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Protesters Square Off Against Kinder Morgan on the Mountain

11/25/2014 05:33 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST
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The people who joined a protest camp on Burnaby Mountain November 20 to oppose Kinder Morgan's new pipeline got some advice from a seasoned vet to "make informed choices about whether they want to be arrested."

Ben West, environmental group Forest Ethics Advocacy's oilsands campaign director, wanted the rookies to understand their rights and the possible legal consequences. "Kinder Morgan has kind of been presenting itself as the better alternative to Enbridge," West said. "But here we are really early in the game and we're already getting a sense of what kind of a neighbour Kinder Morgan is." Kinder Morgan plans to bore two small holes and then drill 250 metres into the mountain to test whether it can tunnel through the mountain to drastically increase the flow of diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands.

Over 60 protesters have been arrested to date, including environmental activist David Suzuki's grandson Tamo Campos. Suzuki himself showed up on the mountain on November 23 and roared at the Mounties in a voice hoarse with emotion; "My grandson was dragged across the line and was arrested! I'm disappointed and it grieves me because of the respect we have for you."

Suzuki spoke of his early years growing up in Japanese Canadian internment camps during World War Two and how well he was treated by the police at that time. "I can tell you they treated us like human beings," he said. "But now you're here to enforce the law. That doesn't mean that you're above the law! Or that you make your own laws!"

Suzuki published an open letter after the arrest; "[Campos] is doing what I would have done myself were it not a risk to my position as host of The Nature of Things on CBC." Suzuki said Campos, who is a member of an environmental group called Boarders Without Borders, acted on his own volition. "My grandson is taking an active role in the struggle for human rights, social justice and environmental protection, he is not a criminal. He has done this without attempting to ride on or hide behind my coat tails. He is a role model for young people today, inspiring them to get involved in issues of their future. I hope the court will be cognizant of this."

The proposed new pipeline would triple the capacity of the system from the current 300,000 barrels per day to at least 890,000 barrels per day from the Alberta oil sands, bringing over 400 tankers a year across the Salish Sea and putting salmon rivers and the B.C. coast at risk of oil spills. The new pipeline would exclusively carry heavier oils such as diluted bitumen, which is far more corrosive than regular crude and very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. The pipeline carries oil from Edmonton to its marine terminal in Burnaby, east of Vancouver proper. From there, its tankers negotiate the shallow approaches to Vancouver Harbour to the Georgia Strait and on to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Kinder Morgan is the biggest pipeline company in the US. Richard Kinder was Enron's president until 1996 and is the 110th richest man alive with a net worth of $8.2 billion. For the record, it's Kinder as in "kindergarten" not as in "kinder, gentler." Like Enbridge, Kinder Morgan seems to be extremely laid back about safety. They have had 44 accidents over the last two years. Every day, two million barrels of gasoline, jet and diesel fuel, and 13.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas move through Kinder Morgan's 35,000 miles of pipelines in the U.S. In 2008, a U.S. federal judge fined a Kinder Morgan subsidiary $240,000 for violating ocean dumping laws in 2003 when a company supervisor hired a ship to insert 160 tonnes of potassium chloride into the Pacific Ocean.

That pitifully miniscule amount of money is barely a rounding error for a multibillion dollar entity like Kinder Morgan and is undoubtedly a scant deterrent. An agent for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said, "it's hard to imagine a clearer violation of the Ocean Dumping Act. Intentionally using the ocean as a garbage can ... is not only morally wrong, it's a crime."

The Wilderness Committee, a nonprofit based in Vancouver, has tracked Kinder Morgan's woes; on July 24, 2007 when a construction crew inadvertently hit an unmarked pipe in Burnaby with an excavator, 250,000 litres of oil shot out of the ground, soaking a residential neighbourhood and seeping into the nearby Burrard Inlet. At least 50 homes had to be evacuated. A pipeline rupture on January 24, 2012 at the Sumas Mountain tank farm spilled about 110,000 litres of oil. Local residents reported health problems including nausea, headaches and fatigue, and schoolchildren were kept indoors for fear of airborne toxins.

Suzuki, as usual, minces no words on the subject; "I believe what Kinder Morgan and companies like it are doing is an intergenerational crime but there are no legal precedents to pursue criminal charges on that basis."

This is an excerpt from Capt. Trevor Greene's new, self-published book, co-written with Mike Velemirovich, There Is No Planet B: Promise And Peril On Our Warming World.

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