Only We Can Stop These Pipeline Dreams
War has been declared on Enbridge, a Canadian oil company, by a chief from the Nadleh Whut'en in British Columbia. Chief Martin Louie was attending the company's annual general meeting in Toronto last Wednesday when he spoke out against the environmental impact of the company's tar sands operations.
"How far are they willing to go to kill off the human beings of this country? Enbridge and the government are going to go on fighting us," said Louie. "The war is on."
Some 700 miles directly south of the Enbridge meeting, on the very same day, Bob Kincaid of Coal River Mountain Watch leveled similar charges against Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America at their annual general meeting in Charlotte North Carolina, for the impact of mountaintop removal mining.
"You are part of the poisoning of Appalachia and so is every one of your directors and so is every one of your shareholders," Kincaid said. "You are part of the destruction of an entire region of the country."
These two unconventional fossil fuel sources -- tar sands and mountain top coal, together with shale rock -- have been dubbed "extreme energy" sources by Professor Michael Klare of Hampshire College, to signify the extraordinary and expensive technology needed to extract energy from them. The rush to exploit these sources - from rural North Dakota to the deserts of South Africa - has sparked angry protests because of the devastating environmental consequences.
This week the battle against extreme energy was taken to the company annual meetings by environmental and social justice groups. The Nadleh Whut'en were part of the Yinka-Dene Alliance which is protesting Enbridge's $5.5-billion project that would pipe crude from tar sands in Alberta - about 525,000 barrels per day - over 1,100 kilometres to a deepwater port at Kitimat on British Columbia's Pacific Coast, where the fuel is to be loaded on supertankers to take to Asia.
The protestors brought with them a declaration that read:
"We are the Indigenous nations of the Fraser River Watershed. We are many nations, bound together by these waters. Enbridge wants to build pipelines to pump massive amounts of tar sands crude oil through the Fraser's headwaters. An oil spill in our lands and rivers would destroy our fish, poison our water, and devastate our peoples, our livelihoods, and our futures. Enbridge has many pipeline oil spills every year, including this year's large spill into Michigan's Kalamazoo river. We refuse to be next."
[According to reporters Julie Gordon and Scott Hagget, writing about the company's meeting for Planetark.org, Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik'uz First Nation in British Columbia traveled to the meeting with protesters on a train journey organized by the Yinka Dene Alliance, and declared: "We are the wall that will stop this pipeline dream."
"We've looked at it," Thomas said, "and made our decision."
The line, which Enbridge hopes will be in service by 2017, has the backing of the Canadian government which has said the project is in the national interest even as regulatory hearings proceed.
Enbridge Chief Executive Pat Daniel said he is certain he can win the backing of those who fiercely oppose the plan. "The project is so much in Canada's national best interest that we're committed to working with First Nations that are presently opposed, to bring them onside," he told reporters following the company's meeting, where he faced questions from the line's opponents. "Even (after) the meeting, I've chatted further to try to find some sort of common ground, so that we can make this a win-win for First Nations, for communities along the right of way, for all of Canada."
Enbridge is offering the First Nations a 10 percent equity interest in the line. Daniel said that 22 of the 45 communities along the line's 1,170 km (730 mile) route have accepted the offer, but did not offer details.
The company claims it is doing a good job. "We wouldn't be proposing this project if we didn't have utmost confidence that we could both construct and operate the project with utmost safety and environmental protection," Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier told CBC TV.
Brian Moynihan responded the same way to the activists in North Carolina who told him that Bank of America was poisoning Appalachia. "Sir, our environmental team will take a look at it. We look at it all the time," he told the shareholders who booed him.
Coal River Mountain Watch activists disagreed. "A human health crisis is exploding in Appalachia and Bank of America lights the fuse every day," said Bob Kincaid, noting that as much as five million pounds of explosives are used every day in Appalachia to extract coal. Kincaid estimated that the practice caused 4,000 deaths a year in West Virginia. "That's a newborn who never knows a clear breath, a four-year-old who never gets to be a five-year-old, a mother who never gets to be a grandmother."
At the same annual general meeting on Wednesday, Bank of America also saw a number of protestors speak out against the company's mortgage practices. For example Sister Barbara Busch, a Catholic social justice worker who runs a Cincinnati-based homeowner advocacy group called Working In Neighborhoods, told Moynihan that his bank was the hardest to deal with (41 percent of her customers have their loans managed by Bank of America) "We have no one to talk to. They do not call us back," she said of the loan officers. "I understand, Mr. Moynihan, that you really believe that you've done something, but you've got to do something about your mortgage servicing."