Big Oil vs. Beautiful Orca: Which Side Are You On?

Originally published 03/19/2014 - Huffington Post

Everyone in the Vancouver area was thrilled to see or hear about the pods of dolphins and orcas showing up in English Bay and False Creek this past weekend. Probably the only people not happy about it were the folks at the massive Texas-based energy corporation Kinder Morgan.

They want to build their new Trans Mountain pipeline through British Columbia’s most heavily populated areas to the Vancouver harbour. The appearance of these beautiful creatures serves as a reminder of the natural wonders that would be at risk if their new pipeline project went through.

Their new pipeline would increase tanker traffic in the region from about 80 a year to over 400 tankers a year. Most of these tankers would carry tar sands diluted bitumen, which is even more dangerous and difficult to attempt to clean up than conventional crude oil.

With overwhelming opposition to Enbridge’s toxic Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, some have called the Kinder Morgan proposal the “compromise pipeline.” The idea is the oil will get to market one way or another, so why not along an existing pipeline and shipping route? That suggests that the Vancouver harbour is an industrial sacrifice zone of sorts.

The problem for Kinder Morgan is that every time we see beautiful species like these orcas and dolphins in the area we are reminded that our coast is anything but a sacrifice zone.

Now of course some might suggest that industry and wildlife can safely co-exist. Some industrial activity is necessary in the region. Even with this traffic there is still much to be done when it comes to minimizing risk and restoring our local ecosystems as they are impacted. So then here’s the real question: is Kinder Morgan’s proposed pipeline essential for the region or would the risk be worth the benefit?

First of all, it’s worth pointing out that far more jobs would be put at risk by the Kinder Morgan pipeline proposal than would be created.

But if we look at the big picture, the truth is not only do we not need more oil locally or globally but in fact this kind of development is irresponsible in the age of climate change. Demand for oil actually seems to be shrinking even without the kind of policies that are going to have to be put in place if we are going to be responsible members of the global community.

Many regions are already implementing fuel efficiency standards or carbon taxes that hurt demand for bitumen which is 22 per cent more carbon intensive than conventional oil. If we are going to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem then saying no to pipelines like Kinder Morgan’s proposal is essential.

The International Energy Agency has reported that our energy needs can be met by alternatives in a cost effective and efficient manner. Last year was the biggest year ever for solar power and meanwhile the cost of fossil fuels are just getting higher as we run out of conventional sources. Solar is already on par with natural gas (the cheapest of fossil fuels) in many jurisdictions.

Land use and transportation planning are also a big part of this conversation. UBC Prof. Patrick Condon has worked with Metro Vancouver municipalities to develop land use and transportation plans that would not only eliminate our need for fossil fuels but would actually create a healthier, safer region with greater food security and more vibrant communities.

The opportunities we have to move beyond fossil fuels are exciting and provide a lot of hope for a better tomorrow. What probably scares the folks at Kinder Morgan even more than the word spreading that we don’t really need the oil is our visceral desire to protect beautiful creatures like the ones who showed up over the weekend.

The Vancouver Harbour is not a sacrifice zone; in fact this heavily impacted area is showing signs of ecological restoration efforts working. As people enjoy the seawall in Vancouver’s Stanley Park and look out on the coastal waters in the years to come they want to see more orcas, not more oil.

This is where you come in. It’s time to take sides in this fight. Make no mistake about it, Kinder Morgan is one of the biggest pipeline companies in the world and they will stop at nothing to push the Trans Mountain pipeline forward. It will take a movement to stop them. It’s not a matter of one tactic or another, it’s about an ongoing and growing group of dedicated people who are willing to speak out, get involved and spread the word.

Now is the time to pick sides and act. The orcas and dolphins showed up and reminded us what is on the line. Let’s all do everything we can.

NOTE: Photos taken from other sightings of Orca’s in the time since this piece was first published. The risk to this species continues as climate change destablizes local ecosystems and our biosphere as a whole. Meanwhile the Government of Canada has purchased the Kinder Morgan pipeline as the company was about to walk away from the project and then their permits were overturned in the courts as the result of First Nations opposition. At the time of this post (May 2019) Canada’s government is trying again to make this project a reality against the strong opposition of native and non-native people in the region.

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