Talk about lousy timing! Just as debate on Enbridge’s proposed “Northern Gateway” pipeline was dominating provincial and national headlines in Canada, another of their pipelines was shut down and investigated after leaking over 1,200 barrels of oil in Wisconsin at the end of July. Enbridge executives must however be credited with creativity in their positive spin that this leak “showed improvement” compared to their many previous spills. While a recent media standoff between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta Premier Alison Redford about exactly who will reap pipeline profits may have had a few more people watching the evening news, the most fundamental issue of the rights of indigenous nations whose land the pipelines would cross has been purposely glossed over when dealing with the Northern Gateway and two other major proposed pipelines starting in Alberta.
The three major pipelines currently creating the most debate are:
Enbridge’s 6 billion dollar “Northern Gateway” pipeline, which would operate between Edmonton and Kitimat on the coast of B.C.
KinderMorgan’s 4.1 billion dollar expansion of its existing “TransMountain” pipeline, which also begins in Edmonton and terminates in the Lower Mainland and Washington State.
TransCanada’s 7.6 billion dollar Keystone XL Pipeline, which would add to an existing pipeline to take oil to multiple destinations across the United States and all the way down to the Gulf Coast of Texas.
It’s impossible to argue that pipelines of this magnitude would not create jobs in their construction. However, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) points out that, for example, Enbridge’s estimates of creating 63,000 person years of employment with Northern Gateway are misleading, “According to Enbridge’s own estimates, the pipeline will only create about 1,850 construction jobs per year for three years.” Of course the pipelines would generate profit for Canadian oil and companies, but while they made a net of 18.7 billion dollars in profit in 2011, anyone who has filled up with gas lately will tell you that none of this has been passed on to the consumer. So how much will the pipelines actually economically benefit most people?
The Risks are Real
Enbridge’s recent Wisconsin spill happened almost two years to the day from its massive oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. Enbridge’s pipeline leaked an estimated 3.3 million litres of oil into the River, which cost over 800 million dollars to clean. From 1999 to 2010, Enbridge had 804 spills total with 168,645 barrels spilled. This equals approximately 26.81 million litres…” Remember, Enbridge is just one typical oil company, and its pipeline isn’t event the longest one proposed! The environmental risks are huge.
Who Really Decides?
B.C. Premier Christy Clarke recently laid out 5 requirements for the B.C. government to consider supporting the pipelines, with the most discussed being that B.C. receives a “fair share” of the economic benefits. But really, who is the B.C. government to dictate something which obviously deals with the land rights of the many indigenous nations whose territory the pipeline will cross? Recently, Canada finally officially signed on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states:
“1. Indigenous peoples have the right to determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of their lands or territories and other resources
2. States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”(Emphasis added.)
Given this, the fact that over 130 Indigenous nations and groups whose territory the Northern Gateway pipeline would cross have signed the Save the Fraser Declaration which states, “We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds,” makes it pretty obvious that the Provincial and Federal governments are premature in their imposition of conditions on a profits from a pipeline which is so broadly opposed by those whose right it is to decide.
Indigenous Rights Comes First: My Land Is Not Your Land
These governments and corporations continue to claim they are “balancing” the economy and the environment when it’s clear they are destroying both! The fact that the rights of Indigenous nations have been so consistently and harshly trampled on in the history of Canada is no excuse to continue the pattern today. Indigenous nations have the right to self-determination, which includes the right to make decisions regarding their land and resources. History has shown they have been much more consistent and responsible defenders of a sustainable planet and future than any of the major players in the proposed pipelines. The only effective way to defeat the pipelines is through a broad and active movement which includes not only indigenous nations and environmental organizations, but also poor and working people, and labour unions, who can be informed of the real facts regarding these proposed pipelines. Then we can really build a broad and effective movement to defeat them!
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