Courtesy Kinder Morgan
A section of the Trans Mountain pipeline. An expansion was approved by Canada's National Energy Board in May, but tribes in British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest are fighting it.

Coast Salish Nations Ramp up Efforts to Defeat Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion in BC

Richard Walker

Several Coast Salish nations are challenging—in courtrooms and in boardrooms—the Canada National Energy Board’s (NEB) recent recommendation that the federal government approve a threefold-capacity expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia.

RELATED: Coast Salish Unite Against Tripling Capacity of Kinder Morgan Tar Sands Pipeline

Coast Salish Nations Unite to Protect Salish Sea

Kinder Morgan proposes expanding its 53-year-old, 715-mile Trans Mountain pipeline system between Edmonton, Alberta, and Burnaby, British Columbia, increasing capacity from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. The Squamish First Nation and the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation have each filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the energy board’s recommendation. And the Vancouver Sun reports that Tsleil-Waututh representatives have met with Kinder Morgan’s major institutional shareholders, such as Morgan Stanley.

In addition, four Coast Salish leaders in the U.S.—Lummi Nation Chairman Tim Ballew, Swinomish Tribe Chairman Brian Cladoosby, Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman, and Tulalip Tribes Chairman Melvin Sheldon Jr.—say the pipeline expansion “would result in a dramatic increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea that extends into Washington State waters, would disrupt our treaty-reserved fishing rights and raise the threat of an oil spill—either small or catastrophic—that would devastate our lives and livelihoods,” they wrote in the Everett, Washington, Daily Herald.

They pointed out that First Peoples’ right to fish the Salish Sea existed before the governments of the United States and Canada did. Moreover those rights have been codified in treaties, they said. In addition, both nations have endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, they noted.

“The Canadian government, as a signatory to the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has an obligation to consider transboundary impacts on Native peoples in both Canada and the United States in deciding whether to approve this expansion,” they wrote.

The leaders also expressed concern about the pipeline’s possible effects on climate change, the environment, and clean food and water. Besides the direct impacts that the expansion would have on long-held treaty rights to fish, “we are concerned about the contribution tar sands oil extraction, refining, and burning will make to hastening global climate change,” they wrote.

The expansion would require laying more than 600 miles of new pipeline; building new and modifying existing facilities such as pump stations and tanks, and reactivating about 120 miles of existing pipeline. The proposal also includes expanding the Westridge Marine Terminal on Burrard Inlet in Vancouver. The rationale set forth in the energy board’s approval was that about 90 percent of the pipeline route is already being used. An expansion“parallels existing disturbance, which will reduce the need for new disturbance and minimize the potential impacts of construction,” the board said.

From Westridge Marine Terminal, oil tankers carrying tar sands bitumen—a thick form of petroleum which at lower temperatures is rigid, at room temperature is flexible, and at higher temperatures flows—would thread their way through the waters of the Salish Sea along the U.S.–Canada border en route to Asian refineries and markets.

The National Energy Board’s May 19 recommendation to approve the pipeline expansion contains 157 conditions pertaining to project engineering and safety, emergency preparedness and response, and environmental protection. But the board also found that the benefits of the project “would outweigh the residual burdens.” The panel, wrote energy board chairman David Hamilton in his assessment of the project, did consider what would occur in the event of an incident resulting in an oil spill.

“Together with my fellow panel members, I have done all I can to protect the environment and keep people and communities safe,” Hamilton wrote. “I have also considered the opportunities for Canadians from this project.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has delayed its final decision until December to allow for additional indigenous consultation, The Globe and Mail reported. But Trans Mountain feels that has already been done.

"The NEB confirms in its report that Trans Mountain has met the expectations with regards to aboriginal consultation, and there is sufficient evidence about the fate and behavior of oil,” said Ali Hounsell, a spokeswoman for the Trans Mountain project, to the Canadian Press. He added that while Trans Mountain is reviewing the Squamish Nation’s court filing, “ultimately, the NEB weighed all the evidence and recommended the federal government approve the expansion."

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