“The MBB seminar this afternoon is cancelled. The speaker has been arrested.”
It was an email that the biochemistry department at Simon Fraser University will likely never forget. The message explained the absence of Dr. Lynne Quarmby, which prevented her from giving a seminar on November 21, 2014.
Her arrest, along with those of over 100 others, was a part of a struggle against Trans Mountain, a Kinder Morgan-owned company conducting surveying work on Burnaby Mountain in preparation for the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
To understand why Quarmby and the other protesters thought the cause was important enough to be arrested for, we must go back to the beginning of the process, starting with the pipeline itself, and understand the different organisations that have fought for or against the project.
Trans Mountain and Kinder Morgan
The Trans Mountain pipeline, in operation since 1953, transports crude oil, semi-refined, and refined products from Strathcona, Edmonton, through the interior of British Columbia to terminals in Burnaby, Westridge, and Puget Sound. The 1,150 km pipeline currently transports 300,000 barrels per day of product, 26 per cent of which are destined for the Burnaby terminal.
Although Trans Mountain states on their website that “no spill is acceptable,” they also list a fairly extensive history of spills. Their website details 81 spills of various oil products.
According to their website, the company’s spill reporting criteria has also grown less stringent over time — until 1988, any leak, break, fire, or explosion would be reported, whereas a threshold amount of hydrocarbon or gas is currently required order for the spill to be recorded.
A major spill occurred in July 2007 when construction crews working on the Barnett highway punctured the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Over 1,400 barrels of crude oil were spilled onto nearby properties and eventually into Burrard Inlet. The British Columbia Ministry of Environment website reports that 50 homes and properties were affected by the 30 metre “geyser” of oil that sprayed for about 25 minutes. The oil affected approximately 1.2 km of shoreline and cost $15 million to clean up.
Due to the spill and the risk of future incidents, the City of Burnaby is now officially opposed to any increase in oil transport. The city takes issue with the significant risks that moving more oil poses to the city and its communities, as well as the surrounding environment. The City of Burnaby was given intervenor status during the Public Hearing process that was a part of Kinder Morgan’s application last October.
The proposed expansion to the Trans Mountain Pipeline would nearly triple its capacity, enabling it to transport 890,000 barrels a day. It would cost $5.4 billion and involve the construction of 994 km of new pipeline and the reactivation of a further 193 km. However, concerns remain that the increased transport of oil and resulting traffic in the Burrard Inlet could lead to serious environmental damage, something the National Energy Board of Canada is required to consider before approving such projects on behalf of the federal government.
National Energy Board
The National Energy Board of Canada was established in 1959 by the Canadian government. Comprised of engineers, auditors, legal staff, and various other professions, the NEB acts as Canada’s energy and safety regulator.
The organisation received the application from Kinder Morgan to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline in December 2013. The project page on the NEB website lists 12 issues that it would consider in the hearing process, which included risks to the environment and economic benefit. However, the NEB also notes several issues that it would not consider.
It states that “the Board does not intend to consider the environmental and socio-economic effects associated with upstream activities, the development of oil sands, or the downstream use of the oil transported by the pipeline.” The NEB only considered the direct effects of the pipeline and its construction, rather than the increased tanker traffic, consumption of fossil fuels, and the development of the tar sands.
The City of Burnaby
The final stage of the project entails the construction of a pipeline that will traverse Burnaby Mountain. Trans Mountain requested permission from the National Energy Board to do surveying work on Burnaby Mountain in order to determine if it was feasible to build the pipeline directly through the mountain. However, municipal bylaws protected the proposed worksite as a conservation area.
In September 2014, the City of Burnaby filed civil action against Kinder Morgan, claiming that its operation in the conservation area would violate those civil bylaws. The city’s suit was eventually dismissed by the BC Supreme Court, although the city will appeal the court’s decision.
In response to the City of Burnaby’s opposition, Kinder Morgan delivered “dear neighbour” letters to Burnaby residents in October 2014. The letters explained that the surveying work was in preparation for the expansion of the pipeline through Burnaby Mountain, rather than through the streets of the Westridge neighbourhood.
Later, Trans Mountain posted a video on its website in which the president of Kinder Morgan Canada, Ian Anderson, acknowledged the concerns of Burnaby citizens about the surveying work.
“We are being respectful to the environment, and when we are done, we will leave the mountain as healthy as we found it,” Anderson assured the community. He also explained in a post online that by routing the pipeline through the mountain, the project would cost $40 million more than previously expected.
In late October, Kinder Morgan filed a lawsuit against five important members of organisations opposing the pipeline project.
Lynne Quarmby, Alan Dutton, Stephen Collis, Adam Gold, Mia Nissen, and Burnaby Residents Against Kinder Morgan Expansion (BROKE) were sued for $5.6 million in damages.
BROKE is an organisation of concerned citizens, founded in July 2012. The group is non-profit and run by over 200 volunteer members. Its goal, as stated on its website, is to “prevent the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, tank farms and tanker traffic through science, education, advocacy, and partnerships.” BROKE has held various events in Burnaby, including a Town Hall meeting, environmental movie screenings, and public talks.
BROKE and other defendants have decried the suit as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP), meant to intimidate the accused into silence and mire them in unexpected legal costs.
Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan responded to Kinder Morgan directly, including delivering letters to Burnaby residents on October 13, and making a public statement on November 20. The statement details that the City of Burnaby is opposed to the proposed pipeline expansion project and is “determined to stop Kinder Morgan from carrying on destructive work in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area.”
Simon Fraser University also weighed in on the project. In early November, SFU’s Centre for Public Policy Research published a report on the economic benefits of the Kinder Morgan expansion project. The report found that “the employment, property tax and fiscal benefits of [the project] are very small in the context of the overall provincial economy and significantly overstated by [Kinder Morgan].”
On October 23, 2014, the National Energy Board of Canada issued an order that granted Trans Mountain access to sites on Burnaby Mountain, despite municipal bylaws otherwise preventing it. This was the first time the National Energy Board had issued such an order to a municipality, and it remains a contentious issue.
Later that month, work crews arrived on Burnaby Mountain, along with protesters. In a striking display of devotion to the cause, an 18-year-old demonstrator chained himself beneath the vehicle of a surveyor.
Many members of SFU became intimately involved in the protests, with two professors actively participating and one, Quarmby, eventually being arrested. Other faculty, staff, and students showed their support by signing various petitions and circulating them via email. One email-based open letter gathered 450 signatures, and a petition on Change.org currently has over 1,700 signatures.
On November 14, Kinder Morgan was granted an injunction by the BC Supreme Court, declaring that anti-pipeline protesters had three days to dismantle their encampment on Burnaby mountain. Over 100 protesters remaining at the work site were arrested and charged with civil contempt.
Dr. Lynne Quarmby
One of the first and most notable people arrested was Dr. Lynne Quarmby, a tenured professor at Simon Fraser University.
In an emotional speech to the media just before her arrest, Quarmby explained that she felt that the Harper government had made a “sham” of the National Energy Board Act. She went on to explain that civil disobedience is a recourse for engaged citizens, and a responsibility of being a Canadian citizen.
However, involving herself personally in protests was not new for Quarmby. In 2012, she was arrested for impeding the progress of a train transporting coal to Tsawwassen, along with 12 others.
Quarmby explained to The Peak that her motivations for being involved directly in the protests were fostered long ago. “I grew up in a very rural area and I spent my entire childhood out of doors,” Quarmby said, describing how being a biologist allowed her a deeper appreciation of humanity’s relationship with nature.
In particular, the controversy over the pipeline stirred her to action because she “felt very much betrayed by [her] federal government in the way that they’d rewritten the laws so strongly in favor of these oil companies and so much against the citizens of Canada.” She went on to explain that she had faith in Canadians, and believed they “were not going to let Kinder Morgan ruin [her] life.” All this contributed to her decision to cross the police line, which led to her arrest.
It may seem highly unusual for a tenured professor to be involved in civil disobedience. However, Quarmby explained while that being a professor and the molecular biology chair at SFU is her biggest time investment, every Canadian should feel that they have the freedom to make personal commitments to a cause like environmentalism.
Quarmby also explained that the events are a First Nations issue, arguing that Kinder Morgan has “totally disregarded [the] constitutional rights” of the First Nations involved. The survey site, as well as SFU, is on unceded Coast Salish territory. In particular, Burnaby Mountain is shared between the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam peoples. “Their culture carries a sacred responsibility to take care of the land,” said Quarmby. “We need to respect that.”
The injunction against protesters expired on December 1, and Kinder Morgan’s application to extend it was rejected.
Kinder Morgan’s charges against protesters were also thrown out due to the inaccuracy of the GPS data given as part of the injunction. The coordinates, it was proven, were up to 30 metres off.
Due to surveying data from the studies conducted on Burnaby mountain, Kinder Morgan has concluded that the pipeline must be routed through the mountain with a tunnel or redirected along the streets. Thirteen trees were cut down to clear ground for equipment, and Burnaby Parks Forestry Department’s report on the damage concluded “the impact of this action will be felt for many years to come, and will extend much further than the direct area of intrusion.”
Although Burnaby Mountain is now quiet, protesters have since set up a camp just outside the current Kinder Morgan Westridge Marine Terminal. Established at the end of December, the camp is currently occupied 24/7 by protesters who intend to continue promoting dialogue about the pipeline expansion project.
Dr. Quarmby is emphatic that regular citizens’ opinions on the pipeline matter and are, in fact, critical. She believes that there are many ways people can get involved in stopping the pipeline on Burnaby Mountain.
Quarmby offered a few strategies to influence this particular issue in Burnaby, saying that “spreading the word” is the number one way people can get involved. She also stressed that citizens should “educate [themselves] and talk to people about it.”
Unfortunately, in this particular situation, Quarmby said that the information available on the National Energy Board website is not an honest depiction of the environmental risks.
She also suggested that those who are interested could speak with protesters to learn about grassroots protesting, or support them with donations of hot food or coffee.
At the policy level, Quarmby suggested that while “turning off the tap on fossil fuels” would be “absurd,” a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects would be reasonable and responsible. She also noted that there needed to be a better understanding on how continued use of fossil fuels is affecting the environment.
With the back and forth between the city, Kinder Morgan, and protesters, there doesn’t seem to be any guaranteed future for the pipeline.
Many NEB critics are calling attention to its ability to ignore municipal laws; this situation could prove to be a test case whose ultimate outcome will be the foundation of future legal battles.
The pipeline itself stands to transform the Lower Mainland if it progresses. Increased tanker traffic in the inlet and construction on Burnaby Mountain might well become part of the Burnaby’s scenery in the near future.
However, whatever the outcome, many parties have made it abundantly clear that this pipeline and what it represents is very important to them — perhaps important enough to continue to be arrested over.