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Big Oil's Pipe Dream

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Issue: 55 Section: Original Peoples Geography: West British Columbia, Prince Rupert Topics: Mining, Indigenous

November 13, 2008

Big Oil's Pipe Dream

An interview with Dustin Johnson about the Gateway Pipeline

by Dawn Paley

Photo: ZIG ZAG

PRINCE RUPERT and VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA–The Gateway Pipeline Project, proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge Gateway Pipelines Inc., would snake through the unceded territories of over 40 Native communities. If fully developed, the Gateway Pipeline would transport a half-million barrels of oil per day from Alberta's tar sands through sensitive ecosystems of BC's northwest coast.

The proposed Gateway Pipeline, along with other extractive industries, has become flashpoints for resistance in BC. Dominion editor Dawn Paley talked to Dustin Johnson, a member of the Tsimshian Nation and co-ordinator of North Coast Enviro Watch.

Dominion: Is the current resource rush in Northern BC a continuation of colonialism?

Dustin Johnson: Oil corporations in northern Canada use a classic divide-and-conquer strategy of tokenism and special deals to buy off Native political elites in rural areas. The Gateway Pipeline Project can no longer expect to just bulldoze through non-surrendered, unceded Indigenous territories, so Enbridge and other corporations are looking for other sophisticated means to pacify indigenous and environmental resistance to the ecocidal threats posed by these pipe dreams. One tactic used by oil companies is to take out 100-year leases and wait a decade or two for the last generations of dissident indigenous people, knowledgeable elders in particular, to die off. Staking mining claims online has been attracting corporate invasion in BC in particular in the last few years as well. This "arm chair" staking, carried out by people who may have never set foot in the territories they are claiming, is akin to claiming territory by mapmaking, as was done in previous centuries.

D: How does international and indigenous law play out related to resource extraction projects in BC?

DJ: Over 90 per cent of BC remains unceded, non-surrendered Native land. Neither Canadian, nor international, nor indigenous laws recognize that the territories in question have been legally surrendered to non-native settlers.

D: What are some of the concerns of people in Northern BC over resource extraction?

DJ: If the Gateway Pipeline Project reaches the northwest coast, tanker traffic will increase by 300 oil tankers up and down the coast. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska is the most well-known environmental catastrophe resulting from the sloppiness of the oil industry's greed. People are worried that if the Gateway Pipeline is implemented, there could be a breach or rupture resulting in spills or leakage that would travel through the water system and negatively affect the earth and people's health. Current estimates show the pipeline crossing more than 1,000 rivers and streams.

D: What would be the social impact of expansion of a pipeline or the introduction of new mining project?

DJ: Amongst Native communities, it is commonly understood that settler work camps nearby often bring with them an increasing level of social dysfunction and corruption. One case example is Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta. Fort McMurray has experienced a boom in the drug and sex trade as a result of the mining work camps associated with the Alberta tar sands. By some accounts, Fort McMurray sees $10,000 worth of cocaine being dealt per week, rivaling the severity of drug use in major cities like Vancouver. The construction of mining towns and work camps, especially in isolated communities, can mean violence against women intensifies, especially against Native and other brown women.

D: How much will the Gateway Pipeline Project cost?

DJ: Estimates set the cost at more than $4 billion, and it will be the biggest petroleum pipeline built in North America in the last 50 years. If you look at what happened with the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, fish and bird stocks are still recovering from the disaster, and that was almost 20 years ago. So there is a huge environmental cost as well.

D: Can you talk about recent resistance to the extractives in BC?

DJ: The biggest announcement in 2008 was that Shell, the world's second largest oil corporation, temporarily suspended plans for drilling for coal-bed methane gas at the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers in unceded Tahltan territory. The proposed Kemess North mine in Tse Keh Nay territory in north-central BC was also turned down after an uproar over the company's plan to use Amazay lake as a tailings disposal area. The cancellation of such a large mining operation in a seemingly remote "no-one-will-know-about-it" area demoralized mining corporations who are hoping to go whole hog mining Native lands. In July 2006, the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (CSTC), a government-funded group wrapped up in the BC Treaty Process, which includes 76,000 square kilometres of unceded territory and comprising one-third of the BC pipeline route, released a 118-page report condemning Enbridge for eight pipeline ruptures since 1992. In one rupture, more than four million litres of crude oil were spilled near Hardisty, Alberta. These kinds of events obviously generate a huge amount of pre-emptive resistance in indigenous communities.

Dawn Paley is Contributing Editor at the Dominion.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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