Nowhere to Run To: A Global Resistance to Toxic Extraction Industry?

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On April 12, 2013, the province of British Columbia announced four new proposals for LNG export terminals on the north coast. One of the four companies involved, Australian based Woodside Petroleum, announced on the very same day that they were shelving plans for a $47 billion dollar LNG terminal in Australia.

The reason Woodside gave for cancelling this project, which was the largest proposed construction project on the horizon for that country, was that the economics were no longer feasible. Nothing I’ve come across in the media references these two projects together, and so the company has not publically stated whether the Canadian proposal had anything to do with this decision.

These four new LNG proposals put the total number of proposed terminals on the BC coast to nine. When referencing these projects, the media is careful to mention that not all these terminals may be built. The reality is that if any of these terminals are to be built at all, it is a virtual impossibility that all nine of these proposals will survive. Back when there were just 5 proposals, estimates were that it would have requirred a tripling of current gas extraction.

The race to get LNG to Asian market is not exclusive to these nine projects. Various projects in Australia and US (and to a small degree in a dozen or so other countries) are also competing for these limited contracts. Completion of these projects range anywhere from later this year to 2019.

Various factors are at play here, and the race does not simply depend on who can get pipelines and export plants built the fastest. A whole complex set of economic factors will determine who ends up with these export contracts.

One thing for certain is that if Wet’suwet’en land defenders are successful at keeping the pipelines out of their territory, an important battle will have been won, but the war will be far from over. If Chevron, Apache, Shell, Nexen, Woodside and the half dozen or so other companies in this race locally can’t push their pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, they’ll just attempt to go north (as appears to be the case with the these 4 new proposals), and if collectively the various nations on the west coast are successful at keeping these companies off their land completely, they’ll just go somewhere else. Aside from the vast deposits in Australia and the US, these companies are exploring new terrtory in Africa and elsewhere around the world, proposing several terminals at a time and hedging all their bets.
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The land defenders at the Unist’ot’en camp, from what I’ve come to learn, are not NIMBYs. The integrity of the land and water in their own territory is obviously integral to their survival, but they understand as well as anyone that just shifting the problem to someone else’s territory is not a victory.

Myself, I am here standing with the Unist’ot’en not simply for the Unist’ot’en, but for everyone impacted by these toxic extraction industries. The battle to keep 3, 5, 9 or 12 pipelines out of Unist’ot’en territory is but a small piece of a much larger war. We need to keep this in perspective and learn to visualize what victory truly looks like in this fight.

How do we keep from just shifting the problem around? How do we stand together to keep these companies from poisoning anyone’s air and water?

An appeal to our own self-interest is valid here. The more we learn about the ‘un-conventional gas’ industry, the more we learn about the serious threat that this extraction places on the climate. Whether it’s mined from Dene territory or from somewhere in Malasyia, we all stand to be impacted by the increase in methane emissions.

Another real possibility exists that Japan, who are the potential customers for much of this gas, will decide they are no longer in need of these imports. Recent news indicates that Japan may have found a way to access the vast deposits of methane that lay frozen under the ocean floor. If this is the case, they may become ‘energy independent’ for several decades, and/or the planet is cooked.

If not gas, then coal, or tar sands crude, or nuclear. Even wind, solar and other ‘clean’ energy, so dependent on rare earth elements, copper, iron and other materials that don’t just offer themselves without great impact on land and life, are no ‘solution’ to the crisis we face.

Just this week we learned that a biodiesel plant in Vancouver had suffered a spill of several hundred gallons of a toxic additive, two gallons of which made it’s way into a river. This spill, like so many others, has been dismissed by some as not having much detrimental effect, due to it’s small quantity. But we are starting to think more about the cumulative effects of these industries, and how hundreds of frequent small spills equal one big amount of spillage.

Industry knows how we as activists operate. We are expected to put all our energy into fighting one mine, one pipeline, one company, and indeed, it can be more effective in many cases to do so; to not spread ourselves too thin, to concentrate our energy and take these issues on one by one. How we implement our big picture perspective into actual strategy is still a matter of debate. For many, the end result is a total revolution in how our civilization operates; a massive deindustrialization that most people are too frightened to contemplate.

The Australian media is reporting that Woodside has backed out what was shaping up to be the largest environmental battle in that country. These companies need to know there is nowhere to back away to, that the fight against what they are doing will follow them wherever they go.

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2 responses »

  1. Hey brother, I am writing an article about coal exports off the west coast, and I’m hoping to cover the US and Canada. My US info is good and comprehensive, but I’m pretty patchy on BC. I know there must be good work happening in opposition to these export facility proposals. I’m wondering if you know about this, or can put me in contact with any people or organizations that are coal-focused, especially those with upcoming events that need attention around Prince Rupert, Neptune or Westshore expansion proposals?

    My email is thegrandgather@gmail.com.

    Thanks kindly, I hope you are well!

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