The news conference included a select group of Canadian
scientists, both in person and by teleconference, obviously to give the
new system scientific credibility. This is ironic in view of the
blatant anti-science bent of the Harper dictatorship and its blocking,
muzzling and threatening of any scientists who criticize
or oppose Harper's dictate. As one scientist commented, "Usually the
government doesn't care about us. But this is an international issue
and suddenly they need us." With the energy monopolies' plans to more
than double their plunder and export of Alberta's oilsands resources by
2020, the ruling circles in Alberta
and Ottawa are trying to suppress any dissent concerning oilsands
development. Their worries are magnified by U.S. President Barack
Obama's delay of approval for the proposed Keystone XL oilsands
pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast. In addition, Alberta Premier Alison
Redford hopes to present a "green" image
for the upcoming Alberta election.
The new monitoring system announced by McQueen and Kent is clearly damage control because it is being implemented after 40 years of unchecked oilsands plunder by the energy monopolies. Even so, it will not be fully operational for at least another three years and there is no guarantee it will ever be implemented as planned. Further, the monopolies, which now pay $20 million a year to run the current Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP), have not yet agreed to pay the $50 million a year necessary to run the new system. Additional costs of an unknown amount will be borne by the Alberta and Federal governments. A very important question is whether the new system will be enforced in any way with consequences to the polluters. Finally, it must be kept in mind that while the new system increases the level and frequency of monitoring and makes data public, the essence of the system, which is monopoly control over the process, remains unchanged.
The Alberta government set up RAMP, the monitoring system to be replaced, in 1997. RAMP's 28-member steering committee consists almost entirely of industry and government representatives, and is financed by the oil companies. It operates by "consensus," which means that the 18 oil and other monopolies can always outvote the other members, including the two Aboriginal communities represented. RAMP has long been heavily criticized by scientists. A 2004 study by federal government scientists cited RAMP for poor scientific practices and secrecy. Another review in 2010 by ten scientists also levelled heavy criticism.
Over the years RAMP's reports have given the oilsands a clean bill of health. This has allowed the oilsands monopolies and the Alberta government to violate environmental standards with impunity by claiming that high levels of pollutants result only from the Athabasca River cutting through natural bitumen deposits and so pose no threat to human health or the environment.
The claim that all pollutants were natural and harmless has been constantly challenged by scientists, Aboriginal communities, and many others. One recent challenge was in August 2010 when David Schindler, a world-renowned aquatics expert at the University of Alberta, offered evidence that industry was polluting the environment of northern Alberta with 13 pollutants including arsenic, lead and mercury. Schindler's report (written with colleagues) could not be explained away by the government or the monopolies. While agreeing on the need for improved monitoring, Schindler and others want the new system to report to an independent commission rather than to one provincial and one federal appointee, which is the government plan. "This cannot be run by government in the current climate where both levels of government are clearly cheerleaders for industrial development at all cost," said Schindler.
The main issue in regard to monitoring is that the people of Alberta are nowhere to be found in the whole discussion. Such a situation cannot be sustained. A new direction must be found for a publicly-controlled oilsands monitoring system that involves scientists, Aboriginal peoples, local communities, oilsands workers, and others. A valid publicly-controlled system must be developed that addresses all the key aspects of monitoring, including deciding what kinds of data should be collected, collecting the data, interpreting the data, drawing warranted conclusions from the data, reporting findings to the public, and making and enforcing relevant recommendations and decisions, including serious consequences for polluters. Monitoring is a critical part of the development of Alberta's oilsands resources and it needs to be taken out of the control of the energy monopolies and their loyal servants in the provincial and federal governments and placed firmly under the control of the people.
1. An analysis of the federal Registry of Lobbyists by the West Coast Environmental Law Group showed that since his appointment in January 2011, Kent has met with representatives of oil and gas companies 23 times. The records include meetings with oilsands players Imperial Oil, Suncor, Husky Energy and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).
2. The report is entitled "Oilsands Regional Aquatic Monitoring Program (RAMP) Scientific Peer Review of the Five-Year Report (1997-2001)." It can be found at http://www.andrewnikiforuk.com/Dirty_Oil_PDFs/RAMP%20Peer%20review.pdf
3. The report is entitled "2010 Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) Scientific Review." It can be found at http://www.ramp-alberta.org/UserFiles/File/RAMP%202010%20Scientific%20Peer%20Review%20Report.pdf
4. The study is entitled, "Oilsands development contributes polycyclic aromatic compounds to the Athabasca River and its tributaries." It can be found at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/12/04/0912050106
Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline Hearings
First Nations Uphold Hereditary Rights
Over 1,000 rally in Prince Rupert, BC to oppose Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, February 4, 2012.
Public hearings into the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline began in Kitamaat Village, located about 11 kilometres south of Kitimat, on January 10. The proposed pipeline will move bitumen from the Alberta oilsands to Kitimat, British Columbia where it will be loaded onto tankers. The first stage of the hearings consists of oral statements by registered interveners. About 200 registered interveners, mainly from First Nations, will give oral evidence in the first part of the hearings. A three-member panel is conducting the review to fulfill the requirements of the National Energy Board Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The panel held hearings in January in Terrace, Smithers, Burns Lake and Prince George, BC. It then moved to Alberta for a week of hearings in Edmonton. The full schedule can be found here on the Joint Review Panel website.
The interventions from First Nations across BC and Alberta not only brought out the concerns of the First Nations and why they are opposing the proposal, but also the fact that the review process does not start from a recognition of the hereditary rights of the First Nations or the duty to consult established in law.
At Kitamaat Village, members of the Haisla Nation raised their concerns about tanker traffic in the Douglas Channel and Hecate Strait. The Douglas Channel is a 90-kilometre channel running from Kitimat to the open waters of the Hecate Strait, the strait between Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands) and the BC mainland. Douglas Channel is a busy shipping artery because of the aluminum smelter at Kitimat, as bauxite is shipped in and smelted aluminum shipped out. It is expected that annually 200-250 tankers would move through the channel and then through Hecate Strait, each carrying as much as two million barrels of oil.
Hecate Strait is known for severe weather conditions, especially winter storms which bring high waves through the strait. Interveners stressed the importance of the salmon fishery and traditional food supply to the Haisla people and the severe impact an oil spill would have on the fishery and the rich marine life of the Strait.
The Globe and Mail noted for example that "some tankers would traverse Hecate Strait, which Environment Canada ranks as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world. Waves in South Hecate Strait have reached 26 metres -- the height of a seven-storey building." "Tankers would travel through narrow rock-lined passages where several major vessels have foundered -- including the BC ferry Queen of the North," which in 2006 sank at the entrance to the Douglas Channel after going off course and running aground.
Ellis Ross, Chief Councillor for Kitamaat Village spoke about the Haisla's experience with monopolies like West Fraser Timber Co. that have been permitted to act with impunity. West Fraser closed its Eurocan mill in Kitimat in 2010, which had employed more than 500 people. When it closed the mill, it walked away, taking no responsibility for the damage it had done in polluting the Kitimat River. He explained that when Eurocan failed to meet its targets for effluent dumping, the BC government did not demand the company meet its obligations. Instead the government participated in West Fraser's blackmail that the mill would be closed if it was forced to meet these standards and increased the amount of effluent that Eurocan was permitted to dump. As a result the oolichan, an important fish in the traditional diet, was wiped out. West Fraser closed the mill anyway and walked away.
In Smithers, BC, twenty-two interveners from the Wet'suwet'en nation explained the laws of their nation with regard to allocation of resources and use of the land within their territory. The Wet'suwet'en and Gitksan nations launched the legal challenge Delgamuukw v. British Columbia which resulted in the landmark Supreme Court decision which recognized aboriginal title as distinct from land use rights and the legitimacy of indigenous oral history in determination of aboriginal title. Every speaker expressed their determination to defend their right to be, their land, law and culture and to exercise control over their territory as is their right by law and on the basis of their hereditary rights.
Wilf Adam from the Lake Babine Nation spoke at the hearings in Burns Lake, where the community has recently suffered a massive fire at the sawmill which killed two workers, and injured many more. He pointed out that the people of towns like Burns Lake will not get rich from the pipeline, "[I]t is the millionaires in Vancouver, the big stakeholders in Edmonton, who will get rich." "We are telling [Prime Minister Harper and Premier Clark] that our land is not for sale," he said. The Chair responded that the interveners should stick to their "personal knowledge."
Hereditary chief Moricetown Madeek (Jeff Brown) explained a point that the Chair and panel cannot seem to grasp -- the meaning of the word consultation. "We're not against economic development out on the territories. We want to work with industries that come out on our territory. We want to work with them right from the get-go, from the first time they decide that there's something that could happen out on the territory. We want to work with them to build that industry. They call that consultation.
"We haven't had the opportunity to sit down with Enbridge to find out whether or not we can work with them... [O]ur people respect the land to the point where no industry, such as that pipeline, should ever set foot on our territory and they need to hear that from each and every one of us."
In Edmonton, interveners from the Enoch, Samson, Alexander, Swan River and Dene Nations as well as the Metis Nation of Alberta made presentations to the hearing. Chiefs from First Nations in Alberta and the Northwest Territories signed a declaration on January 27 opposing the pipeline.
Grand Chief Bill Erasmus, Dene National Chief addressed the hearings. He stressed that the basis of the treaties his people signed was recognition of their nations and that neither Treaty 8 nor 11 involved land surrender. He referred to the 1973 Paulette judgement, and noted that Elder François Paulette, who gave the opening prayer that morning, was one of the leading Chiefs involved in that decision. In 1973 when this case was heard people who were at the signing were still alive and could give evidence of the fact that his people did not surrender land or control of the resources, but signed treaties of peace and friendship.
Chief Erasmus stated that the panel must address the question of whether it has the legal authority to decide if a pipeline can be built. Where did this authority come from, he asked? He pointed out that this is land where either no treaties have been signed, or where they have been, the treaties did not involve land surrender.
Chief Erasmus raised many concerns about oilsands development, who makes decisions, and the failure of governments to restrict the monopolies and require them to operate in a manner which respects the natural environment and the people who depend on it. He raised the impact of the large-scale use of water in the bitumen extraction process and its impact on the rivers and water table. Why is it in 2012, with the technology the way it is, that so much water has to be used, he asked? Is there not technology that can bring that production level to a rate that would not extract so much water?
He then spoke about the levels of arsenic in the tailings ponds and the failure of the governments to uphold their social responsibility. "The two gold mines adjacent to Yellowknife operated for some 60 years and in early years the arsenic went directly into the environment. We know about arsenic; our people have died because of arsenic. And arsenic will always be there. We can no longer drink the water like we used to; so we have been affected by development before." Why is it that in 2012, that is still happening? Why is it that the tailings ponds cannot be recycled, he asked? Chief Erasmus pointed out that instead of planned development, governments simply approve every application made by the oil monopolies, and this is not acceptable.
The Chair's response to Chief Erasmus left no doubt that the terms unilaterally established for the joint review did not meet the requirements of the First Nations. She stated flatly that the panel was only there to hear "your oral traditional knowledge of the potential effects of the proposed project."
Chief Rose Laboucan of the Driftpile First Nation, located on the southern shore of Lesser Slave Lake, stressed that while the project will provide short-term employment and long-term benefits for Enbridge, it will provide nothing for the people most impacted. She affirmed that the Treaty 8 Nations agreed to share the land with the settlers to the depth of the plough, but never ceded or surrendered the land. "This treaty is as much ours as it is yours. First Nation people have kept their end of the bargain. In this day and age, I strongly believe that revenue sharing should be part of any conversation when it comes to the natural resources of our traditional lands."
She spoke of the fact that her people can no longer take all their food supplies from the land and that many of her people cannot afford to buy healthy food, with devastating result on the people's health. "The land has been our teacher, our grocery store, our pharmacy and our spiritual connection. At the rate things are going regarding progress, we have less and less traditional land to access, hence less and less opportunity to be able to enhance our lives from our traditional territories. There's tons of pipelines. There's pump jacks, roads, gas plants, signs all over saying, 'Do Not Enter,' 'No Shooting Here,' 'H2S Poison Gas.' We need the opportunity to continue to teach our heritage and our history because it's been forgotten in this country. And with no opportunity to do those teachings from the traditional land, we have fear that genocide will happen and our children will not have the ability to have the knowledge that our Elders have had the opportunity to have.
"I'm not sure if anyone will ever really understand our connection to the land. The land is us; we are the land."