Oil train derailment in Alberta and gas fracking protest in New Brunswick add to fossil fuel industry woes
Oil train derailment. Fracking protests. A shut-down of a major pipeline hearing. Public relations failures continue to mount for Canada's fossil fuel industry.
The government has a unique opening to advance that vision by virtue of its chairmanship for the next two years of the eight-country Arctic Council. It says it will use its two years at the helm of the organization to push for “resource” development. The Council began a three-day meeting on October 21 in Whitehorse, Yukon and its new chairperson, Environment Minister and Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, says, “Our overarching theme for Canada’s chairmanship is development for the people of the North.” For her, that means “development” of natural resources, “safe shipping” through Arctic waters and “sustainable communities” (that is, communities whose livelihoods and social services will become dependent on resource extraction revenues).
This vision is sharply opposed by most of the Aboriginal peoples of the Arctic and sub-Arctic. Five months ago, an historic statement signed by most of the Aboriginal peoples who live there was signed in Sweden. It calls for a moratorium on oil drilling and other exploration activity in the Arctic and says any resource extraction should be conditional upon Aboriginal consent. The statement was signed by two of the six permanent members of the Arctic Council--the Arctic Athabaskan Council and the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North.
At the time, Aglukkaq expressed “disappointment” with the statement. Her government’s Aboriginal business allies in the North challenged the legitimacy of the Inuit signatories.
In a surprising and revealing development at the meeting in Whitehorse, senior U.S. official for Arctic affairs, Julia Gourley, says she is concerned that the Canadian government may be diminishing the importance of scientific research in the Arctic. “Certainly, the United States would never allow any threats to science work at the council, so we would defend it. That might be something that’s a little different between Canada and the U.S. …”
She also says her government opposes opening the Northwest Passage to commercial shipping unless and until an international agreement is reached. Canada claims sovereignty over those waters.
A representative of the Arctic Athabaskan Council at the meeting, Chief Gary Harrison of the Chickaloon Village Athabascan Nation in Alaska, is concerned about the Council’s focus on responsible resource development, reports the Globe and Mail. “Resource extraction is not development,” he said. He doesn’t want the council to evolve “from an environmental body to an extractive body.”
Member countries of the Arctic Council are Canada, the United States, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Fossil fuel opponents score victories
The latest train derailment is Alberta is a blow to the fossil fuel agenda of the federal government and fossil fuel industry, joining with other recent setbacks they have suffered.
In New Brunswick, the anti-fracking movement in the province has emerged strengthened following a violent assault against it by the RCMP on October 17. On that day, the federal police force attacked a weeks-long protest against exploratory drilling and seismic testing by a Houston-based company contracted by the province’s Irving Oil conglomerate.
The attack completely backfired. Within hours, large protests in solidarity with the movement erupted across Canada, in the United States and further internationally. Protests actions at the site continued in the days following and a community-wide consultation on Oct 20 drew hundreds of people. The exploratory testing has been halted and pressure is now stronger than ever on the Conservative Party government of the province to declare a moratorium.
Similar problems for the industry were encountered by Enbridge in Montreal and Toronto during recent hearings of the National Energy Board into the company’s proposal to begin shipping Alberta crude oil and tar sands bitumen through its existing Line 9 pipeline across southern Ontario to Montreal. The last day of the hearings in Toronto on Oct. 19, where Enbridge was to present its concluding remarks, ended abruptly when the company bolted for the doors rather than face its critics.
With questions surrounding oil transport by rail, fracking, Arctic development and the safety of the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline, it has been a difficult time for the fossil fuel industry. But as Canada tries to accelerate its natural resources development under Prime Minister Harper's economic plan, more negative publicity can be expected to follow. Public outcry is growing. Can it derail the madcap rush into expanding fossil fuel extraction fast enough to make a real difference to the looming climate dangers that scientists are warning against?