16 Toward a Typology of Fossil Fuel FlashpointsThe Potential for Coalition Building
Fiona MacPhail and Paul Bowles
Fossil fuel projects—coal, natural gas, and oil—have met with resistance around the world challenging the power and logic of capitalist fossil fuel companies. The analytical lenses through which fossil fuel resistance have been viewed include those of justice (principally environmental justice, energy justice, climate justice, and social justice) and of sovereignty (notably Indigenous sovereignty and food sovereignty), with contestation arising from one or more class-based organizations, social movements, NGOs, and civil society organizations. In other words, theoretical and empirical analyses of fossil fuel resistance have been broad-ranging and varied.
This chapter examines the roots of resistance at the local level, with a view to enhancing possibilities for activism. We build on existing frameworks from the literature on energy justice (see, for example, Finley-Brook and Holloman 2016; Jenkins et al. 2016; Sovacool and Dworkin 2015), and apply them to advance a typology of fossil fuel flashpoints, with illustrations from northern British Columbia. Efforts to bring about change typically require the building of coalitions. By offering a systematic analysis of where and why flashpoints occur, this typological approach highlights and illustrates the circumstances under which coalition building is both necessary and possible.
The term “flashpoint” has been applied to many issues and across various time periods and economic and political spaces. For example, the word has been used in the environmental context to denote long-standing policy controversies that inhibit the goal of sustainability (Vos 1997), in the sociological analysis of public disorder, including riots (Waddington 2010), and in the geopolitical literature to denote areas in which conflicts, whether active or latent, produce instability (Anderson 2000).
“Flashpoint” is used here to capture many of these same dimensions: long-term controversies that can suddenly intensify around specific projects and that may be (though are not necessarily) accompanied by forms of public disorder or other forms of protest. The term therefore signifies a sense of urgency, intensity, and contestation, while also implying the existence of concerns that are more enduring and deeply rooted and that may lie dormant for a period before intensifying again. The term therefore seems particularly apt in the context of natural resource projects in which long-running concerns over the costs and benefits of such projects often lead to intense periods of scrutiny and forms of public contestation. Indeed, the term has entered political discourse in much the same way. We concentrate here on the persistent, underlying causes of flashpoints and use these to motivate our typology, rather than focusing on short-term strategies, such as media campaigns, that invoke these long-standing concerns to intensify immediate political action.
Our flashpoint typology is based on three axes (drawn from the energy justice literature noted above) and commodity chain nodes. We then illustrate the application of the typology using examples predominantly from northern British Columbia and briefly discuss some of the implications of this analysis for building the broader coalitions needed to challenge fossil fuel projects.
A Fossil Fuel Flashpoint Typology
The proposed typology locates the roots of flashpoints along three axes. Each represents a complex of interrelated factors, but, taken together, they provide us with a description of fossil fuel contestations and a basis for strategic action.
Along the economic and distributive axis, hereafter the distributive axis, causes of resistance relate to both the total economic benefits to be generated by proposed fossil fuel projects, as well as their distribution. With regard to the level of employment, the key issue is whether a project will generate what community members regard as an acceptable number of jobs, both direct and indirect. In addition, a project may be contested if it appears to pose a threat to existing capitalist industries, such as tourism, and thus to established sources of employment. At the same time, concerns may be voiced regarding the number of new jobs promised versus the number actually delivered and/or the projected number of new jobs versus the potential increase in employment if further value-added linkages were created within the country. As we argue elsewhere, opposition framed in terms of concerns about the lack of domestic linkages reflects the persistence of the staples approach in Canada, with its emphasis on the need to foster a robust domestic economy rather than relying too heavily on exports (see Bowles and MacPhail 2018, esp. 169–70).
Resistance may also emerge in connection with the distribution of employment—for example, with whether local Indigenous residents will have adequate access to jobs and the barriers to women’s employment. Moreover, issues surrounding the terms of employment and the use of non-unionized labour and temporary workers may provoke conflict between capital and labour. Finally, the organization of employment may be viewed negatively if a project entails the construction of “man camps” in which to house on-site workers. Such camps may exacerbate social problems associated with rapid demographic change within the community, including pressure on local health and social services and housing, and may also lead to increased rates of violence against women and rising levels of crime (Jenkins 2014).
Conflicts may also arise along the distributive axis with regard to the distribution of the energy generated by the fossil fuel project. Will local communities, especially Indigenous ones, benefit from it? That is, will “energy justice” be achieved (Sovacool and Dworkin 2015)? The W. A. C. Bennett Dam, in north-central British Columbia, offers an instructive example of this problem. During the dam’s construction, which was completed in 1967, both the Tsay Keh Dene and Kwadacha First Nations were caught without forewarning when their lands were flooded in order to provide hydroelectric energy for the province. Yet, as of June 2016, the Kwadacha First Nation was still relying on a diesel generator for its electricity (Cox 2016).
Moving from the community to levels of government, both the amount and the distribution of the tax revenue generated by fossil fuel projects may prove to be sources of contention. One concern is the appropriate level of taxation—that is, the rate at which companies should be taxed (or charged royalties) such that the flow of revenue is commensurate with the profits earned from a project. Another is whether lower levels of government and local communities will receive revenues adequate to compensate for the costs imposed upon them by the fossil fuel project. That such issues may become flashpoints for conflict between different levels of government allows us to expand the concept of a flashpoint to include not just public protest but also rivalry between levels of public authority that could likewise derail fossil fuel projects.
The second axis is the procedural and consultative axis, hereafter the procedural axis. Procedural justice, as Benjamin Sovacool and Michael Dworkin (2015, 437) describe it, is “concerned with how decisions are made in the pursuit of social goals.” Flashpoints may arise in connection with the form of the consultation and/or the subject on which decisions must be made, but they may also be grounded in inequitable relations of power. In practice, then, beyond opposition relating primarily to violations of established procedure, conflict along this axis may extend to the instrumental use of procedural failings to challenge projects that are opposed for reasons pertaining to the other two axes.
With regard to the form of the consultation, issues of contention typically involve which groups are included in (or excluded from) consultative processes and the manner in which their voice is recognized. For example, how is a “stakeholder” defined (and by whom), and are members of civil society allowed to participate in these processes only if they are deemed to be stakeholders? Does the process acknowledge the treaty and other rights of Indigenous peoples, and is the consultation that flows from the “duty to consult” with Indigenous groups substantive or purely pro forma? The subject of decision making may be of concern if consultation is carried out only on certain aspects of a project. For example, the terms of reference of the body responsible for conducting a review may be constrained so as to rule out certain areas of consideration, or the views of those who hold specialized knowledge about a topic may not be adequately sought out.
While power relations underlie the above sources of contestation, an asymmetric balance of power and resources may also be built into the processes of project review. In most instances, local actors are at a disadvantage relative to corporations and governments in terms of their access to information and overall capacity to prepare an effective formal response to projects. With respect to the representation of minority opinion, decision-making processes tend to replicate and reinforce existing power inequities in ways that reflect “white privilege” and as Laura Pulido (2010, 15) argues, the “hegemonic structures, practices and ideologies reproduce whites’ privileged status” (also referred to by Jenkins et al. 2016, 178). Thus, white privilege undermines the equal representation necessary for procedural justice.
The ecological and recognition axis captures potential conflicts of fossil fuel projects with ecological sustainability and cultural values. This axis includes resistance arising from the environmental and ecological risks associated with a project, whether local, regional, or global. The axis also includes issues surrounding the recognition of non-capitalist world views and alternative sets of priorities founded on principles such as sustainability, equity, and reciprocity. Contestation here might be concerned with the impact of a project on non-capitalist uses of land and water and the production of non-market goods, as well as with whether the project will entail capitalist accumulation by means of dispossession, including the transfer of public assets into private hands (Harvey 2004). Opposition may reflect Indigenous world views, or it may emanate from environmentalist and eco-socialist activists responding to what Marx described as a rift in the “universal metabolism of nature” (Foster 2013). While it might seem more appropriate to view ecological and cultural sources of contestation as two separate axes, we prefer to consider them as a single axis to emphasize their interrelatedness. Although conflict may focus on the impact of a fossil fuel project on specific uses of land or water, these uses are culturally embedded and are often inseparably bound up with place and ceremony. Conflict may also arise from a broader understanding of the capacity of fossil fuel development to threaten entire ways of living and being, whether by undermining traditional means of livelihood grounded in reciprocity and non-market forms of exchange or by accelerating global climate change.
Concerns about the adverse cultural and ecological impacts of fossil fuel development resonates in some ways with the quest for what is often called “recognition justice,” which exists when the values, world views, and lifeways of all peoples are acknowledged and respected (see, for instance, Finley-Brook and Holloman 2016, 1).1 By including “recognition” in the name of this axis, we mean to indicate that opposition arising along it is not limited to ecological issues per se. Rather, this contestation also involves a struggle over the validity of the alternative perspectives and the conceptualizations of “sustainability” embodied in them.
While these axes capture the main reasons underlying the emergence of flashpoints, it is also clear that flashpoints may occur at different points in the production process, for example, during the extraction phase or the distribution phase. To arrive at a more complete understanding of flashpoints, we therefore examine the three axes from the standpoint of the commodity chain. Commodity chains obviously differ from industry to industry, as they depend on the nature of the production process, and they may be further modified by technological innovations. While a “generic” commodity chain approach can be applied to many industries, from horticulture to manufacturing, it is useful to proceed on the basis of a concrete example drawn from the fossil fuel sector. Gavin Bridge (2008) describes the oil commodity chain as consisting of six sequential processes: exploration, extraction/production, refining, distribution, consumption, and carbon capture. As he points out, it is a chain “the end points of which are rooted in the natural environment” (395).
A commodity chain approach contributes analytically to our understanding of flashpoints. First, the six processes identified above typically take place at different geographical locations and at different points in time. Exploration may, for example, occur many years or even decades prior to extraction, and extraction may occur in one location with refining in another. Second, while the connection between a flashpoint and a particular node in the commodity chain may be quite clear, the activities that take place at specific nodes often have different consequences for the environment, as well as different social, economic and/or cultural implications. Finally, the processes associated with individual nodes are licensed and regulated by agencies that operate at different levels of government, which may be particularly important for understanding the procedural axis.
Fossil Fuel Flashpoint Illustrations from Northern British Columbia
Especially since the start of this century, northern British Columbia has become the site not only of a rapidly growing natural gas industry but also of projects designed to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) and tar sands oil to tidewater and then ready these fuels for shipment to Asian markets. Our interest lies with resistance to this development at the local level, from municipal governments, local NGOs, First Nations, and rural communities. These are the people who experience the impacts of fossil fuel projects most immediately, and their active resistance to these projects may be less familiar than the work of groups that operate more widely. To simplify the analysis, we organize the discussion around three components of the commodity chain: exploration and extraction, distribution, and refining or liquefaction.
Exploration and Extraction Nodes: Natural Gas Production in Northeastern BC
Exploration for and the extraction of fossil fuels in northern British Columbia centre on natural gas in the northeastern part of the province. As one might expect, flashpoints arise along all three axes.
Distributive axis. Projects related to the discovery and extraction of natural gas have become flashpoints in northeast British Columbia, with opposition arising in connection with the nature of the jobs themselves and with inequities in access to them. While natural gas extraction offers well-paid employment for some workers, job insecurity is considerable, with employment levels highly sensitive to fluctuations in natural gas prices. Furthermore, many workers live in camps set up by employers, and since workers often have little choice but to live in a camp, they also have little recourse when the living conditions are poor. In 2012, BC’s Northern Health district counted a total of 1,567 camps associated with the oil and gas industry in the northern half of the province (Northern Health 2012, 4). Although conditions vary, these camps are, on the whole, associated with risks to both the physical and mental health of workers, stemming in part from the combination of long work hours and inadequate recreational outlets other than substance abuse (see Northern Health 2012, 8–10).
The lack of employment opportunities for First Nations people and women is evident. As a result of the usual barriers to women’s employment in resource extraction, such as long shifts, it is primarily men who benefit from employment opportunities. Moreover, the fact that these jobs are tied to living in camps makes it harder for the women “left behind,” who must attempt to balance possible paid employment with unpaid domestic labour and the work of child care (Eckford and Wagg 2014). While differential access to employment and wage gaps are clearly problems in themselves in terms of gender equity, the influx of male workers into a community has also been linked to an increase in violence against women (Amnesty International 2016; Eckford and Wagg 2014). Other negative social consequences that have been reported include a rise in crime, increased alcohol and drug abuse, and decreases in housing access and affordability (Amnesty International 2016).
In the realm of government, the expanding natural gas industry has heightened contentious fiscal issues which are of particular concern to local governments in Northeast British Columbia. The benefits and costs of expanding natural gas extraction in Northeastern British Columbia are accrued to different levels of government. In 2015, two local governments in Northeastern British Columbia raised the concern that the benefits of increased resource exploration and extraction in the area have accrued to the provincial government in the form of $20 billion in land sales and royalties, over the preceding decade (District of Taylor and City of Fort St. John 2015, 4). Yet, the increasing costs of providing services to support the expanding industrial sector fall on local governments; and as the North East BC Resource Municipalities Coalition notes, such services include the provision of “serviced land, transportation and utility systems, recreation and cultural facilities, policing and a host of other services” (NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition 2015, 5). The constraints on funding these services from local government revenue is particularly challenging in Northeastern British Columbia because, as the NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition notes, “approximately 90% of the industrial property tax base is located within unincorporated rural areas, and therefore beyond the direct taxing jurisdiction of municipalities” (NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition 2015, 5). As one of their key initiatives, the North East BC Resource Municipalities Coalition (formed in 2014) indicated they would attempt to address the imbalances in provincial revenue sharing agreements and would propose a new agreement that would recognize the link between funding and rural industrial tax base (NEBC Resource Municipalities Coalition 2015, 10).2
Procedural axis. Regardless of other potential sources of conflict, some fossil fuel projects are opposed on procedural grounds. Several provincial government units are involved in the regulation of the oil and gas industry in British Columbia, including the BC Oil and Gas Commission and, in connection with water licences, the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development. The contestation of projects on procedural grounds thus typically involves one or both of these two regulatory agencies. Three types of procedural issues can be identified at the exploration and extraction commodity chain nodes.
One of the main procedural issues giving rise to the contestation of natural gas projects is the lack of meaningful consultation. The large number of projects and the system of site-specific permits with short timelines for consultation deprive First Nations of the opportunity to provide thoughtful and informed comment, as Kathryn Garvie and Karena Shaw (2014) document in connection with the Fort Nelson First Nation (see also Parfitt 2017). Further, the consultations rarely, if ever, lead to substantial changes in how resources are managed. With respect to the construction of unlicensed dams to provide water for fracking operations, for example, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, commented that “First Nations were not fully consulted about the true size and extent of these dams” and noted that “our Indigenous Title, Rights and Treaty rights are still completely ignored or denied.” Phillip stated that there have been “no substantive or meaningful opportunities to fully participate in decisions around how water resources are managed in our respective territories” (quoted in Johnston 2017).
The opposition to industrial water usage is illustrated by the Fort Nelson First Nation’s 2015 successful court challenge of Nexen’s five-year licence to extract water from North Tsea Lake, which was granted in May 2012 by the assistant water manager for the province (British Columbia, Environmental Appeal Board 2015, 4). That the Fort Nelson First Nation had the support of the broader population was indicated by the 32,702 signatures on a petition it circulated urging Premier Christy Clark to revoke the water licence.3
A second issue giving rise to resistance on procedural terms is the failure to monitor and enforce existing regulations, particularly around dams and water usage. In 2017, for example, multiple groups, including the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and West Coast Environmental Law, made submissions to the BC Environmental Assessment Office expressing outrage over a retrospective application by Progress Energy for a regulatory exemption in connection with two very large dams. In a submission on behalf of the Blueberry River First Nations, Norma Pyle (2017, 1) noted that the dams, which had been constructed “without regulatory oversight or approval,” would have the effect of impounding vast quantities of water drawn from her nation’s lands. The Blueberry River First Nations, she wrote, are “very concerned that the Environmental Assessment Office is entertaining ‘exemption’ requests for these dams, rather than taking enforcement action against the illegal construction and operation of the dams, and rather than undertaking a full environmental review of the risks and impacts of the dams going forward” (1). Pyle also raised questions about the impact of the dams and then stated, “All of these questions should, under proper conditions, be asked and answered to the satisfaction of an independent regulator who is acting in the public interest and in the interest of ensuring the protection of the lands and waters upon which our treaty rights depend. Instead, the Crown agencies have worked in the interest of industry and have obscured information from us and the public” (3).
Third, concerns have been voiced about the narrow frame of the environmental assessment process and, in particular, about whether the process can adequately assess the negative impacts of the fracking technology used to extract natural gas. Fracking risks causing earthquakes, uses massive amounts of water, as well as contaminating it, and is associated with methane leaks from well sites. Chief Marvin Yahey, of the Blueberry River First Nations, has pointed out the limitations of the scientific methodology used in environmental assessments, specifically with respect to methane leaks at the extraction sites, incremental greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and cumulative impacts (Yahey and Blueberry River First Nations 2016). Numerous groups—including local organizations such as the Friends of Wild Salmon Coalition, provincial non-profit organizations such as BC Tap Water Alliance, and national organizations such as the Council of Canadians—have questioned the scientific basis of granting permits for fracked gas, while the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has called for a public inquiry into fracking.4
Ecological and recognition axis. Natural gas extraction projects have become a flashpoint in northeast British Columbia on ecological and cultural grounds. For example, the Blueberry River First Nations have argued that the multiple natural gas extraction projects underway and their cumulative impacts are affecting their treaty rights, which include traditional activities of fishing and hunting. In March 2015, the Blueberry River First Nations filed notice of a civil claim in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, seeking to prohibit the province from breaching its obligations under Treaty 8 and infringing against their treaty rights. Decisions of the Crown, they argued, have resulted in “land alienation, resource extraction and industrial activities in the traditional territories upon which the Nations’ culture, economy and Treaty rights depend”—activities that “have damaged the forests, lands, waters, fish and wildlife that are integral to the Nations’ mode of life, and upon which the Nations rely” (Yahey and Blueberry River First Nations 2015, 2).
A study conducted in the aftermath of this claim and based on BC government data found that 73 percent of the traditional territory of the Blueberry River First Nations lay within 250 metres of an industrial disturbance and 84 percent within 500 metres of one (Macdonald 2016, 6). Speaking in June 2016, when the study was released, Chief Marvin Yahey observed:
Fracking, forestry, roads and other development is pushing us further and further to the edges of our territory and we are no longer able to practice our treaty rights in the places we’ve always known…. Instead, the province continues to approve major industrial undertakings in our territory, including major fracking operations and the Site C dam, willfully ignoring that each new approval brings our unique culture closer to extinction.
In a press release, the Blueberry River First Nations underscored their desire “to ensure that generations to come are able to meaningfully exercise their treaty rights to live off the land” (both quoted in Carter 2016).
Distribution Node: Pipelines for Oil and Natural Gas Across Northern BC
The distribution node of the commodity chain is applicable to pipelines for both oil and natural gas. The (cancelled) Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline and the multiple proposals for natural gas pipelines from the northeast to the coastal northwest of British Columbia offer numerous examples across our three axes.
Distributive axis. The Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline became a flashpoint in northwestern British Columbia (see Bowles and Veltmeyer, 2015). On April 12, 2014, the municipality of Kitimat held a plebiscite on the pipeline in which 3,071 people voted, 58.4 percent of them against the project (CBC 2014; see also Bowles and MacPhail 2017). Douglas Channel Watch (DCW), a small NGO based in Kitimat, opposed the pipeline on five main grounds, three of which spoke directly to the employment linkage effects (or lack thereof). A DCW leaflet prepared as part of the plebiscite campaign drew upon explicit statements in the federal Joint Review Panel report to make its case against the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline. The campaign leaflet stated that the pipeline (1) would “allow temporary foreign workers to build pipelines in Canada”; (2) is “a diluted bitumen export only pipeline”; and (3) “does not mandate upgrading or any other job-creating projects” (emphasis in the original).5
The first argument points to the lack of employment benefits for local workers; the second points to the absence of local or national outlets for the commodity under production and the dependence instead on external markets, while the third highlights the absence of forward (that is, downstream) linkages for the project, such as job opportunities associated with refining oil into higher-value products. While this flashpoint occurred at the distribution node in a community that was slated to receive the majority of the permanent jobs from the project, it is interesting to note that labour unions opposed the pipeline proposal as well, on the grounds that the project lacked sufficient forward employment linkages and would result in the export of potential processing jobs. The opposition included the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents labour at the extraction and production node in Alberta. The AFL campaigned against the pipeline on the grounds that it involved not only the export of unprocessed crude but also no refining in Alberta. The AFL (2013) estimated that the pipeline would generate only 228 permanent jobs and 1,500 short-term construction jobs, while the lack of linkages to a refinery would mean that “more than 26,000 long-term high-value upgrading jobs will be farmed out to low-wage jurisdiction overseas.”6
Procedural axis. At the distribution node, as with the extraction node, some pipelines are opposed on the procedural grounds of the lack of consultation and flawed scientific methods used in the assessment process. In terms of consultation, one example is the decision of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, which represents seven BC First Nations, to boycott the federal Joint Review Panel hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal because its member nations believed that their participation in the hearings would have provided the Joint Review Panel process with an appearance of legitimacy that it did not warrant(see Sharp 2014). Instead, the members of the council organized protest marches and joined with other First Nations in engaging in anti-pipeline activism, as well as lending support to various legal actions.
The Enbridge Northern Gateway oil pipeline was further contested by many northern (and other) organizations on the grounds that the Joint Review Panel’s interpretation of its terms of reference was biased and that the state was not supporting equitable representation. For instance, the panel was willing to consider only those GHG emissions generated directly by the pipeline, rather than examining the project’s wider role in global warming—partly because it refused to consider either the upstream implications, in terms of accelerated tar sands production, or the downstream implications, in terms of increased fossil fuel consumption, while also overlooking a series of other concerns raised by First Nations (West Coast Environmental Law 2011, 2). The Carrier Sekani Tribal Council (2007, 2) further noted argued that, as a result of amendments in 2002, BC’s Environmental Assessment Act “does not require that an environmental assessment consider impacts on Aboriginal rights and title or cultural heritage” and that, even when an environmental assessment does take such impacts into consideration, “they are not considered from an Aboriginal perspective.” These arguments also exemplify how conflicts in the procedural axis may have an underlying root motivation in one of the other axes.
Ecological and recognition axis. Numerous flashpoints have arisen at the distribution node because of underlying concern that pipelines threaten ecological and cultural vitality. For example, the Luutkudziiwus—a wilp, or house, of the Gitxsan First Nation—state that TransCanada’s Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline project “will fragment our ancestral cultural infrastructure, fish and wildlife habitat and diminish the exercising of our fishing, hunting and gathering rights,” pointing out that “TransCanada has already shown disregard for wildlife habitat and local traditional knowledge by carrying our test drilling directly within moose habitat during calving season.”7 In the words of Hereditary Chief Xsim Wits’iin (Lester Moore), “The province has been stealing from our territory and culture for 150 years, and this needs to end. The proposed pipeline and LNG project is in deep conflict with core Luutkudziiwus interests and values.”8
Other groups and coalitions, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, have actively opposed oil and natural gas pipelines. In December 2010, the Indigenous Nations of the Fraser Valley Watershed released the Save the Fraser Declaration, resolving not to allow the Northern Gateway pipeline and other such projects “to cross our lands, territories and watersheds, or the ocean migration routes of Fraser River salmon.” Issued in accordance with Indigenous laws and authority, the declaration unequivocally states that “our inherent Title and Rights and legal authority over these lands and waters have never been relinquished through treaty or war” and issues a reminder that “water is life, for our peoples and for all living things that depend on it.” In support of the declaration, the Yinka Dene Alliance issued the Save the Fraser Solidarity Accord in December 2013, inviting people everywhere to pledge to stand with the Fraser Valley First Nations in their fight to save their lands and waters.9 The following summer, residents of a small community in northwestern British Columbia’s Skeena River watershed released the Kispiox Valley Declaration, which 161 people had signed. Acknowledging their acceptance of “a shared regional and global responsibility to protect our water and air,” the signatories declared that “we cannot stand by and allow any industrial presence, including oil and gas development, that would threaten or harm our values and responsibilities.”10 In addition, in conjunction with anti-Enbridge protests, various organizations fought a “No Tankers” campaign, seeking to outlaw oil tanker traffic in British Columbia’s coastal waters—a campaign that was, in the long run, at least partly successful. In June 2019, federal Bill C-48 (the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act) finally received royal assent, thereby placing restrictions on such traffic.
Refining/Liquefaction Node: Natural Gas Terminals in Northwestern BC
The refining process appears as a flashpoint primarily for the natural gas industry, although it should be noted that the absence of a refinery played a role in opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline project within the distributional axis. In terms of the commodity chain, a natural gas terminal is required to liquefy the natural gas so that it can be loaded onto tankers and transported to markets, primarily in Asia. There have been at least 15 LNG terminals proposed in British Columbia since the early 2010s (see Mihlar 2015), although many of these proposals have now been cancelled citing industry conditions; we focus here on opposition to two specific projects, the Pacific NorthWest LNG and the Aurora LNG.11
The Pacific NorthWest LNG project—proposed by the Malaysian state oil company, Petronas, along with four minority partners (China’s Sinopec, Japan’s JAPEX, Indian Oil Corporation, and PetroleumBRUNEI)—sought to build a liquefaction and export terminal on Lelu Island, near Port Edward. By late January 2017, the project had received both federal and provincial environmental approval, but only six months later, Petronas announced that plans for the project had been cancelled. The chair of Pacific NorthWest LNG’s board of directors pointed to “prolonged depressed prices and shifts in the energy industry” (quoted in Gilchrist 2017). Shortly thereafter, the Aurora LNG project met a similar fate. The facility, proposed by Nexen Energy (a Calgary-based subsidiary of CNOOC, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation), along with several Japanese partners, was slated for construction on Digby Island, southwest of Prince Rupert and not far north of the site chosen for the Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal. In September 2017, however, CNOOC decided to abandon the project, citing “the current macro-economic environment” (Jang 2017).12
Distributive axis. LNG terminals, such as those proposed by Petronas and Nexen, provoked resistance because of the threat they pose to existing employment and livelihoods. Along this axis, opposition to Petronas’s proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal arose from concerns that the project’s probable impact on the Skeena River estuary would devastate the salmon stock. The resistance, which was spearheaded by First Nations (notably the Gitwilgyoots, one of the allied tribes of the Lax Kw’alaams Band), was supported by a number of other groups who rely on wild salmon for their livelihoods. For example, the United Fisherman and Allied Workers’ Union–Unifor, representing organized commercial salmon and herring fishermen in British Columbia, opposed the terminal because of its predicted impact on commercial fishing (UFAWU-Unifor 2016). For similar reasons, the project also met with opposition from a group of guides, lodge owners, and others involved in the sport-fishing business in the Skeena region, who argued that “our way of life depends on healthy fish populations” (Skeena Sport Fishing Group 2016).
Procedural axis. Multiple groups have opposed the proposed LNG terminals on two procedural grounds discussed above in connection with other flashpoints, namely, flawed consultation and biased assessments in scientific terms. Both of these factors are well illustrated by the Lelu Island flashpoint sparked by Petronas’s proposed LNG terminal. In February 2016, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) released the Pacific NorthWest LNG Draft Environmental Assessment Report (CEAA 2016), approving the Petronas project, and as part of the process, the public was invited to comment on the report.13 Some of the resulting submissions shed light on the nature of the opposition.
In addition to detailing numerous environmental shortcomings, the Gitxaala Nation argued that the CEAA report was based on an inadequate approach to consultation. “Gitxaala objects to public open houses being classified as Aboriginal consultation,” the submission stated, noting that “even if Nation members were invited and attended, that consultation is not with the Nation as a collective but rather with individuals” (Gitxaala Nation 2016, 4).
The Pacific NorthWest LNG project was also challenged procedurally on the grounds that the scientific methodology used in CEAA report was fundamentally flawed. A letter submitted by 135 scientists identified five major failings of the draft assessment report: it misrepresented the importance of the project site to fish populations (especially salmon); it assumed that a lack of information was equivalent to an absence of risks; it disregarded scientific research other than that funded by the proponent; it gave inadequate consideration to cumulative effects; and it exhibited an “unsubstantiated reliance” on various forms of mitigation (Colquhoun et al. 2016, 1–2). When, despite the raft of criticisms, the federal government approved the project some six months later, legal actions were simultaneously brought by representatives of the Gitwilgyoots Tribe, the Gitanyow Band, and the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, seeking a judicial review of the government’s decision. “Once again,” said Gitwilgyoots Chief Yahaan, “we are forced to ask the courts to do what our politicians seem unable to do—to honor Canada’s obligations to its Indigenous communities and to protect our environment from catastrophic harm” (quoted in SkeenaWild Conservation Trust 2016).
Ecological and recognition axis. LNG projects have, of course, also met with resistance for ecological reasons. As we have seen, opposition to Petronas’s proposed Pacific NorthWest LNG terminal stemmed in part from the project’s potential to devastate the salmon stock by destroying the eel grass in Flora Bank region of the Skeena River estuary, a habitat crucial to juvenile salmon. Similarly, Nexen’s proposed Aurora LNG terminal generated over a thousand submissions to the BC Environmental Assessment Office, the majority of which opposed the project on ecological and/or environmental grounds.
Along these lines, a group known as Friends of Digby Island argued that, in addition to damaging watersheds and destroying natural habitats, the LNG terminal would contribute to the growth of the fracking industry in northeastern British Columbia and thus of the environmental problems associated with it, while it would also increase atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, thereby accelerating global climate change. At the same time, the group pointed to the danger posed to both workers and the local community by the potential leakage of natural gas, which could cause explosions, and to the project’s “irreversible” impact on the “commercial fishing industry, sportsfishing industry, foodfishing and tourism.”14 Their argument thus connects different nodes along the commodity chain (from extraction to refining), as well as linking considerations located on different axes. Such linkages are critical to building coalitions of the sort that can lead to successful challenges not just to particular projects but to carbon capitalism in general.
Conclusion: Potentials and Challenges for Coalitions
As Roger Hayter (2004) observes, the late twentieth century witnessed a “war in the woods” in British Columbia that pitted logging industry workers against environmentalists and Indigenous groups. Since then, alignments have shifted somewhat, creating greater scope for coalition building in this contemporary period of fossil fuel resource development. By enabling us to analyze the factors that give rise to resistance, the typology presented in this chapter helps us to understand when, and under what conditions, such coalitions might be possible.
The case of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline proposal illustrates the possibility of forming a coalition grounded in opposition across multiple axes. From the standpoint of distribution, the argument centred on insufficient local employment benefits from the project; groups voicing opposition included the Alberta Federation of Labour. The failure of the BC government to consult adequately with Indigenous groups prompted various organizations, including unions, to sign the Solidarity Accord in support of the Save the Fraser Declaration, thereby consolidating opposition along the procedural axis. But the declaration also articulated a myriad of local environmental concerns, in addition to providing an alternative vision of planetary governance, thereby demonstrating that issues arising along the ecological and recognition axis were also key to building the broad coalition that opposed the pipeline.
Coalitions can also be formed within a single axis by establishing links among sources of resistance positioned at various points along the commodity chain. In the case of natural gas projects, for example, groups concerned about the ecological and environmental hazards associated with fracking (at the extraction node), with natural gas pipelines (at the distribution node), and with LNG terminals (at the refining node) can join forces in opposition. As we saw, the Friends of Digby Island, a group situated at the refining node, included upstream concerns about fracking in its reasons for opposing Nexen’s Aurora LNG project as well as concerns about global climate change, a problem that encompasses activities even further downstream, at the point of consumption.
Of course, no coalition-building tactic is foolproof. In the case of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the AFL has expressed its opposition to the export of unprocessed bitumen in the same way that it did in connection with the Northern Gateway pipeline. Yet other labour organizations favour the project for the jobs that it will create at other points on the commodity chain. For example, the director of the United Steelworkers’ western district, Stephen Hunt, urged support for the pipeline on the grounds that it will use Canadian steel (an upstream employment linkage) and will “offer family-supporting employment to thousands of working people” at the distribution node of the chain.15
Such challenges can be particularly damaging to the opposition when combined with appeals to “the national interest” on the part of governments seeking to approve fossil fuel projects. When resistance is mounted in multiple communities and along many points of the commodity chain, however, as it was in the Northern Gateway case, then it becomes considerably more difficult to defend a project using “national interest” rhetoric. Building coalitions across the axes and along the chains is therefore critical. But it is important to recognize that resistance is context specific. Even along a single axis, sources of opposition will vary from project to project, owing to differences in, for example, employment volumes and locations, specific environmental impacts and threats, and the technologies used, all of which further depend on the particular commodity chain. By providing us with a flexible analytical model that can be used to “map” particular projects, the typology presented here can aid us in the task of creating effective coalitions while enhancing our understanding of fossil fuel flashpoints in general.
- 1. Recognition justice is also pertinent for the procedural axis in the sense that who gets to speak and whose voices are heard and are considered important may mean that certain views will not be formally “recognized” in the consultative process. This situation also speaks to the question of “expertise”: who is recognized as an “expert” in providing testimony and how “local” or Indigenous peoples’ knowledge and expertise is incorporated (or not) in consultative and review processes.
- 2. At the time, the North East BC Resource Municipalities Coalition—now simply the Resource Municipalities Coalition—was made up of three municipal governments, but a fourth joined in 2018. Another coalition of communities, the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance, similarly aims to negotiate an equitable share of the revenues received at the provincial level in order fund necessary infrastructure and services required by the economic expansion currently underway.
- 3. “Premier Clark, Don’t Give Away Our Fresh Water for Fracking,” Change.org, n.d., https://www.change.org/p/premier-clark-don-t-give-away-our-fresh-water-for-fracking (accessed December 12, 2019).
- 4. For more information, including a letter template, see “Add Your Voice to the Call for a Public Inquiry into Fracking,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, n.d., https://www.policyalternatives.ca/fracking-inquiry (accessed December 14, 2019).
- 5. These statements appeared on a DCW leaflet, a copy of which is in the authors’ possession. The first factor—concerns about temporary foreign workers taking jobs away from locals—also led the Construction and Specialized Workers’ Union and the International Union of Operating Engineers to challenge in court the permits obtained by HD Mining International to bring in 201 temporary foreign workers from China to work in a coal mine in northeastern BC. The federal court ruled in favour of the company (see Drews 2013).
- 6. Similarly, the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en people, who set up a camp in opposition to pipelines running through their traditional territory, identified the limited number of jobs as one reason (of many) for their opposition. See “Background of the Campaign,” Unist’ot’en Camp, 2017, https://unistoten.camp/no-pipelines/background-of-the-campaign/.
- 7. “Why We Oppose LNG Pipelines and Terminals,” Madii ’Lii, n.d., http://www.madiilii.com/lng (accessed December 16, 2019). Madii ’Lii is the traditional territory of the Luutkudziiwus.
- 8. Richard Wright, “Luutkudziiwus to Launch Court Challenge to Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Pipeline That Would Supply Petronas LNG,” Luutkudziiwus news release, October 14, 2015, https://www.madiilii.com/press.
- 9. Save the Fraser Gathering of Nations, “Save the Fraser Declaration,” https://savethefraser.ca/Fraser-Declaration-May2013.pdf; Yinka Dene Alliance, “Save the Fraser Solidarity Accord,” https://savethefraser.ca/SolidarityAccord-nov2013.pdf. A year after the Solidarity Accord was issued, it had gathered some 26,000 signatures (Hughes 2014).
- 10. The Kispiox Valley Declaration, https://kispioxvalley.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/the-kispiox-valley-declaration.pdf.
- 11. Fazil Mihlar, assistant deputy minister of the Oil and Strategic Initiatives Division in the Ministry of Natural Gas Development, refers to 18 proposed terminals, https://www.emaofbc.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Mihlar-LNG-in-BC-An-Update.pdf. The BC Oil and Gas Commission website currently lists 7 LNG terminals, https://www.bcogc.ca/public-zone/major-projects-centre/list.
- 12. For additional information, see “Pacific NorthWest LNG,” BC Oil and Gas Commission, 2017, https://www.bcogc.ca/public-zone/major-projects-centre/pacific-northwest-lng; and “Aurora LNG–Digby Island,” BC Oil and Gas Commission, 2017, https://www.bcogc.ca/public-zone/major-projects-centre/aurora-lng-digby-island.
- 13. Public comments on the draft report can be accessed at “Pacific NorthWest LNG Project,” Government of Canada, https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/evaluations/proj/80032?culture=en-CA, last modified March 28, 2018. (Click on “View comments” and search the contributor’s name.) In the case of Nexen’s Aurora LNG project, no such report was ever prepared: on October 24, 2017, the CEAA terminated the assessment process at the proponent’s request. See “Aurora LNG Project,” Government of Canada, https://iaac-aeic.gc.ca/050/evaluations/proj/80075?culture=en-CA (last modified December 13, 2017). Note also that on August 28, 2019, when the new Impact Assessment Act came into force, the CEAA was replaced by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada.
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