On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Holly Andersen and Rudy Reimer. They live on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia and are part of a growing group of residents opposing the expansion of the nearby storage facility, or “tank farm,” that marks the BC terminus of the widely opposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline.
Anyone who pays any attention at all to climate and environmental justice issues has heard about the big conflicts. We all know about the brewing confrontation with those who are working to extract every last drop of bitumen from the tar sands on one side, and those of us who think that respecting Indigenous sovereignty and not burning the planet to the ground might be a better plan on the other. We’ve probably all heard, as well, about various battles around the pipelines that are meant to carry extracted fossil fuels to market — including Enbridge Line 3, the Dakota Access Pipeline, Enbridge Line 9, Keystone XL, Northern Gateway…and of course the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. These big picture struggles would go nowhere, however, if it was not for smaller localized efforts. And as important as these local struggles are, we don’t always hear about them, which means we aren’t always able to act in support in the ways that they need.
In its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposal, Texas-based corporation Kinder Morgan seeks to invest something in excess of $7 billion to add a new pipeline next to an existing one that stretches from Alberta to the British Colubmia coast in order to massively increase capacity and enable pumping not crude oil but tar sands bitumen diluted by chemicals. The pipeline has approval from the National Energy Board and the Trudeau Liberals at the federal level, and was supported by Christy Clark’s Liberals in BC. However, since this interview was recorded, the BC Liberal government has fallen and been replaced by an NDP-Green coalition that is opposed to the pipeline. Mayors in municiaplities along the route are staunchly against, public opinion in BC is opposed, grassroots opposition is vocal and growing, and many First Nations whose territory would be affected have made it quite clear that their options for stopping the pipeline are far from exhausted.
One of the lesser-known fronts in the struggle against the Kinder Morgan pipeline is coming from residents of Burnaby Mountain. The mountain was a focus for the larger movement against the Kinder Morgan pipeline a few years ago, including civil disobedience and multiple arrests, when the company was doing some preparatory testing. The growing opposition by residents today, however, is focused mostly on the tank farm. The facility as it exists today has 13 massive tanks, but the expanded version would have many, many more. The diluted bitumen would be stored there and piped through the mountain and onto tankers docked on the other side.
The residential community higher up on Burnaby Mountain is in a bit of peculiar position. Simon Fraser University (SFU) is located on the mountain and owns quite a bit of land there. In the 1990s, the university decided that it would develop a source of income by leasing land higher up the mountain for residential development, under the banner of a land management trust called UniverCity. It is currently home to around 5000 residents — some connected to SFU, but many not — and it continues to grow. They are technically residents of the City of Burnaby, but are physically a bit separate from the rest of the municipality and are often not fully considered when it comes to city services and city politics. Yet SFU and the land management trust, despite their connection to the community, are not at all democratically accountable to the residents.
The tank farm is located relatively close to the university itself, and is actualy right beside the only intersection that lets people get in and out of the residential community higher up the mountain. The risk of leaks and the risk of fire rank high among the residents’ concerns, and fear of having no way to escape should a disaster strike. Indeed, at least one study commissioned by SFU has found that the probability of a catastrophic event at the tank farm would increase significantly after the expansion. The Burnaby fire department has been quite clear that they are not equipped to deal with a major fire there, and emergency preparedness plans have been either kept secret or seem to be inadequate.
Holly Andersen is a philosophy professor at SFU. Rudy Reimer is a member of the Squamish Nation and is a professor of Archaeology and First Nations Studies at SFU. Both are residents of Burnaby Mountain. They and some of their fellow residents have started meeting, sharing their concerns about the tank farm expansion, and taking action. Some of that action so far has involved doing some research to find out exactly what is going on, as many important aspects of the proposal and the process have not been widely communicated. Some of it involves building relationships with other small groups that have become similarly concerned, including campus groups — they have already held a rally bringing students and residents together to oppose the expansion. They are trying to work through institutional channels as well, including the local government in Burnaby and the faculty senate at SFU. But their big focus at the moment is raising awareness among residents and people on campus, in preparation for more visible mobilizing once school resumes in the fall.
Andersen and Reimer speak with me about the Burnaby Mountain community, about the larger fight against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, and about their work to oppose the unacceptable risk to Burnaby Mountain residents that would be created by expanding the tank farm.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.