We have the pleasure of hosting a guest post by Sarah Beuhler, who is a writer and campaigner who lives in Unceded Coast Salish Territories.
A confrontation is brewing on Canada’s west coast, and the stakes could not be higher.
Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy giant, seeks to build a pipeline from Northern Alberta through British Columbia to the densely populated suburb of Metro Vancouver where it would be loaded onto tankers and sent through the region’s coastal waters. To say that there is opposition to their plans would be an understatement: the pipeline project is opposed by the province of British Columbia, the state of Washington, the city of Vancouver and 21 others, 250,000 petition signers, more than 24,000 who have vowed to do “whatever it takes” to stop it, and 107 of the 140 Nations, Tribes, and Bands along the route. As such, the forces of the fossil fuel industry are bearing down on British Columbia as an eight-year campaign to stop the pipeline comes to a head.
Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tanker project was marketed to Canadians as a “twinning” of an existing pipeline built in the 1950’s, but it would actually almost triple capacity for barrels of diluted bitumen, or “dilbit.” Bitumen is the tar that comes out of Alberta’s oil patch; to move smoothly through pipelines, it has to be diluted with other chemicals, some of which are highly toxic and highly explosive.
Pipelines are leaky and dangerous enough on their own, but this project came with an additionally heightened risk factor: the Aframax tankers that will carry the volatile material are so huge that they barely fit through two urban bridges they would have to cross under for each trip. It’s such a tight and dangerous squeeze that engineers have formed an advocacy group to oppose the plan.
The risk is obvious: a tanker spill would result in an environmental catastrophe more devastating than the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. That spill was simple crude that floated on top of the water, and yet it still hasn’t been cleaned up properly. A spill involving bitumen sinking to the bottom of the sea? The consequences are almost unthinkable; you can’t just replace destroyed ecosystems.