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Oct 21, 2008 | 21:14 GMT

6 mins read

Canada: Increasing Opposition to Energy Industry Activities

Tim Matsui/Liaison
Police are still investigating two pipeline bombings that took place the week of Oct. 12 in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The attacks, while amateurish, represent an escalation in opposition to energy industry activities in the area.
Authorities are still investigating two pipeline bombings that took place in the northeastern part of Canada's province of British Columbia the week of Oct. 12. No arrests have been made in connection with the blasts, and police have not yet named any suspects. While neither blast caused significant physical damage, the second attack did create a hole in the pipeline, which carries about 50 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to a nearby processing plant, causing pipeline owner and operator EnCana to shut the line down temporarily Oct. 16 while workers repaired the leak. These attacks, however amateurish, represent an escalation in recent opposition to oil and natural gas activity in western Canada. While these two most recent attacks did not yield major damage, an increase in force or frequency could disrupt oil and natural gas transport in western Canada — an industry that brings in $2 billion in annual revenue for British Columbia and brought in nearly $12 billion to Canadian oil companies in 2007. Before the pipeline bombings, a local newspaper received a letter demanding that EnCana and other energy companies leave the area of Tomslake, where the attacks occurred. The letter's author wrote that there would be no negotiations and accused the oil and gas companies of causing health problems in the author's community. The letter also says oil and gas production endangers "home lands," a term closely linked to indigenous groups referred to in Canada as First Nations. The pipeline bombings could have been the actions of a single individual with grievances against the oil and gas industry. However, a local tribe known as the Kelly Lake Cree is already involved in a dispute with EnCana over gas production in the area, and recent escalations in the group's actions indicate that at least a faction of the group could be involved in the attacks. While the Kelly Lake Cree does not outright own the land it claims, the tribe has been involved in a legal battle over obtaining a title from the Canadian government since the mid-1990s. In February, a Kelly Lake Cree spokesperson indicated that plans to build more pipelines in the area did not include adequate compensation for the tribe. On June 30, the group set up a roadblock in the area in an effort to protest land rights, a tactic commonly used by other indigenous tribes in Canada. This action was preceded by an emergency evacuation drill the tribe staged on its lands, right next to a natural gas treatment plant that the tribe had accused of not having adequate evacuation plans. The drill was meant to show that the tribe was more prepared than EnCana. These actions are in line with the complaints made in the letter sent before the pipeline bombings. While it is certainly too early to assume that the Kelly Lake Cree are behind the attacks, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — Canada's national police force, which is investigating the incidents — likely consider the group to be of interest. The Kelly Lake Cree are not alone in their protests over health concerns surrounding oil and natural gas production in western Canada. Many others have complained of water contamination and poor air quality — among them Weibo Ludwig, found responsible for attacks targeting the oil and gas industry in nearby Hyeth, Alberta, in the late 1990s. Citing health concerns and neglect by local officials, Ludwig bombed a drilling platform and many other oil and natural gas targets. Ludwig was ultimately apprehended and jailed, but has since been released. In an interview after being questioned by the police, he expressed sympathy for those behind the most recent attacks. Meanwhile, other indigenous groups in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario have histories of resorting to violence in disputes with authorities, and some are currently involved in disagreements with local oil and gas projects. According to Canadian census estimates, 1.7 million Canadians — approximately 5 percent of the population — claimed First Nation heritage in 2006; 60 percent of them lived on reservations. While most are peaceful citizens, and political violence in Canada is rare, the ability to wage violence can rest with a handful of people (or even one person) who have been radicalized. Another movement is currently taking shape in Canada that could contribute to any First Nation protest surrounding oil and natural gas operations on indigenous lands. The western Canadian city of Vancouver is set to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, and groups have already started clamoring over issues related to indigenous rights and Canada's booming energy industry. Protests, like those that have formed at stops along the route of the Olympic Spirit Train that is making stops all across Canada in an effort to drum up support for the games, have remained small. However, the protesters' grievances track closely with those of First Nation groups like the Kelly Lake Cree, First Nation groups in Saskatchewan protesting pipeline construction and the Lubicon Cree in Alberta, who have joined up with Amnesty International. If enough supporters from Canada's ecological, indigenous rights and anticapitalist movements joined up with sympathetic elements within Canada's First Nation population, there is reason to believe that they could pose a challenge to Canada's Olympic organizers. Protests like those surrounding the Olympic torch relay ahead of the Beijing Olympics in August could take place in the run-up to Vancouver's Olympic Games, the torch relay for which begins a year from now. Regardless of what may come to pass surrounding the 2010 Olympic WInter Games in Vancouver, the recent pipeline attacks show an escalation in hostility toward oil and natural gas projects in Canada. This poses a challenge to energy companies operating there, which are unable to completely secure the 27,000 miles of pipeline in British Columbia alone. The perceived adverse health effects of a pipeline rupture would also negatively affect those companies' images, no matter who was behind the attacks.

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