More than 5,000 people protested in Vancouver on November 19 against a Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion that would triple capacity.

Mixed Reactions as Trudeau Nixes Northern Gateway Pipeline but Approves Kinder Morgan Expansion

Daniel Mesec

It was a day of mixed feelings after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline but approved its Line 3 (L3RP) replacement project from Alberta to Wisconsin, as well as the controversial Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion in Vancouver.

Indigenous opponents of Northern Gateway are finally breathing a sigh of relief following nearly a decade of protests and litigation from several First Nations and conservation groups on British Columbia’s north and central coast.

The 1,056-mile-long Northern Gateway pipeline would have carried diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to the deepwater coastal port of Kitimat B.C.

RELATED: Revoked: Enbridge Loses Northern Gateway Pipeline Permits Over Lack of Consultation

Despite the approval of two other oil pipelines in the country, the rejection of Northern Gateway “concludes a long journey for us,” Peter Lantin, President for the Council of the Haida Nation, who took a lead roll in the legal action against Northern Gateway, told CBC News.

“We’ve been pushing back on the notion of this project for nine years, spent that much time and a lot of money fighting if off in terms of why it’s to risky to build that project,” he said. “We’re very relieved.”

But not everyone was feeling elated. The federal government’s approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion project became more of a rallying call for the massive opposition that has grown in the tens of thousands of aboriginals and non-aboriginals in Vancouver.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, was outraged. He said approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and Line 3 directly violated the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Trudeau administration has committed to implementing.

“Last week I walked with nearly 5,000 people through the streets of Vancouver in opposition to the Kinder Morgan TMX pipeline, and we pledged to do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline from going through,” Phillip said.

Trudeau said the decision was based on sound science that will allow the economy to grow while still protecting the environment. He also mentioned the relative safety of pipeline transport over rail.

“If I thought this project was unsafe for the B.C. coast, I would reject it,” he told reporters in Ottawa. “This is a decision based on rigorous debate on science and evidence. We have not been, and will not be swayed by, political arguments, be they local, regional or national.”

Texas-based Kinder Morgan has operated the Trans Mountain Pipeline since 1953. It extends from Edmonton, Alberta through the Rocky Mountains and across British Columbia to Vancouver. The proposal is to twin that pipeline, which would expand their oil transportation capacity to nearly 900,000 barrels per day, increasing the number of supertanker visits to Vancouver to 34.

However, several First Nations and municipalities near Vancouver have vowed to stop the Kinder Morgan expansion at any cost, which could mean that protests may intensify in the coming months, possibly similar to those taking place in Standing Rock, North Dakota.

In early November the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spoke with Kinder Morgan CEO Ian Anderson regarding security of their project.

“I'd be naive if I didn't expect that,” Anderson told reporters. “Hopefully, it's peaceful. People have the right to express their views publicly and in that regard. It's when it goes beyond that that we'll have to be prepared. We've been in deep conversations with policing authorities, RCMP in the planning for our project—what can we anticipate and what their role needs to be.”

However, members of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation in North Vancouver are said to have rejected those claims, opting to continue pressuring government diplomatically.

“We’ve tried to do everything in the right way,” Chief Maureen Thomas told reporters earlier this week. “We’ve always tried to take the high road. We’re not here to disrupt the rest of Canada. We’re not here to cause problems for individuals.”

In Treaty 6 and Treaty 4 territories, situated in parts of Alberta and Saskatchewan, Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project is the largest ever undertaken by the energy transportation company at a cost of $7.5 billion. Most of the 1,000-mile-long pipeline between Gretna, Manitoba and Superior, Wisconsin will be replaced and upgraded.

But the opposition from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is somewhat different than that in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said that although they have concerns regarding their lands and water resources, they expect nothing less than the highest protection of the environment during project operations.

“As projects like L3RP go forward, it is crucial that stringent protections for the environment be put in place to protect our communities and that our First Nations concerns and recommendations are abided by based on our Inherent and Treaty Rights to lands and resources,” Cameron said.

“As the original stewards of the land, First Nations will be a part of all resource development initiatives so our grassroots people, leaders, youth and future generations can benefit,” said Cameron. “It is in the best interest of us all, to learn from the Standing Rock experience and find solutions through consultation and accommodation.”

Although Enbridge failed to secure approval for Northern Gateway, the company was pleased to learn of the approval for Line 3, attributing it to support from indigenous communities.

“We have strong support for the project from our communities along the route, including indigenous communities,” said Enbridge in a statement. “Since the project began in 2014, we have undertaken the largest engagement program in our history, including engaging with 150 indigenous communities from as far away as 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the right of way.”

Still, for some residents of northern British Columbia the rejection of Northern Gateway alone is cause for celebration.

With the commitment of a federal oil tanker moratorium coming for the north and central coast in 2017, Chief Na’Moks of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, whose territory would have been directly affected by Enbridge’s oil pipeline, says the rejection is a result of what is possible when communities stand united.

“When we work together great things can be accomplished,” said Na’Moks.“It is through true understanding of the value of our environment that we as humans realize the importance of our surroundings and our duty to protect it. With the rejection of Enbridge Northern Gateway, the highest elected officials of Canada have assisted the First Nations of northern B.C. in protecting our lands and water, but also, ensuring our duty for true jurisdiction and authority of our peoples is adhered to.”

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