Faced with a six-fold increase in oil tanker traffic in their Burrard Inlet home if Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion project goes ahead, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation says it’s time for Metro Vancouver and British Columbia to get serious about alternative energy.
And to drive the point home, the Tsleil-Waututh, whose community sits directly across the inlet from Kinder Morgan’s Westridge oil export terminal, are organizing a summit in Vancouver later this spring that they say is a call to action on exploring clean energy alternatives to oil.
The Tsleil-Waututh initiative comes at a time of unprecedented investment in energy in this province. The largest oil and gas companies in the world are lining up with offers of multi-billion dollar investments aimed at developing totally new industries and new markets that proponents say Canada needs if its most valuable export, energy, is to survive, let alone thrive.
But these investments bring their own issues.
“You can only have so many pipeline corridors across British Columbia, there’s only so much water to produce the natural gas,” said Vancouver energy lawyer David Austin, referring to proposals for new or expanded energy export terminals at Vancouver, Kitimat and Prince Rupert.
The Tsleil-Waututh conference, Transitioning From Oil Dependency, is not just about opposition to Kinder Morgan’s $5.4 billion pipeline expansion, said Tsleil-Waututh chief Justin George, but about looking at clean alternatives and creating business partnerships to make those alternatives happen. “I see this issue as multi-faceted,” George said. “It’s not just a First Nations issue. It’s all of us as human beings making it better for the next generation.”
“We don’t disregard that there needs to be an economy but it has to be sustainable.”
The conference is specifically aimed at First Nations, municipalities, environmental groups, federal and provincial government representatives, renewable energy organizations, the legal and risk management communities, unions and the academic community, said conference organizer Geoff Greenwell of 2G Group.”Of course all concerned citizens and community members are welcome as well,” he said.
The 500 members of the Tsleil-Waututh, whose name means People of the Inlet, fear an oil spill is inevitable if Kinder Morgan’s proposal to increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline from 300,000 barrel a day to 890,000 barrels a day goes ahead. But the increase in tanker traffic alone, from the current level of five a month to 34 a month passing in and out of Second Narrows, will bring its own pollution which George said will harm the sea life that the Tsleil-Waututh have depended upon for generations.
The Tsleil-Waututh support development; they have a deep history of trade, George said, citing Russian beads that have been found at old village sites as examples of a centuries-old trading economy on the inlet. They are partners in a subdivision development on reserve lands, have profitably invested in a wind turbine company and have their own wind turbine distribution business. They are committed to economic development, George said.
“We understand the importance of economic development,” he said. “But we also understand our deep-rooted connection with this waterway.”
The First Nation’s effort to raise awareness over Vancouver’s developing role as an energy exporting port comes at a time when Canada needs to find export markets outside of North America if the oil and gas industry itself is to transition away from dependency on the U.S. market. New horizontal drilling technologies and hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and gas deposits are turning North America into a global energy giant. The U.S., now Canada’s major market, is expected to be the world’s largest oil producer by 2017, according to the International Energy Agency.
“The U.S. is reducing its reliance on imports quite phenomenally, and if we don’t build pipelines like Northern Gateway, or the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline into Burnaby, I think we are going to stunt the growth of the oil industry in Western Canada. I think this will become self-evident very quickly – in about three years’ time,” said Sco-tiabank commodities analyst Patricia Mohr.
Enbridge’s $5.5 billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline proposal from Alberta to Kitimat has been the focus of most public attention, mainly because it is the most advanced, already at the public review stage. Enbridge’s website describes it as the largest private investment of capital in the history of British Columbia. But that is only the tip of the energy investment iceberg. At $5.4 billion, the Kinder Morgan expansion is a close second.
Further, five of the world’s largest energy companies have announced plans to pipe natural gas across northern B.C. to the West Coast where they intend to build plants to liquefy the gas and send it by ship to lucrative markets in Asia. Just one of the major projects, Shell Canada’s pipeline and LNG terminal proposal, is expected to cost over $12 billion.
Coastal First Nations, an alliance of eight north and central coast tribes, is one of the loudest voices saying this new gold rush should provide more than jobs and investment. The alliance is seeking legacies in terms of renewable energy investments to power the LNG plants for the day when the oil and gas runs out.
“Nobody is thinking the LNG industry is going to last more than 20 or 30 years,” said Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt. “We are going to be left exactly where we are right now with no energy to do anything else.
“What we need is a process where all of the information goes into the middle and the provincial government and industry and First Nations come together and say ‘This is the way it can be done.'” The Tsleil-Waututh summit is aimed at bringing provincewide attention on the role of renew-ables in British Columbia’s new energy gold rush, said George. It is scheduled for April 18 and 19 at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver.
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