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Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham

Nick Cunningham is an independent journalist, covering oil and gas, energy and environmental policy, and international politics. He is based in Portland, Oregon. 

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Canada Rocked By Anti-Pipeline Protests

Protests continue to swell over the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, a long-distance pipeline carrying natural gas from Alberta to the Pacific Coast.

The pipeline’s route would travel more than 400 miles to the coast at Kitimat, British Columbia, where it intends to deliver gas to a massive LNG export project, under construction by a joint venture led by Royal Dutch Shell.

The $6.2 billion Coastal Gaslink pipeline, which is being built by TC Energy, runs through territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. Some First Nations chiefs support the pipeline, but others do not. Those opposed have demanded a halt to construction.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began arresting indigenous peoples on their territory earlier this month. “Forcing indigenous peoples off their own territory is in complete and disgusting violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs said in early February.

Solidarity protests have sprung up across the country, multiplying and raising pressure on TC Energy. They have blocked roads, ports and railways. The protests have also disrupted the legislative session in British Columbia.

Canadian National Railway said on Thursday that it was “forced to initiate a disciplined and progressive shutdown of its operations in Eastern Canada” due to the protests, CN said in a statement. “While the illegal blockades have come to an end in Manitoba and may be ending imminently in British Columbia, the orders of the court in Ontario have yet to be enforced and continue to be ignored.”

Canada’s oil industry has shipped increasing volumes of oil by rail, due to pipeline constraints. It’s unclear if the rail outage will impact oil flows. CN Rail said that it expects to ship 250,000 bpd by the end of the first quarter, an increase from 180,000 bpd in September.

The shutdown also comes a week after a derailment and explosion of an oil train, merely the latest in a string of disasters. The most recent derailment also caused disruptions as the rail industry was forced to reduce speeds.

“After six days of protest, hundreds of trains hauling everything from fresh produce to chlorine for municipal water purification were parked on the tracks, which are filling rapidly,” the Globe and Mail wrote on Wednesday. The CEO of Cenovus Energy Alex Pourbaix denounced the protestors. “Shutting down the country’s ports, shutting down highways, whatever; this is really ridiculous behavior,” he said. Related: Shale Gas Drillers Are Facing A Perfect Storm

For his part, TC Energy’s CEO Russ Girling said he was “extremely disappointed” that “enforcement was required.”

But the heavy-handed crackdown on protestors and First Nations has only enflamed criticism of the RCMP, arguably contributing to the explosion of protest. The Canadian Association of Journalists issued a press release on February 8 stating that the RCMP had been blocking journalists from reporting on the protests. “All week the RCMP have been unnecessarily threatening reporters who are simply trying to perform their democratic duties,” CAJ president Karyn Pugliese said in a statement. “Yesterday the RCMP promised to respect media rights, but today they continue to abuse their powers and blatantly disregard the law in a way that is previously unheard of in Canada and unthinkable in a democratic country.”

“We remind B.C. RCMP that Canada is not a police state,” the association said on Twitter.

In December, The Guardian reported that RCMP “were prepared to shoot” indigenous people protesting the pipeline, and according to documents, they were ready to use lethal force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has supported the project, but has also tried to stay above the fray, arguing that the conflict is a provincial matter. His support for the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline is also relevant context – the oil industry has long criticized Trudeau for his insufficient support of the Alberta oil industry, but some environmentalists see him as a hypocrite, giving lofty speeches about climate change, but also pushing long-distance pipelines.

Trudeau has been unable to thread the needle on the Trans Mountain Expansion, angering both sides even as he supports the project. But his strategy this time, to stay out of it, looks increasingly untenable.

By Nick Cunningham of Oilprice.com

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