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Earth Day in Vancouver: Resistance to Kinder Morgan's pipeline plan grows

Earth Day 2011 in Vancouver. Photo by eych-bee-ee-ahr-tee, Flickr

It's an exciting time to be returning to work as editor here at rabble.ca. I can see already that it's going to be a challenge to keep our coverage up to the pace of bad news stories when it comes to the Harper government and the environment. This past week saw a flurry of announcements about cuts to Environment Canada and weakening of the crucial environmental review process for major industrial projects.

To add insult to injury (or farce to tragedy), there was the mind-boggling news that the government was doing away with the BC-based oil spill emergency response team; the clean-up of a massive oil spill on the Pacific coast will apparently easily be coordinated from the central offices in Quebec... 

These past couple of years, I have had the chance to work with the Wilderness Committee, learning a great deal about the issues related to pipeline and oil tanker expansion plans. In a recent column on BC politics (which I do bi-weekly for The Source) I wrote about the recent news of Kinder Morgan's plans for a massive expansion of tar sands crude exports out of Vancouver Harbour. 


Two years ago this month, a massive oil spill at a deep sea BP operation shocked the world. Workers were killed, and the environment and coastal communities around the Gulf of Mexico were devastated.

Despite the BP spill anniversary, the Texas-based oil and pipeline corporate giant Kinder Morgan chose this month to announce their plans for a massive expansion of their pipeline and oil tanker traffic in Burrard Inlet. Kinder Morgan wants to nearly triple the capacity of their pipeline which brings tar sands crude oil from Alberta to terminal in Burnaby.

Like the more well known Enbridge proposal in northern British Columbia, Kinder Morgan’s plan is all about exports. Slated for completion in 2017 if approved, the project would mean up to 360 oil tankers a year filling up in Burnaby and navigating out the first and second narrows of the Inlet. That would mean basically one giant oil tanker a day in Vancouver’s harbour.

The BP oil spill should have been a wake up call about our society’s addiction to oil. And yet, here in Canada, our governments seem determined to slumber ahead, expanding the tar sands and making fossil fuel exports a key goal of diplomacy and trade policy.

The Harper government has made no secret of prioritizing the tar sands pipelines across BC – regardless of local opposition. Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver went so far as to blame foreign “billionaire socialists” for the widespread opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal.

Of course, the truth is that the billionaires and the ‘foreign’ interests are the ones pushing for these pipelines to be built. With both the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan projects, huge foreign oil companies – from China, the United States and beyond – are investing the billions of dollars needed to build the projects.

Kinder Morgan, for its part, was founded by two former executives of the notorious Enron corporation. Founder and CEO Richard Kinder is a billionaire, well known for raising money for the likes of George W. Bush and Rick Perry.

Aside from the foreign interests, there are big domestic interests behind these pipelines – the Big Oil companies at the heart of Stephen Harper’s agenda.

In BC politics, the Kinder Morgan proposal may particularly contribute to the divisions in the right-wing between Christy Clark’s BC Liberals and the upstart BC Conservatives. Clark has made shipping raw materials to China and other Asian markets a priority, so she would be very unlikely to raise any objections to the pipeline. But Kinder Morgan is already meeting opposition in the traditional conservative stronghold of the Fraser Valley, where many communities will be directly impacted by any pipeline expansion. Already anger is simmering in Abbotsford, where there was an oil spill at the Kinder Morgan tank farm earlier this year.

No doubt Kinder Morgan is confident that despite this they will be able to plough ahead. They have the wind of major investors and supportive governments at their sails.

I'm sure Kinder Morgan didn't think about the BP anniversary when announcing their big plans. But the oil spill anniversary is not the only piece of bad timing for Kinder Morgan. This Sunday, April 22 is Earth Day.

In Vancouver, a group of high school students called Youth For Climate Justice Now (Y4CJN) is organizing a big Earth Day rally and walk down Commercial Drive. And their main theme is opposition to tar sands, tankers and pipelines like those proposed by Enbridge and Kinder Morgan.

Earth Day 2012 will be just the beginning. Already, the mayors of both Burnaby and Vancouver have come out firing against Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and tankers plan.

Last year, a couple thousand people joined the Earth Day action organized by Y4CJN. Given the timing, I think this year’s crowd might be even bigger.

You can join the crowd this Sunday, April 22, beginning at 11am at the Commercial Skytrain Station.


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