Flap over Westridge Terminal fence just another talking point for rage-fueled anti-pipeline Vancouver political narrative
Twitter is aflutter this morning with news that Kinder Morgan has erected a fence around its Westridge Terminal in Burnaby while workers construct a three-berth dock complex as part of the Trans Mountain Expansion project. Activists are shocked – shocked! – and accuse the company of “bullying.” There’s a bit of irony at work here.
Just a year ago, activists from the small American group Climate Direct Action used bolt cutters to break into pumping stations of five pipelines carrying dilbit and crude oil from Alberta and then turned off valves on lines that run at 600 to 1,000 pounds per square inch.
Then they laid down their tools and waited for police to arrive.
The activists include a lawyer and a bureaucrat and a poet. Perfectly nice people, well-educated and middle class, deeply concerned about global warming and appalled at the military-like response from police at the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota, which were in full swing at the time.
The group says it consulted retired pipeline engineers and were very careful to do nothing that would result in harm to people in nearby communities.
The environment movement universally applauded them and talked about doing more of the same.
I warned last year in many columns that the energy industry had no idea what it was about to unleash when it asked North Dakota authorities to intervene and a militarized police turned the dogs and the water cannons and the bean bag bullets on the protesters.
Standing Rock has become a symbol of energy infrastructure resistance.
There is a formal alliance between BC First Nations leaders and the Standing Rock Sioux. BC supported the Dakota Access opposition and Standing Rock activists visited Vancouver last Nov. to recruit help and resources, but also to school activists about strategies and techniques.
We have no idea if those strategies will include Climate Direct Action-style pipeline tampering or a 5,000 person protest village or whether it will be passive civil disobedience, with waving placards and middle-aged university professors being happily carted off to jail a la the 1960s, which they so desperately regret having missed.
But we do have promises from activists and elected BC officials that they will do everything they can to stop Trans Mountain Expansion from being built.
“[T]hey will see such hell-raising from British Columbia that they will feel it shake the foundation of Parliament,” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May told reporters after a Nov. 19 2017 protest march through Vancouver that attracted over 4,000 people.
Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has famously promised to throw himself in front of the bulldozers.
“New infrastructure to bring in more oil from the tar sands? Forget it, it’s not going to happen,” Quebec’s Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said only this spring. “What if we gave Canada 20 Standing Rocks?”
Ingenious First Nations opponents are already building tiny houses – complete with solar panels – on the pipeline route.
And then there are the intemperate remarks to be found by the bushel basket on social media.
350 Canada talks about “militarized fences” on Twitter, for instance.
Kinder Morgan can connect the dots. Can we really blame the company for putting up a fence around its construction site?
“I think no matter what, we’re going to see the threats of escalating civil disobedience,” Dogwood Initiative campaigner Kai Nagata told me in an interview late last year. “The reality is that you’re going to see calls this month for civil disobedience, for physical resistance to the pipeline expansion.
And there’s the irony I referred to in my lede. Opponents can’t make a lot of noise and shake their fist at Kinder Morgan, then be surprised when the company takes them seriously.
Not building a fence would be irresponsible, given the threats.
So, let’s see this for what it is, what it always is: another minor issue to feed the rage-fueled political narrative around Trans Mountain Expansion.
Frankly, it’s a great strategy. Take the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which churns out agitprop disguised as reputable studies, each one picked up by the obsequious Vancouver media, which in turn pushes it out into the mainstream political discourse.
The Alberta-based oil industry is already suffering constrained pipeline capacity that will only get worse as 200,000 b/d of new supply comes on stream this year and next, but the CCPA tarts up some pretty graphs and argues black is white, up is down, there is actually surplus capacity and Trans Mountain Expansion isn’t necessary.
And that is the real purpose of the Westridge Terminal weaponized fence story: keep the rage machine going, especially on social media where facts are optional and emotion is the currency of choice.
Ed note: Trans Mountain Expansion emailed this statement after publication:
“Westridge Marine Terminal is an active construction site. We have installed a floating construction safety boom to protect workers and marine waterway users in the area. The boom also enables safe operations of the terminal throughout a complex construction project.
“As required by the National Energy Board, Trans Mountain prepared a Navigation and Navigation Safety Plan for Westridge Marine Terminal. The safety boom is a key element of this plan, and is designed to ensure the safety of commercial and recreational users of the local marine area, and the safety of workers working within a clearly demarcated working zone.”