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Susan Casey-Lefkowitz’s Blog

Despite new energy agreement between British Columbia and Alberta, opposition to tar sands moving west remains strong

Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Posted November 5, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Moving Beyond Oil, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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A big part of the discussion about the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline hinges on the extent to which Keystone XL would be a driver of tar sands expansion. With Canadians raising concerns about tar sands pipelines crossing their own lands and waters, Keystone XL remains the main chance for the tar sands industry to reach overseas markets with their nearly land-locked product. So what does a new announcement from the leaders of the Canadian provinces of Albert and British Columbia have to do with the likelihood of new tar sands pipelines to Canada’s west coast? A closer look at the recent announcement shows that tar sands pipelines to the west coast remain as unlikely today as they have always been. Most important is how strong the opposition of First Nations and the general public remains in British Columbia to tar sands pipelines and the associated large oil tankers that would travel sensitive inner coastal waters. Tar sands remain as land-locked as ever with British Columbians standing strong in opposition to oil spills.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark did reach what they are calling a framework agreement between their two provinces on moving energy resources to new markets. But when we look more closely at the terms, it seems more an agreement to keep discussions going. British Columbia has not yet agreed to endorse any specific tar sands pipeline.

Most important to remember when it comes to tar sands pipelines to the Canadian west coast is that the First Nations communities have authority over what crosses their lands. Coming up in early December is the three year anniversary of the Save the Fraser Declaration banning tar sands oil projects from the territory of the over 160 First Nations signatories as a matter of indigenous law. The Declaration states:

“We will not allow the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines, or similar Tar Sands projects, to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.”

On November 16th, Canadians from coast to coast to coast are coming together to show that while their government continues to double down on dirty energy projects that will wreck the Earth's climate, communities are taking action for a different future. British Columbia has a proud history of standing up for its land and waters. And public opposition to tar sands pipelines is strong across the province.

Despite this new framework energy agreement, the risks of tar sands fuel by pipeline or tanker remains high and the B.C. public is still opposed to tar sands crossing its land and waters. The reality is that there isn’t any safe transport for this risky and destructive fuel. Ironically, just recently, the Premier of British Columbia seemed to be saying the same thing as the government released a study about the lack of oil-spill preparedness that confirmed the environmental disaster that a tanker oil spill would mean for the B.C. coast.

My friend Pat Moss, Coordinator of the Friends of Wild Salmon Coalition on the northern British Columbia coast told me:

“This is a massive betrayal of northern communities and First Nations who have made their opposition to Northern Gateway clear.  Previously Premier Clark vowed to stand up for our coast and communities.”

Communities across North America when faced with tar sands pipelines feel just the same. The government of British Columbia can contemplate a deal with Alberta. But the real power is in the people and we’re not seeing any deal on tar sands done where it counts.

photo: Credit Yinka Dene Alliance

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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