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First Nations uniting against pipeline

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Carleen Thomas of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation performs a dance. Her nation opposes a pipeline expansion.


Carleen Thomas of Tsleil-Waututh First Nation performs a dance. Her nation opposes a pipeline expansion.

VANCOUVER -- Carleen Thomas has an evocative message for the National Energy Board: Don't let a lust for oil riches destroy her community's dining-room table.

Thomas, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation located in North Vancouver across Burrard Inlet from the existing Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal, fears a future oil spill would contaminate the area she calls home.

"We are putting too much stress and pressure on our ecosystem and we have grown up with the saying that when the tide goes out, our table is set," the 53-year-old grandmother said.

Thomas is project manager of the Sacred Trust Initiative, which was set up by Tsleil-Waututh to oppose Kinder Morgan's plans to dramatically expand its Trans Mountain pipeline.

Indeed, the environmental war over pipelines in B.C. is heating up as approximately 36 First Nations have indicated they want to be part of NEB hearings into whether Kinder Morgan should be allowed to triple the amount of Alberta oil it is already shipping to the Pacific Ocean.

Wary of increased oil spills occurring over land, the First Nations, joined by four Washington State bands, local politicians and environmentalists, also worry what will happen if seagoing oil-tanker traffic is given the green light to increase from one vessel a week in Metro Vancouver's busy harbour to almost one a day.

And they point out that, once loaded with oil bound for Asia, the 245-metre-long tankers will greatly raise the risks of an environmental catastrophe at the same time the world is learning it has to do something about climate change caused by burning fossil fuels.

Visions of another Exxon Valdez disaster, which devastated Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, occurring just off Vancouver's palm-tree-lined beaches are driving First Nations in their quest to have the NEB turn down the Kinder Morgan proposal.

Last week, the Tsleil-Waututh and other Coast Salish groups applied to take part in NEB hearings into the proposed twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which was originally built six decades ago. The interveners include the Musqueam and Squamish nations in B.C. and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Lummi Nation and Suquamish Tribe in Washington State.

The bands say the waters of Georgia Strait, which Burrard Inlet adjoins, the Juan de Fuca Strait and Puget Sound -- together called the Salish Sea -- and its marine inhabitants are already facing considerable environmental degradation.

"Over the last 100 years, our most sacred site, the Salish Sea, has been deeply impacted by our pollution-based economy," Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby said in a press release. "Every kind of pollution ends up in the Salish Sea. We have decided no more and we are stepping forward. It is up to this generation and future generations to restore and protect the precious waters of the Salish Sea."

Trans Mountain filed an application with the NEB in December to expand its 1,150-kilometre pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, a suburb just east of Vancouver. The company says the proposed $5.4-billion expansion project would increase capacity of Trans Mountain from approximately 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 bpd.

Kinder Morgan says its application addresses environmental, socio-economic, aboriginal engagement, landowner and public consultation, marine-risk assessments and engineering issues. The company adds that if approved, the expanded pipeline could be operational by late 2017.

The pipeline expansion proposal is just the latest energy megaproject that seeks to use B.C. to ship fossil fuels to a rapidly developing Asia.

Enbridge's Northern Gateway project would see a twinned pipeline carrying oilsands oil from Bruderheim in Alberta to Kitimat in B.C. A number of companies are also developing plans to ship natural gas to B.C.'s northern coast and turn the fuel into liquefied natural gas for export. In addition, there are plans to increase coal shipments from Vancouver's harbour and a facility on the Fraser River in nearby Surrey.

Many, if not all, of the proposals have been criticized by First Nations, mayors and various environmental groups who say B.C.'s wilderness and coastline are too precious to remain a business-as-usual pawn in the continued use of carbon-laden fossil fuels.

For the most part, federal and provincial politicians, like the energy companies behind the various B.C. proposals, want to be full participants in a new and lucrative 21st-century bonanza. After all, huge money is at stake here and British Columbia could certainly reap its share.

Continually ignoring the rising drumbeat of depressing climate change news as a mere inconvenient truth, these political and business leaders seem trapped in yesterday's business models and so far are content to pass on any messes they make to the next generation.

But not Thomas, whose great-uncle was author and Academy Award-nominated actor Chief Dan George.

A lifetime of living across from Kinder Morgan's pipeline terminal has convinced Thomas -- who wants her grandchildren to also be able to enjoy the generous bounty of the ocean -- that society should be turning away from fossil fuels and instead be focusing on greener alternatives such as renewable energy sources.

And she added that the fight against the Kinder Morgan expansion should also be seen as a Canadian issue and not just something that First Nations reject.

"There's too much at risk here."


Chris Rose is the Winnipeg Free Press West Coast correspondent.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 21, 2014 A8

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