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Stopping pipelines: Yes we can!!

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Photo: flickr/kris krüg

On May 5 Rabble published my blog post titled: Are you ready to win? Strategy for stopping pipelines! It outlined a proposal for unity and active solidarity within the broad anti-pipeline movement. Having just returned from my third sojourn on the traditional territory of the Unist'ot'en I would like to respond to two important questions that have been raised since I wrote that post.

To paraphrase: “There are so many pipeline proposals, at least eleven just through BC’s north, what is the point if we only have the people and resources to campaign against one or two?" and “Can we really stop even one of these megaprojects given the political, economic and police/military forces arrayed against us?”

My response is based partly on many years of activism, but also on the strange but true fact that I have an MBA in finance; we don’t have to campaign simultaneously to stop all the pipelines – we just have to marshal our forces to stop the first one!

Two of the key principles we were taught at the University of Toronto’s business school were:

  • Management is the art of decision making under conditions of uncertainty; and, 
  •  “No one ever got rich investing their own funds, it’s all about OPM (Other People’s Money)”, otherwise known as leverage.

At the highest corporate levels, strategic investment decisions are all about balancing unknown risks against uncertain future returns. Corporate executives are obsessed with forecasting these numbers. They know all sorts of risks are unavoidable but always try to minimize and manage them.

Secondly, when we hear that a company is going to spend five or ten billion dollars building a pipeline, we get the impression that they are talking about their own money. After all, oil and pipeline corporations are rolling in cash, right? Well yes, and no.

It is true that they are amazing mechanisms for funneling huge sums of money to the tiny elite who own them. But even if they had sufficient “retained earnings” everything corporate managers know about finance tells them not to invest only, or even mainly, their own funds. Employing OPM is critical to reducing risk and amplifying return on investment.

But investors hate uncertainty. There are strategies for dealing with known risks such as requiring collateral and adjusting interest rates. However none of these well-established formulas work when one is dealing with totally new and unprecedented situations - and that is a good description of what all these pipeline proposals are facing now.

There is at least one strategically situated blockade already in place, a solid wall of First Nations' opposition to bitumen pipelines and broad opposition to tar sands expansion and fracking. Add to this the recent Supreme Court decision awarding the Tsilquot’in nation title over a large section of their traditional territory.  If the plug is pulled on one major project, savvy investors will run for the hills faster than a jackrabbit with a coyote on its tail.

So by stopping the “first pipeline project” (whichever one that is) we will have gone a long way to driving nails into the coffins of all the other fossil fuel megaprojects coming out of the Alberta tar sands and the fracking fields of northeastern BC.

Which brings us to a really cool, and surprisingly obvious, response to the second question that began this little essay: “Can we even stop one pipeline?”

In fact we don’t have to win a long and expensive court case or change government policy or come out on top of a physical confrontation with bulldozers and RCMP paramilitary forces to stop a pipeline. We just have to raise the level of perceived risk to the point where skittish investors start pulling out.

If you have any doubt on this score, just note recent news concerning Apache Corporation’s NEB approved but long delayed Pacific Trails fracked gas pipeline proposal. Apache has now pulled out of the project leaving its partner – Chevron –  holding the bag, as reported in this August 1st Globe and Mail article.

The Globe’s Brent Jang explains that, “Apache, under pressure from activist investor Jana Partners LLC, said Thursday that it is exiting Kitimat LNG as part of the energy company’s restructuring. Industry analysts have noted that companies in the LNG sector face enormous capital costs and must cope with the long lead times to build export terminals.”

There is little doubt that the existence of the Unist'ot'en resistance camp was an important, if not crucial, factor in Apache’s pullout. Even preliminary survey work has been prevented by the assertion of the Free, Prior and Informed Consent protocol on their traditional territory; as can be seen in this video.

In the “Stockhouse” on-line investment newsletter of July 18 industry analyst Peter Kennedy comments on the prospects of all the proposed megaprojects in BC including Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and suggests that: “It is far from certain yet that any of these projects will be allowed to proceed.” This is just one of many indications in the business media that investors are getting very nervous indeed.

So the simple answer is Yes! We can stop the pipelines, not just one but every pipeline. And now you know how we are going to do it. The question is: what will you do to ensure we win!

Bob Ages has been an activist for social justice since the 1960s, including 20 years on the national board of the Council of Canadians. In mid May he will be heading up to the Unistoten blockade camp with a volunteer group of carpenters and supporters to take part in the annual spring construction and permaculture mobilization.

Photo: flickr/kris krüg

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