The tar sands industry's longstanding threat to send Alberta's oil to China if it is denied the Keystone XL pipeline to the United States is looking more and more like an empty bluff.
As I wrote last month, the two proposed pipeline projects from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, Enbridge Northern Gateway and Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain, have faced strong opposition from the B.C. public. Yet the Trans Mountain project seemed the more difficult of the two to stop, because it merely entails expansion of the existing pipeline rather than construction of an all-new line such as the Enbridge project. The Save the Fraser Declaration, signed in December 2010 by the province's First Nations, or native tribes, mentions only the Enbridge line.
No longer. Yesterday, Dec. 1, B.C. First Nations broadened their opposition to include any and all pipelines to the coast carrying tar sands crude. A First Nations press release explains:
The Save the Fraser Declaration, signed by more than 61 First Nations, bans tar sands oil pipelines throughout the Fraser River watershed. It also prohibits tar sands crude oil tankers in the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon. Until now, the Declaration has been used to fight Enbridge's northern pipeline plans. Now it is being recognized by First Nations as effectively banning tar sands crude oil exports on the whole coast, including the south. Adding to the chorus last week, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs - representing most First Nations in BC - passed a resolution endorsing the Save the Fraser Declaration and the Coastal First Nations Declaration, and expressly recognizing that they prohibit the transportation of tar sands crude by pipeline and tanker anywhere in BC.
The First Nations leaders also raised the ante on tactics, saying they will physically block construction if needed:
"Everyone involved — including myself — have made commitments that we'll do whatever it takes legally and otherwise," said Haisla elder Gerald Amos. "I am prepared to do as others have done before me in our communities and stand on the line to prevent any machinery moving onto the site."
As I discussed last month, most B.C. First Nations have never reached land treaties with the Canadian federal government to relinquish their historic territorial rights. These "non-treaty" First Nations enjoy significant yet vaguely-defined legal rights in Canada's legal system. Under federal law, First Nations must be granted "effective and meaningful consultation" on any project in their territories, and Canadian courts have generally defined this process in ways that give considerable powers to non-treaty First Nations.
The upshot is that B.C. First Nations may be able to block outright any pipeline project to the Pacific -- or at least strangle it in many years of litigation.
Here is a map of the two proposed pipeline projects, courtesy of the Wilderness Committee, a Vancouver-based environmental group: