Wednesday, January 2, 2013

What to Watch in 2013 #2: Canadian Pipelines and Free Trade Deals

2. Pipelines and free trade deals north of the border: In the face of pro-resource extraction governments in BC and federally, we won a few surprising victories in 2012 with the BC government opting to protect the headwaters of the Skeena and Nass from shell gas drilling and the denial of an environmental certificate to a proposed copper and molybendium mine in the Babine watershed. However, the environment was also dealt significant blows by Stephen Harper's conservative government, including weakening of the Fisheries Act, drastic reductions in the number of navigable waterways afforded environmental protections, further budget cuts at government ministries tasked with monitoring and protecting natural resources and the outright elimination of the department tasked with monitoring ocean pollution. Finally, the Harper government is in the process of putting through a trade deal with China that would give foreign governments and corporations unprecedented powers to sue local governments in municipalities in Canada for economic damages if they oppose resource projects or enact policies that otherwise hinder economic benefits accrued to to foreign companies investing in Canada.

 The next year will be extremely important for the future of the Skeena, BC's Central Coast and the Georgia Strait (not to mention the future of our planets climate), as all are threatened by plans to massively expand oil exports from Canada to China via British Columbia.

By now you've probably heard of the Enbridge Pipeline proposal. A project that would pipe bitumen, a dense oily sludge, from Alberta's tar sands to the port of Kitmat. The pipeline would cross the Fraser, as well as several vitally important tributaries of the Skeena including the Morice and Copper, before being loaded into super tankers 10-times the size of the Exxon Valdez at Kitimat. Given the hazards associated with the pipeline and tanker route it is really only a matter of when, not if there will be a catastrophic spill, and as the Exxon Valdez spill demonstrated, ecosystems take decades to recover from these types of disasters. Understandably, First Nations throughout BC and Alberta are united in their opposition to the proposal, meaning the federal government will have to blatantly disregard the rights of aboriginal people to move the project forward, something they seem willing to do.

Yet another pipeline project is proposed for Southern BC, one which would bring bitumen from Alberta to a terminal in Metro Vancouver. The Kinder-Morgan pipeline would pipe oil hundreds of miles along the Fraser and would more than double the amount of tanker traffic in the Georgia Strait, dramatically increasing the risk of oil spills for these two already threatened ecosystems.

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