Contented but conflicted

The Trans Mountain pipeline federal court ruling

Photo by Mike Graeme, contributing writer.

You’ve probably heard by this point that the Federal Court of Appeal ruled in favour of First Nations regarding the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, stating that the Canadian Government did not engage in “meaningful two-way dialogue” with First Nations affected by the project. The Court also said that environmental impacts of tanker traffic on B.C.’s coast were not taken into account during the assessment process, citing the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales as a key concern.

Upon hearing the news, I almost couldn’t believe it. The past few years have left me expecting the worst out of world events, so this came as a pleasant surprise. The Court actually sided with First Nations, and on such a high-profile issue! I can only hope that this leads to a real change in discussions with First Nations in the future, as well as a step toward reconciliation.

Of course, nothing is ever so straightforward. Alberta, to no one’s surprise, is upset with the decision. To explain why some people are so strongly in favour of the pipeline, Canada has the world’s fourth largest volume of oil reserves, most coming from Alberta’s oil sands. For Alberta, oil was their largest export commodity between 2006-2016, and in 2016 alone, oil accounted for 55 per cent of their merchandise exports, with crude oil exports valued at $43.3 billion.

Alberta has a product that people want, a product around which their economy is built. Historically, oil has made them a lot of money. I can understand why certain people want the pipeline built.

Alberta has a product that people want, a product around which their economy is built. Historically, oil has made them a lot of money. I can understand why certain people want the pipeline built. There are even some First Nation bands and individuals in support of the pipeline, such as Chief Ernie Crey of Cheam First Nation and Chief Mike LeBourdais of the Whispering Pines First Nation. While the latter does support the ruling that First Nations were not properly consulted, he supports the idea of the pipeline being under First Nation control.

“Right from the beginning we had either wanted a piece of the pipeline either in tax or equity . . .  We are tired of watching corporations from Texas making money off our resources as they flow by . . . We want to protect the environment and we want to do it on our terms,” said LeBourdais to CBC News following the Court’s announcement.

But what about the environment? I believe it’s important to mention that even “world-class” oil spill clean up crews can only do so much. According to a 2015 report on oil spills by Nuka Research and Planning Group, “collecting and removing oil from the sea surface is a challenging, time-sensitive, and often ineffective process, even under the most favourable conditions.”

Orcas fly over protestors at a pipeline protest from this summer. Photo by Belle White, Photo Editor

I know I certainly don’t feel confident about the supposedly “world-class” response system that is unfamiliar with the substance they are attempting to clean up.

And it isn’t just oil. It’s diluted bitumen, a particularly dirty, crude oil that is so thick that it must be liquefied with a toxic diluent substance in order to flow through a pipeline. According to a study by the Royal Society of Canada, we do not yet know enough about this substance, let alone how it reacts in wavy, salt water environments. At this point, no one even knows if it sinks or floats in water.

I know I certainly don’t feel confident about the supposedly “world-class” response system that is unfamiliar with the substance they are attempting to clean up, and that can barely do its job in even “the most favourable conditions.”

Canada (and the world) should be looking at cleaner sources of energy. At the end of the day, fossil fuels are finite resources. One day we will run out. Instead of investing in a dwindling source of energy, we should look at more sustainable options.

I say this knowing that most energy in the world is focused around fossil fuels. Change takes time, and the oil and coal industries probably don’t want to lose their lucrative business model.

But hey, I’m a stubborn optimist. The Court ruling reveals that things are beginning to change. The government is being held accountable. And I can’t wait to see what happens next.  

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