Indigenous leadership forms committee to oversee pipeline activity

Dianne St. Jean
Indigenous leadership forms committee to oversee pipeline activity

Safety of pipelines and tankers still a main issue for some
A new committee to monitor the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, the existing pipeline, and related marine shipping has been formed.


The Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee (IAMC) is comprised of 13 members from indigenous communities and six federal representatives, one from the National Energy Board (NEB).

The idea was initiated by a letter written last year by Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation and Chief Aaron Sam of the Lower Nicola Indian Band to the Prime Minister and the Premiers of British Columbia and Alberta, proposing the formation of an indigenous-led safety and environmental overseeing committee.

The committee was formed after a number of regional meetings took place in which Terms of Reference were developed and members of certain indigenous groups were selected.

On July 17 the Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources, gave his full support for the Terms of Reference and approval for the establishment of the committee.

“Establishing this committee was a key element in the Government’s decision to approve the project,” said Carr. “We remain deeply committed to the ongoing work of reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and to greater Indigenous involvement in the review and monitoring of major resource development projects.”

The indigenous regions and representatives on the committee include: Vancouver Island – Western Approach: Kristin Pearson (Pacheedaht First Nation); Vancouver Island – South: Chief Russell Chipps (Scia’new [Beecher Bay] First Nation); Vancouver Island – Southeast: Caitlin Kenny (Halalt First Nation); Burrard Inlet/Lower Fraser: Carleen Thomas (Tsleil-Waututh Nation); Fraser Valley: Chief Ernie Crey (Cheam First Nation); Mid-Fraser/Thompson: Chief Marcel Shackelly (Nooaitch Indian Band); Okanagan: Chief Harvey McLeod (Upper Nicola Band); Alberta First Nations: Ray Cardinal (Paul First Nation); Norine Saddleback (Louis Bull Tribe); and Michelle Wilsdon (Enoch Cree Nation).

The IAMC held its first official meeting last week.

The pipeline project, which has been approved by the federal government, faced severe opposition by some indigenous groups, with a claim at one point that North American native leaders were unified in their opposition to the project. However, there are a number of First Nations groups that have endorsed the project, and while most of the opposition stems from the south and coastal regions of the province, there are some along the coastal line that have given their approval, as well as those from the Interior. 

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation in particular, who has representation on the IAMC, has been one of the strongest opponents to the project, along with Squamish and Musqueam. Their main concern is the increased likelihood of a spill because of increased oil tanker traffic created by the project.

Because of the level of controversy and concern over the transportation of oil by pipeline and tanker, the Fraser Institute has been conducting studies on the topic.

Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian policy think-tank, says that transporting oil by pipelines is more than twice as safe as using rail, and that marine tankers are safer still, with a markedly improved safety record over the past 40 years. (The Institute does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research).

“The evidence is clear,” says Kenneth Green, Fraser Institute’s senior director of energy and natural resource studies and co-author of Safety First: Intermodel Safety for Oil and Gas Transportation

Their studies found that marine tankers have a spill rate of less than 0.001 per million barrels of oil shipped, and while the amount of oil that is shipped by tanker has increased from 1.4 billion tonnes in 1970 to 2.9 billion tonnes in 2015, the amount of spillage “has plummeted by 98 per cent.”

According to Green, Canadians will benefit greatly from increased oil exports, which “should be transported in the safest way possible, and that means building new pipelines to Canada’s coasts and shipping oil by marine tanker around the world.”

In response to concerns from environmental and indigenous groups, the Trans Mountain Project was required to meet conditions regarding environmental and coastal protection before they could be approved.

Some of those conditions required the successful completion of an environmental review process that included standards set down by the National Energy Board, consultations with indigenous populations, and the establishment of a world-leading marine oil spill response, prevention and recovery for B.C.’s coastline and ocean that includes a federal $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan.

Plans to begin work on the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline were expected for September of this year, and while the federal government has stated that the new provincial government of B.C. has no legal grounds to halt the project at this point, both NDP and Green Parties had made campaign promises to do just that.