Andy Clark/Reuters
This Chevron refinery is one of five major oil-handling facilities in the coastal region of British Columbia, a source of concern for Pacific Northwest tribes in the U.S. and First Nations in BC.

Northwest Tribes and BC First Nations Warn of Potential Oil Disaster

Richard Walker

Worried about increased shipping traffic and the potential for spills, Indigenous Peoples and others opposed to the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain oil pipeline are saying enough is enough.

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

With five major oil-handling facilities in the coastal region, the potential for environmental disaster is increasing with each new project, they say. According to, as of 2012 there were five major oil-handling facilities in Burrard Inlet, Vancouver’s primary port: Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Marine Terminal, which ships 300,000 barrels of oil per day to California, the Gulf Coast and Asia; Chevron Canada, which operates a 55,000-barrel-per-day refinery; Suncor’s Burrard Products Terminal, which distributes petroleum products by barge, train and truck; Shell’s Shellburn Distribution Terminal, which distributes diesel, jet fuel and gasoline; and Imperial Oil Co., aka Esso, which distributes marine bunker fuel, marine diesel, asphalt and bulk lubricants.

The Georgia Straits Alliance, a conservation group, is worried about the risks of increased shipping traffic, citing a 1999 analysis performed for the Canadian Coast Guard that predicted a spill of greater than 10,000 barrels in Canadian waters every seven years. Between March and May, there were three spills—two by ship and one by tanker truck—on the Upper Fraser River, the Similkameen River, and Plumper Bay, totaling more than 20,000 gallons. That’s equivalent to 476 barrels.

But shipping isn’t the only concern.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, some four million barrels of hazardous liquids were spilled in U.S. pipeline incidents from 1986 to 2013. Those liquids included jet fuel, liquefied gases, propane, diesel, gasoline, natural gas liquid and oil. More than half of the spills were oil. The leading causes of the spills were excavation damage, corrosion and material or equipment failure.

In Canada, that country’s transportation safety board reports an average of 147 pipeline “incidents” a year from 2010–14, each incident representing a spill of at least 1.5 cubic meters, or 396 gallons, of liquid hydrocarbons. In 2007, 66,000 gallons of crude oil gushed from the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby after it was punctured by a construction crew digging on a highway.

Meanwhile, a Canadian publisher is raising $22 billion to build a refinery, Kitimat Clean, that he says would process bitumen with fewer environmental impacts than if it were processed elsewhere. Kitimat Clean, proposed by David Black, owner of Black Press, would process 550,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen from Alberta into 460,000 barrels of refined fuels.

“CO2 emissions are expected to be in the order of 10 million tons per year, which is one-third of the 33 million tons generated by a normal heavy oil refinery producing and burning coke by-product,” according to the project’s website. “The plant will also incorporate the best pollution control equipment in the world to control all other emissions, there will be no waste water, and power for the refinery will all be generated internally. If this refinery is not built in British Columbia, subject to Canada’s tough environmental regulations, it will be built in Asia and likely utilize standard coking technology with the result that approximately 100 rail cars of coke will be burned daily in the atmosphere.”

Jewell James, director of the Lummi Nation’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office, said the only solution is alternative energy, such as liquid natural gas and solar. First, he said, the U.S. and the state of Washington must stop taxing treaty-protected coal reserves just as the governments hold treaty fishing resources and related activity exempt.

“Treaty resources are reserved by the Tribes at treaty negotiations,” James told ICTMN via e-mail. “We gave to the USA massive ceded territories and retained lands and natural resources for ourselves. For the USA to take an additional share in the form of taxes is unjust and violates treaties made and therefore the U.S. Constitution (Article VI).”

He said that if that were done, then tribes like the Crow Nation would have the resources to invest in more environmentally friendly development than coal extraction, which is currently the impoverished nation’s only option. An on-reservation, state-of-the-art liquid natural gas plant that captures toxins and mixes them into compounds that can be turned into cement would be a great boon to the tribe, he suggested.

RELATED: 9 Billion Tons of Coal: The Crow Coal-to-Liquids Project

“This type of LNG allows Crow Nation to use their coal, be the forerunner of turning coal in gas in an earth-friendly process, and allows them to reinvest into their own economy,” James said. “Second, we need to allow foreign-made solar panels to enter without large tariffs that are used to force ‘Buy American.’ The U.S. industry cannot compete, so we are all penalized by lack of access to foreign solar panels or have to be content with buying domestic versions at high rates. The U.S. is creating a false economy to slow down domestic transfer to solar energy.”

The U.S. “should allow foreign solar panels to be imported into foreign trade zones and be assembled there,” he said. “This process (inside FTZ) then turns the finished product into an American-made product. It now qualifies as ‘Buy American.’ ”

James concluded, “Native American and Aboriginal Tribes for the USA and Canada are the ones leading the march against coal/oil trains and pipelines. We do not want to support the fossil fuel industry. It is an immediate threat to our all territories and is a leading cause for global warming. We form alliances with non-Native citizens, environmental entities, and churches in order to strengthen the power of all our voices acting in unison.”

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jaytaber's picture
Submitted by jaytaber on
In addition to the fact that alternative energy does not scale to meet existing electrical demand, the components used in manufacturing solar panels are highly toxic, and become hazardous waste when these panels wear out. Meanwhile, mining and manufacture of these panels overseas is already creating environmental and social disasters for rural indigenous peoples. Stopping fossil fuel export, as recommended by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, would help to protect the Salish Sea, and to preserve these fuels for the future energy needs of Canadians and Americans. The real challenge for the future, however, is for industrially advanced societies to use less energy. Conservation in heating and lighting is part of that reduction, but the major part is reducing consumption of petroleum-based products, i.e. plastic, jet fuel and gasoline. Since the U.S. military is an enormous consumer of petroleum, curbing wars of aggression to secure access to foreign minerals used in generating so-called clean energy, i.e. gold, copper, lithium and uranium used for solar and nuclear power, would make a huge dent in the US carbon footprint. The American way of life--that consumes vast quantities of minerals for electricity and electronics, car and jet travel at the expense of the rest of the world--demands both endless war and increasing pollution. Reducing demand is not a popular position to promote, but it is the only effective one.