The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is no ordinary pipeline. This project, which the government of Canada has just decided to nationalise, will travel more than 1,000km from northern Alberta through unspoiled wilderness to end at the port of Vancouver. The port is on the Salish Sea, part of the hereditary territory of the Squamish People. The Salish Sea is home to some of the world’s largest wild salmon runs. Majestic orcas swim in the waters and feed on the abundance.
You might remember Vancouver from the 2010 Winter Olympics: beautiful mountains, clear water and clean air. Is this a location you would choose to turn into an oil port, exporting up to a million barrels of crude oil per day? It defies common sense. So why is it even proposed, you ask?
Because there is an existing, much smaller pipeline there. That’s the entire rationale. Because someone built a pipe more than 50 years ago, let’s build a new one three times as large.
The decision by the government of Canada to take over the Trans Mountain pipeline Expansion Project is yet another example of indigenous rights being ignored in Canada. The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, promised to do things differently than his predecessors. He promised indigenous peoples that our rights would be respected, and he has broken that promise, yet again. He promised us he would put pipeline expansion through a brand-new review, and instead the government is spending billions of dollars to buy it and, if necessary, complete and operate it over our objections.
By the way, the original pipeline carried 150,000 barrels of oil per day, which was primarily for domestic use. Today it carries 300,000 barrels, achieved by adding more pumping stations and pushing through more oil. So when the megapipe, with an estimated daily load of 800,000 barrels, is built, that capacity is only the beginning: it could double in capacity, with very little anyone could do about it.
If this pipeline is completed, these pristine waters will become the sailing grounds for more than 21,000 huge oil tankers over the next 50 years, carrying the world’s most toxic oil – diluted bitumen – from the Alberta tar sands. That is the minimum number of oil tankers; it could be more. A single incident would render the beautiful beaches of the city, surrounding islands and Vancouver Island uninhabitable. It would kill the Salish Sea and destroy our Squamish territory. All it takes is just one incident – and no one, from industry experts to the government, can guarantee that won’t happen.
Why risk it? We are told that “world-class” measures will be in place to prevent a spill and deal with one if it happens. A “world-class” standard for oil spill cleanup is that 10% to 15% is successfully recovered from the ocean. Of the remaining 85% to 90%, what doesn’t evaporate will destroy the beaches or sink to the bottom of the ocean to kill everything that now lives there, forever. That is the reality no one wants to talk about. It will destroy the Salish sea.
Why risk it? Alberta is already able to sell its oil through pipelines to the US. That oil is already being exported around the world, in ever-growing amounts, through US oil ports.
We know that, if built, this is a 50- to 60-year risk. Can we trust governments, or a corporation, to have the best interests of Squamish people and the residents of our province and city at heart through that whole time?
We know that financial constraints could make government or companies cut back on spill mitigation or prevention. In Canada we have seen cash-strapped governments close coast guard bases, lighthouses and weather stations, and allow search and rescue fleets and aircraft to age without being properly replaced. Governments cut back on oversight of all industries on a regular basis, only to express surprise when something goes wrong. And those are just the things we can control. What about the quality of the mega-tankers which will now enter our port? Will they be in top mechanical order? Who knows? Certainly, the Canadian government will never inspect them.
If you know this port, it has a very narrow opening, aptly called First Narrows. Medium-sized cruise ships barely fit. The current is powerful and unpredictable. For a mega-tanker it is exceedingly tight – and then they have to go through the Second Narrows before arriving at the terminal. Can they do that 21,000 times without a single incident? Why take the risk?
The decision to risk billions of taxpayer dollars and to pursue completion of a pipeline that threatens Squamish Nation territory and our people is appalling, and a continued betrayal of promises made to us by Trudeau. He told Canada’s indigenous people that our rights would be respected and upheld. He has broken that promise. He promised us he would put the pipeline expansion through a brand-new review. He has broken that promise as well. And this same government promises it will have our best interests in mind if the pipeline proceeds. You can see why we don’t trust them.
While proponents of the pipeline will say that 43 First Nations have agreements with Kinder Morgan, it’s important to dig deeper. A First Nation has rights in their territory, but not in mine – and so free, prior, and informed consent is required in all indigenous territories. We’re also hearing from First Nations such as Upper Nicola and Yale First Nation that, while agreements are in place for their First Nation, it doesn’t equal enthusiastic consent for the project. Out of the 117 indigenous groups who were a part of the consultation by the federal government, nearly two-thirds do not have any agreements with the company at all.
The Squamish Nation will continue to fight to protect our inlet, our communities and our economy. Regardless of who owns the project, our position has not changed. An expanded Trans Mountain pipeline would triple the capacity of diluted bitumen and is expected to increase the number of tankers from five to 35 each month. The tankers pass by three Squamish Nation communities on the Burrard Inlet. A single diluted bitumen marine spill would be catastrophic for our communities, our economy and our home as a Squamish people.
We have a right to practice our culture, our way of life, and to continue our right to self-determination in our territories. This is a right that we have never surrendered, and it is a right we will continue to defend.
Khelsilem is a councillor for Squamish Nation