VANCOUVER, B.C. — Protesters who have loudly voiced their opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion are taking credit for Kinder Morgan Canada’s decision to pause work on the controversial project.
“Every day the protests continue, it gets harder and harder to imagine (the pipeline) going ahead,” said Karen Mahon, campaigns director with the environmental group Stand.Earth.
Kinder Morgan announced Sunday that it had suspended all non-essential activities and related spending on the pipeline’s expansion project.
It followed another demonstration at a work site in Burnaby, B.C., Saturday, where Indigenous leaders, environmentalists and others have gathered in recent weeks to show their opposition to the $7.4 billion project.
The timing was no accident, said Chief Judy Wilson, secretary-treasurer of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.
“Opposition continues to grow as people learn of the devastating effects this pipeline expansion would have,” Wilson said in a statement. “This should be a warning to all investors: you must respect Indigenous title and rights, or your projects have no certainty.”
Ottawa approved Trans Mountain’s expansion in 2016 and the former B.C. Liberal government gave its approval in 2017, but protesters have said the project violates First Nations rights and would increase the risk of oil spills off B.C.’s coast.
Demonstrations began shortly after plans for the expansion were announced and have gained momentum since, said Mike Hudema, a campaigner with Greenpeace Canada.
“When they saw Kinder Morgan beginning to start construction, they saw the immediacy and the need to act. And that’s what people did,” he said.
Public resistance is likely what swayed the most prominent opponent of the project, the NDP government, said Cam Fenton with climate justice group 350.org.
“I think the continuously growing and escalating protests from day one played no small role in helping to make sure that the B.C. government, once it was elected this past year, came out in opposition to it,” he said.
Kinder Morgan has said its decision to suspend the project is based on the provincial government’s opposition.
Demonstrations and civil disobedience have shown just how far people are willing to go to stop the project from being built, Fenton said.
In March, thousands of people voiced their opposition in the streets of Burnaby, the city at the end of the pipeline in B.C.
“There was a pretty big indication that we had tapped into what is a growing and vibrant movement in B.C. to protect these waters,” Hudema said.
Last month, a B.C. Supreme Court judge issued an injunction prohibiting protests from within five metres of two work sites in Burnaby, but the demonstrations have continued with some people blocking the gates to Kinder Morgan’s facilities.
Police have arrested about 200 people around the Trans Mountain facilities since mid-March, including Green party Leader Elizabeth May and New Democrat MP Kennedy Stewart.
Mahon with Stand.Earth said the continued resistance shows how strongly people oppose the project.
“The fact that people are willing to risk, put themselves on the line to support the Indigenous call for resistance is really touching. People are really brave,” she said.
But activists know their work isn’t over yet.
Kinder Morgan has said the company will consult with “various stakeholders” to try and reach an agreement by May 31 that might allow Trans Mountain to proceed.
Mahon, Hudema and Fenton all expect to see more protests in the coming weeks, targeting not only Kinder Morgan, but federal politicians who continue to support the project.
“People recognize that this isn’t the end, but it could be the beginning of the end,” Fenton said. “Kinder Morgan’s decision is a sign that organizing action and people power works and I think that will continue to grow.”
By Gemma Karstens-Smith
THE CANADIAN PRESS