On the morning of November 28, after weeks of sustained protest, energy infrastructure company Kinder Morgan packed up the equipment it had planned to use in the construction of a new pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia, and left without finishing the job.
Weeks earlier, the company had legally declared a “no protest zone” — valid through December 1 — to keep protesters away from the mountainside construction sites on the grounds that their presence would present a safety hazard and undue expenses. When that wasn’t enough, they filed an application with the British Columbia Supreme Court to extend the injunction for another two weeks. But the court rejected their application, when it was revealed that Kinder Morgan had provided the wrong GPS coordinates for the injunction zone. As a result, charges were also lifted from the over 100 people arrested for civil contempt due to a lack of clarity around where they could and could not be on the mountain.
Most importantly, the ruling means that Kinder Morgan can no longer continue construction on the site, as it has no legal grounds to do so. According to Reuters, the project would have more than tripled the volume of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which transports an estimated 300,000 barrels of tar sands oil daily through Alberta and British Columbia.
Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson described the last few weeks as a “challenging time.” The Texas-based company not only faced pressure at the mine site, but a public relations battle: a poll found that 70 percent of residents opposed the Trans Mountain expansion. While the “jobs vs. environment” argument continues to hold sway up north, oil companies may have to find new talking points: The country’s clean energy sector employed more Canadians than the fossil fuel industry last year, with employment figures jumping 37 percent over the last five years.
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Protests were attended by local residents, students, environmental groups and indigenous advocates, who took on a lead role in the anti-pipeline organizing. The land on which Kinder Morgan intended to build the expansion is the unceded traditional territory of the Tseil-Waututh, Musqueam, Sto:lo and Squamish Nations. Tseil-Waututh representatives have filed a legal challenge with Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals. Building the pipeline would also run directly counter to a recent U.N. report stating that companies need explicit consent from Canada’s First Nations before beginning construction, even as First Nations’ land rights are enshrined in the country’s constitution.
Sut-Lut, a Squamish Nation elder who kept a fire burning throughout the protests, told a local paper, “This isn’t a First Nations issue, it’s not a Burnaby resident problem only, it’s a people problem, and it’s about our survival. We have one Earth, and unless this government is hiding another healthy Earth somewhere, we need to take care of the one we’ve got, and it’s now, it’s now we have to step up.”
Activists took part in a festival commemorating the court’s decision on Burnaby Mountain this past weekend, including workshops, dance performances, parties and speak-outs. Celebrating the victory, veteran organizer Valerie Langer explained to the Vancouver Observer that “This is just one battle, and there are still a lot of battles to come.” Oil companies TransCanada and Enbridge are each seeking to build or expand oil pipelines through other parts of Canada.
Thursday’s ruling represents a turning point for anti-extraction fights across North America. Combined with recent victories against the Keystone XL and Energy East pipelines, fossil fuel companies can expect more “challenging times” in the months and years to come.