This piece was written for Daily Hive by Kyle Empringham. Kyle is a Public Engagement Specialist for the David Suzuki Foundation and the Co-Founder of The Starfish Canada.
Yesterday, the federal government threw down the gauntlet on four major announcements – and three of them have huge impacts for British Columbians.
The good news? They announced a moratorium on oil tanker traffic along BC’s northern Pacific coast and rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline that would have carried bitumen oil between Bruderheim, Alberta and Kitimat, BC.
The bad news? They approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which follows an existing pipeline carrying oil from Edmonton to Burnaby.
So what does this mean for Canada and British Columbia?
We’ve heard time and again that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to deal with climate change. That means a transition away from fossil fuels and stronger investments in renewable energy.
Expanding Kinder Morgan’s pipeline means we won’t be meeting climate targets anytime soon, including the commitments Canada made on the international stage in Paris only a year ago.
In terms of emissions, it’s good that the federal government rejected the Northern Gateway pipeline and committed to ending coal-fired power by 2030 – but that’s way less effective if you add fossil fuel infrastructure at the same time.
The feds also approved the Line 3 pipeline expansion, which transports crude oil from Alberta to Wisconsin. Turns out, the increased oil capacity in the approved Line 3 pipeline is equivalent to the amount of oil that would have been transported through the Northern Gateway pipeline.
Doesn’t seem like a big climate win to reject one pipeline when you look at it this way. We’d do much better to invest in renewable energy instead.
Simply put – climate leaders don’t expand pipelines.
Justin Trudeau famously noted during the 2015 election that “governments grant permits, but only communities grant permission.” British Columbians – including 21 municipalities, 59 First Nations, 91% of people surveyed at town hall meetings, and hundreds of thousands of petition-signers — say they don’t want pipelines in this province.
Rallies, like the one yesterday in downtown Vancouver, and the wave of petitions and phone calls to government officials, are likely to escalate bringing into question whether this pipeline will actually be built.
Kinder Morgan’s expanded pipeline will carry oil to the coast where tankers and barges take it to foreign ports. Tanker and barge traffic is expected to increase sevenfold. That’s up to 408 tankers a year. More tankers means more chances of spills, especially in heavily populated areas.
We can expect the Kinder Morgan pipeline to come with accidents. It’s what the federal government does to mitigate these spills that matters.
The pipeline carries crude oil and refined bitumen. They’re both really hard to clean up. In fact, there’s no technology that exists to adequately clean up a bitumen spill. While the government committed funds to improve spill responses, it hasn’t made effective bitumen clean-up a priority.
And as you might imagine, pipelines and tankers don’t have a perfect track record. In fact, major oil spills worldwide over the last five to 10 years have become more frequent. It was only last month that a petroleum barge ran aground near Bella Bella, spilling oil and wreaking havoc on the Heiltsuk Nation’s marine environment and economy. Although the federal government speaks of a “world class oil spill response”, the Heiltsuk had to provide their own resources as the responder’s equipment was deemed insufficient.
British Columbia’s southern resident killer whales, Canada’s most endangered marine mammal, could be driven to extinction by the Kinder Morgan expansion and the tankers and underwater noise that come with it.
This population of orcas is already fragile – there’s only 80 of them left and they’re listed as endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act.
Conservation groups are taking a stand to support these orcas. Ecojustice is pursuing new litigations against the federal government for approving the pipeline and putting this endangered species at risk of extinction.
Canadians across the country are asking the federal government to rethink their position on Kinder Morgan. Climate action can’t happen when you’re expanding fossil fuel infrastructure at the same time. If you agree, add your voice through the David Suzuki Foundation.