What do you love about British Columbia's Fraser River, the Gulf Islands, and the Salish Sea? What are your concerns for the future of the Salish Sea region, the health of the B.C. economy and the impacts of climate change? The answers to these personal questions are fundamental to informing decisions about Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain expansion and are at the heart of "Directly Affected," a new documentary film produced by Vancouver filmmaker Zack Embree and Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
The proposed tripling of the Trans Mountain pipeline's capacity to 890,000 barrels (141,383,399 litres) of tar sands oil per day and consequent five-fold increase in tanker traffic would see more than 400 tankers laden with diluted bitumen travelling the Salish Sea every year.
Numerous risks are associated with Kinder Morgan's proposal that could adversely affect people and wildlife locally, regionally, and globally. These include health and safety concerns, pollution, habitat destruction from tar sands extraction, harm to birds, fish and mammals, the acceleration of global climate change, and the potential for chronic and catastrophic oil spills throughout B.C.'s land, rivers and oceans. These environmental impacts can have ensuing social, cultural and economic consequences. Communities throughout the Salish Sea have legitimate concerns about this proposal that are not being addressed.
It is important to note that beyond the risk of spills, the project will have a range of impacts, many of which cannot be mitigated. Kinder Morgan's own application clearly states that, "the potential effect of the increase in project-related marine vessel traffic is considered to be high magnitude, high probability and significant for southern resident killer whales." These iconic whales are critically endangered and whether they can remain viable, i.e. continue to exist with or without an oil spill, is a pivotal question Raincoast is trying to answer through a population viability analysis.
In January, after Bill-C38 weakened environmental legislation and restricted public participation in environmental reviews, the National Energy Board (NEB) opened applications for public participation in their review of the Trans Mountain expansion. However, participation was not encouraged. Applicants had to prove they were "directly affected" or demonstrate relevant knowledge and expertise of the issues while navigating an onerous online system. Discussion of climate change and the upstream impacts of tar sands development were strictly off limits.
While Raincoast supported local communities, individuals, and stakeholder groups with the application procedure, thousands still felt excluded from the NEB process. Exacerbating the public's growing alienation, the NEB decided against any cross examination by interveners, and subsequently permitted Kinder Morgan to leave hundreds of information requests effectively unanswered.
At the same time that we were witnessing the frustrations of citizens being shut out by the NEB, we saw an inspiring diversity of people motivated to stand up for their communities, lands, and waters. Hearing, witnessing, and sharing these frustrations gave us an idea; Ask people directly how they are affected, without restrictions, and give the conversation back to the public.
As the need to address climate change becomes ever more urgent, open public discussions regarding energy developments and hard questions about sustainability should be a priority, not sidestepped as if the tar sands are some untouchable sacred cow. Public participation should be celebrated as evidence of a functioning democracy, not derided as an inconvenience to multinational corporations and their shareholders.
The irony is that the attempted fast-tracking of a "streamlined" environmental assessment process has created significant and unintended blowback, leaving communities like Burnaby with little option but to literally stand in the way.
After voicing their opposition, local community members have been hit with a $5.6 million lawsuit by Kinder Morgan that Vancouver Sun columnist Pete McMartin has termed "an affront to free speech." Simon Fraser University professor and lawsuit defendant Lynne Quarmby has said, "the only world in which it is okay to continue building new infrastructure for fossil fuels with no consideration for the impacts of climate change is a world where we don't care about the future."
Kinder Morgan has just been granted an injunction against opponents who have been blocking crews from doing work in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area. Kinder Morgan claims the citizen protests have been interfering with survey and drilling work the company needs to complete for its submission to the NEB on the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
We encourage you to attend one of the upcoming Directly Affected screenings, and more importantly to consider how you are directly affected. This is your story, please help us tell it.
This article was co-authored by Ross Dixon, policy and program manager for Raincoast Conservation Foundation; a previous version ran in the Vancouver Sun. Raincoast Conservation Foundation helped present Directly Affected to audiences in 2014 and 2015.