than three hectares of beaver ponds and marshland.
“I’m not here to scare people. And I’m not trying to give people doom and gloom,” says Laboucan-Massimo, whose main message was to encourage the Tsleil-Waututh, whose territory is at the terminus of the Trans Mountain pipeline, to not give up their fight.
Fellow environmentalist Ben West shared some of the research that he has done on the oil sands industry.
The Tar Sands Campaign Director with ForestEthics Advocacy says, with the pipeline expansion, the smallest tanker to ply these waters would be 150 metres long, with the largest stretching out 300 metres. To put it in perspective, West says the larger tanker is one-and-a-half times the height of the Shangri-La Hotel in Vancouver, the tallest building in the city.
The twinning of Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain pipeline would increase oil traffic in the Burrard Inlet from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen a day.
“The biggest problem we’ve got is people don’t think there’s an alternative,” says West, who added one viable alternative is encouraging the government to invest in renewable energy sources.
He concluded his presentation by encouraging non-natives to “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with First Nations in this fight.”
“It really is at the grassroots that projects like this are stopped,” says West.
The Tsleil-Waututh have added their name to the long list of governments and environmental and citizens’ groups that have applied for intervenor status in National Energy Board’s review of the pipeline expansion proposal.
Carleen Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh’s project manager of intergovernmental relations, said, to this point, they have refused any kind of dialogue with Kinder Morgan because the NEB doesn’t fulfill the obligation of the federal government.
“We have constitutionally-protected rights that Kinder Morgan doesn’t have the power to work on with us as a First Nations,” Thomas told The Outlook last week. “They are saying, basically, that we do have to follow the process, so that’s why we made the decision to apply for intervenor status.”
The Tsleil-Waututh has implored Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver to create a process where the First Nations can consult directly with the federal government on matters relating to the pipeline project.
In December, when Kinder Morgan filed its expansion application with the NEB, the company pledged to continue working with all stakeholder groups.
“For the past 18 months we have engaged extensively with landowners, Aboriginal groups, communities and stakeholders along the entire proposed expansion route, and marine communities, and have carefully considered the input received during this period of study and dialogue,” said Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan Canada, in a press release. “Our engagement efforts will continue beyond this filing leading up to the NEB hearing as we consider further input that is critical to our planning on this project.”
The Tsleil-Waututh have found a kindred spirit in NO Pipeline Expansion (NOPE) — a North Shore citizens’ group vehemently opposed to Kinder Morgan’s plans. Sitting by the water at Cates Park last summer, NOPE founder and Deep Cove resident Janice Edmonds says she was “scared stiff” as she envisioned an oil spill in the inlet. With the intervenor status deadline closing in, Edmonds was surprised to learn there was no non-partisan North Shore group denouncing the pipeline expansion.
Since forming in November, NOPE has amassed 400 members. Back at Cates Park last week, Edmonds and three others from the group’s Deep Cove contingent, stare down a tanker across the water.
“He’s venting his smoke stack, that’s adding to the pollution,” exclaims June Wells.
The longtime Deep Cove residents have also become well-versed in tanker classifications. They say the smaller, by relative comparison, Panamax and Aframax vessel varieties are monolithic blights in the narrow channel.
Chloe Hartley chimes in, saying the tanker routinely parked at the foot of Dollar Road is too close for comfort.
“It’s just right there, you could throw a baseball at it,” she describes.
In 2005, 22 tankers a year moored in the area. Should the Kinder Morgan pipeline be approved that number would reportedly jump to 408.
NOPE is mostly concerned about exposure to benzene, a carbon-based solvent used in the oil and gas industry, in the event of a spill.
“In terms of benzene, it is a naturally occurring hydrocarbon and a component of crude oil transported in the pipeline and the gasoline people use everyday in their cars and for fuelling buses and ferries,” explained Greg Toth, senior director, Trans Mountain Expansion project, in an email to The Outlook.
In their application to the NEB, Kinder Morgan has presented research it conducted on the potential environmental effects of a pipeline or tanker spill.
“What it says, in part, is that the lighter components of crude, which include benzene, will evaporate within the first 48 hours of a spill - mostly within the first 12 hours,” said Toth.
Kinder Morgan’s emergency response plans include provisions for air quality monitoring and a safety plan that Toth says is designed to protect the public.
“First and foremost, our goal is to prevent spills and we have a full range of programs to maximize the safety of the pipeline,” said Toth.
For NOPE, talk of the potential for an oil spill has spurred them to apply for intervenor status to try and stop the pipeline expansion.
“I don’t think there has ever been a project that, if approved, will have such an impact on our community. How can we not participate to the full extent?” says Panorama Drive resident Gil Rosenfeld.