Activists step up protests over US, Canada pipelines

12 October 2016 18:23 Source:ICIS News

Activists protest the Dakota Access pipeline project in August at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC. (ddp USA/REX/Shutterstock)
First Nations Indian groups and climate activists on both sides of the border are targeting both planned and existing energy projects. Above, a rally protests the Dakota Access pipeline project during an August hearing at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC. (ddp USA/REX/Shutterstock)

Focus article by Stefan Baumgarten

HOUSTON (ICIS)--US and Canadian climate activists are revving up actions on both sides of the border, targeting not only planned but also existing oil pipelines and other energy infrastructure.

At the same time, First Nations Indian groups in both countries are becoming more organised in their opposition to energy projects affecting their lands and water resources.

This week, police in four US states arrested 10 climate change activists following disruptions of existing pipelines that ship oil sands and crude from Canada to the US.

A group, Climate Direct Action, said that actions taken by its members led to shutdowns of five different cross-border pipelines on Tuesday at sites in the states of Washington, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

The group is targeting existing pipeline infrastructure, as opposed to just fighting new planned projects.

"Forget building any new infrastructure, we need to stop the existing infrastructure that is transporting and extracting," a spokesperson for Climate Direct Action said.

Canadian pipeline majors Enbridge and TansCanada confirmed to media that they shut down cross-border pipelines as precautionary measures in the wake of protester attempts to disrupt operations.

US-based Spectra Energy also confirmed a temporary shutdown after activists tampered with a valve at a line in Montana.

Climate Direct Action said that it is acting in solidarity with US indigenous Indian groups opposing the planned Bakken pipeline system, which includes the Dakota Access and the Energy Transfer Crude Oil Company (ETCO) pipeline projects.

Dakota Access is a 1,172-mile, 30-inch diametre pipeline project to connect oil production from the Bakken and Three Forks areas in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois. ETCO is a pipeline project from Patoka to a terminal facilities at Nederland, Texas.

The Bakken system is in part an alternative to TransCanada’s Keystone XL, which would have shipped Canadian oil sands crude, along with Bakken crude, to US Gulf Coast refineries.

The US officially rejected Keystone XL last year. The campaign of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said, if elected, his administration would reverse that decision.

Meanwhile, Canadian and US First Nations groups are seeking to coordinate their opposition.

Last month, 50 indigenous groups from across North America formalised their commitment to block proposed pipeline, tanker and rail projects during ceremonies in Canada's Quebec and British Columbia provinces.

They specifically took note of TransCanada’s massive 1.1m bbl/day west-to-east Energy East pipeline project, Enbridge’s Northern Gateway from Alberta to a terminal in northern British Columbia, and the proposed tripling of capacity on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to a terminal near Vancouver.

The groups have found support in Canada’s Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau which was elected last year, ousting a "pro-energy" Conservative government after nearly 10 years in office. Trudeau has pledged to work with First Nations groups, rather than marginalising them, when considering new projects.

A landmark court ruling in June against Northern Gateway determined that Canadian indigenous people had not been sufficiently consulted on that project.

Commentators have said that the Kinder Morgan project has the best chance among the major proposed projects of getting final approval from Trudeau. The project involves nearly tripling capacity, to 890,000 bbl/day, of a pipeline from Edmonton in Alberta to an export terminal in Burnaby, near Vancouver.

The government is due to make a final decision on Trans Mountain by the end of this year after Canada’s federal energy regulator approved the project in May – subject to 157 conditions.

Trudeau's government seeks to balance approvals for new energy projects and economic growth with a commitment to reduce Canada’ greenhouse gas emissions.

Last month, the government approved Pacific NorthWest, a big liquefied natural gas (LNG) project led by Malaysia state energy major PETRONAS – a move criticised by environmentalists in Canada.

The government of oil-rich Alberta province insists on building new pipelines to ship its oil to markets, and it has indicated that its support for Trudeau’s recently announced carbon pricing system would depend on approvals for new pipelines.

The 4,500-kilometre Energy East project would ship oil from Alberta to markets in eastern Canada and to an export terminal in New Brunswick province. That project has run into hefty opposition in Quebec where protesters recently disrupted hearings in Montreal.

Northern Gateway is seen as having the lowest probability of getting government approval, given June’s court ruling and repeated critical comment by Trudeau and others.

Earlier this year, a Canadian policy institute proposed a crude-by-rail project from Alberta to a port in Alaska as an alternative to both Keystone XL and Northern Gateway.

There are also plans for a big natural gas pipeline project from the Mackenzie Delta in Canada’s Northwest Territories to Alberta. However, that project is not likely to be realised in the near term, given the market outlook for natural gas in North America.

Dakota Access from Three Forks, North Dakota, to Patoka, Illinois. ETCO pipeline from Patoka to Nederland, Texas. (OpenSource Maps)
Dakota Access from Three Forks, North Dakota, to Patoka, Illinois. ETCO pipeline from Patoka to Nederland, Texas. (OpenSource Maps)

INSET IMAGE: Pipelines and pumpjacks in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada. (Design Pics Inc/REX/Shutterstock)

By Stefan Baumgarten