“My generation has stood up and said, ‘No more’”

Hundreds gather for 4th Annual Unis’tot’en Action Camp against pipelines in ‘BC’

Members of the Wet'suwet'en nation perform a welcoming song to open the 4th annual Unis'tot'en action camp. Photo: Aaron Lakoff

Members of the Wet’suwet’en nation perform a welcoming song to open the 4th annual Unis’tot’en action camp. Photo: Aaron Lakoff

By Aaron Lakoff, Vancouver Media Co-op

From July 10th to 14th, roughly 200 Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered in unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in central British Columbia for the 4th Annual Unis’tot’en Action Camp. The Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have maintained a blockade on the only bridge leading into their territory since July 2010 in an attempt to keep seven proposed oil and gas pipelines off their traditional lands. The pipelines would carry shale gas obtained through fracking, or bitumen oil from the Alberta tar sands, to the Pacific coast, where it would be exported on mega-tankers towards Asian markets

The action camp brings supporters of the Unis’tot’en to the blockade site in order to learn about the struggle, to network, and to bring action ideas back to their own communities.

Toghestiy, Hereditary Chief of the Likhts’amisyu Clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation, said he was very happy with the high proportion of Indigenous participants at this year’s camp compared to previous years.

“I would say about 40% of the population of the action camp was Indigenous, and they were Indigenous from different parts of Turtle Island,” Toghestiy told the Vancouver Media Co-op (VMC). “So it was amazing to have all these grassroots Indigenous people come together in solidarity with one another. We created an alliance, and it was a pretty beautiful experience. It will help us fulfill our responsibility [to the land] into the future.”

While most participants at the camp hailed from Vancouver and Victoria, people also travelled from as far away as California, New Mexico, and Toronto to lend their support. Amber Nitchman travelled up to the Unis’tot’en Action Camp from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

“I want to support Indigenous rights and sovereignty everywhere, especially those who are opposing extractive industries,” Nitchman told the VMC while on a night-time security shift at the blockade site. At home, she is involved with anti-coal mining campaigns. “Some of the pipelines [here] are for the same industry, and it’s the land and water being destroyed in both places for profit, and destroying what little is left that people are able to live on in a sustainable way.”

Wet’suwet’en territory is located about 1000 km north of Vancouver. It lies on what has been described as Canada’s “carbon corridor,” a geographically strategic region where major oil companies such as Chevron and Exxon are seeking to connect the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific coast for export. The Unis’tot’en claim that these pipelines, requiring clear cutting and prone to leaks and spills, would threaten watersheds, forests, rivers, and salmon spawning channels—source of their primary staple food.

Some of proposed pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory are intended to carry natural gas from hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) sites near Fort Nelson, BC, close to the border of the Northwest Territories. Wet’suwet’en activists are concerned not only for their own community, but also for communities at tar sands and fracking extraction sites.

“In those territories, those people are suffering from decimated water,” said Mel Bazil, a Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan activist who has been helping out with the Unis’tot’en blockade. “They have no clean drinking water left in their territories. All of their right to clean drinking water is delivered to them by truck. They allowed their responsibility to clean drinking water that already exists in their territories to be diminished, and in place of that, now they have the right of clean water being delivered to them.”

Water is central to this struggle. The pristine Morice River flows through Wet’suwet’en territory, and is still clean enough to drink and fish from. For contrast, local people often reference Michigan’s Kalamazoo River, devastated by the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history when an Enbridge tar sands pipeline burst in 2010.

At the action camp, Unis’tot’en clan members declared Wet’suwet’en territory to be the epicentre for struggles against the tar sands. The Alberta tar sands are the largest industrial project on Earth and the tar sands mining procedure is hugely energy-intensive. Extraction at the tar sands releases at least three times the amount of carbon dioxide as regular crude oil extraction, and uses five barrels of fresh water to produce a single barrel of oil, according to the activist research group Oil Sands Truth.

“My people have been on these territories for thousands of years, until about 100 years ago when the government forced our people off these lands and put them in reservations,” said Freda Huson, the spokesperson for the Unis’tot’en camp, in an interview under the food supplies tent. “And probably just about four years ago, my generation has stood up and said, ‘No more.’

“There’s too much destruction happening out here, because we grew up on these lands, coming out here all the time. And every time we came out here we saw more and more destruction. So we sat down with our chiefs and said, ‘We can’t just sit by any more and let them keep destroying the lands.’ There will be nothing left for our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We found out about the pipelines and which route they were planning to go.”

In May, the BC provincial government officially opposed one of the proposed pipeline projects on Wet’suwet’en territory, the Enbridge Northern Gateway. Premier Christy Clark cited environmental safety concerns. But Huson was skeptical.

“To me they’re just all talk. I don’t believe anything the government says,” retorted Huson. “They make all these empty promises, and they do exactly the opposite of what they say. Based on how Christy Clark has been talking pro-pipelines, that this is going to get them out of deficit, because we know for a fact that the BC government is in a huge deficit.”

Indigenous people from different nations across ‘Canada’ came to the Unis’tot’en camp to make links between struggles against oil and gas pipelines. One of them was Vanessa Grey, a 21-year old activist from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation reserve in southern Ontario.

Aamjiwnaang sits on the pathway of Enbridge’s Line 9 project, which will carry tar sands bitumen eastward towards Maine. Demonstrators have attempted to stop the project through a variety of direct actions, including a five-day occupation of an Enbridge pumping station near Hamilton, Ontario, this past June.

“I feel that there’s a lot here that someone like myself or the youth who have come here can really learn from,” said Grey, sitting in a forest clearing near the Morice River. “Where we come from, the land has already been destroyed and we already see the effects. Here, they are trying to save what’s left of it, and we’re able to see what could have been without the industry.”

During the five days of the camp, participants attended action planning sessions and workshops on a variety of subjects, including decolonization, movement building, and the Quebec student strike. Participants also had the chance to help construct a permaculture garden and pit-house directly on the route of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.

On July 20, just days after the action camp had ended and all of the participants had returned home, a helicopter carrying pipeline surveyors was discovered on Unis’tot’en territory, behind the blockade. The workers were quickly confronted by Chief Toghestiy and were forced to leave.

“We were busy that day working on salmon that day, and locating berry patches to start harvesting for winter. Then all of the sudden we heard a helicopter fly over,” Toghestiy told the VMC over the phone.

Helicopters flying overhead is a common occurrence around the Unis’tot’en territory, but something seemed wrong about this one to Toghestiy. “This one sounded like it was slowing down, and you could hear the rotors ‘whoop-whooping’ really loud. I thought to myself, ‘This helicopter might be landing.’” Toghestiy and a supporter of the camp who was on the scene immediately drove down the road in the direction of the helicopter, and discovered it had landed not far away.

According to Toghestiy, the workers were wearing hard-hats, reflector vests, and had clipboards with them. When confronted, they confirmed that they were pipeline workers, but didn’t know that they had infringed on an Indigenous blockade site. “I told them ‘bullshit! Your company knows [about the blockade]!” said Toghestiy as he recounted the situation.

After he yelled at them to leave, they quickly got back in the helicopter and the pilot restarted the motor and took off. “As they were flying away, the helicopter pilot assured me that they wouldn’t come back, and so did the workers.”

Toghestiy said the workers did not reveal which company they were with, but he observed that “they were standing in the … proposed new alternative route of the Pacific Trails pipeline project.”

The helicopter visit was not the first infringement by pipeline companies onto sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory. In November 2012, surveyors were also found behind the blockade lines, and were issued an eagle feather, which is a Wet’suwet’en symbol for trespassing.

Toghestiy said that expelling these unwelcome workers from unceded Indigenous lands also has a deeper meaning. “We’re stopping the continued delusion that the government is putting out there that they still have right to give out licenses or permits on lands that were never ceded by the Indigenous people. There is no bill of sale that has ever been produced that says they have the right to do that,” he said.

Huson added that if a helicopter is discovered again on her territory, the company’s actions will have more severe consequences. “I’m planning to draft a letter to the helicopter company and other companies working for Apache right now, saying, ‘You’ve received your final warning, and if any more choppers or equipment comes across the blockade again, we’ll confiscate whatever comes in, and workers will be walking out,’” she said in a stern but calm voice.

Indigenous delegates at the camp decided to hold a Day of Action against extractive industries on August 14, 2013, and fundraising is already underway to support the blockade throughout the winter. Meanwhile, Toghestiy and Huson expect even more people to come up for the action camp in the summer of 2014.

For more information about the August 14th Day of Action and next year’s action camp, visit: www.unistotencamp.com or their Facebook page.

Click here for full audio interviews and a photo essay from the camp.

Aaron Lakoff is a radio journalist, DJ, and community organizer living in Montreal, trying to map the constellations between reggae, soul, and a liberated world. This article was made possible with support from the Vancouver Media Co-op.

Meet the town that’s being swallowed by a sinkhole

By Tim Murphy, Grist

About once a month, the residents of Bayou Corne, La., meet at the Assumption Parish library in the early evening to talk about the hole in their lives. “It was just like going through cancer all over again,” says one. “You fight and you fight and you fight and you think, ‘Doggone it, I’ve beaten this thing,’ and then it’s back.” Another spent last Thanksgiving at a 24-hour washateria because she and her disabled husband had nowhere else to go. As the box of tissues circulates, a third woman confesses that after 20 years of sobriety she recently testified at a public meeting under the influence.

“The God of my understanding says, ‘As you sow, so shall you reap,’” says Kenny Simoneaux, a balding man in a Harley-Davidson T-shirt. He has instructed his grandchildren to lock up the ammunition. “I’m so goddamn mad I could kill somebody.”

But the support group isn’t for addiction, PTSD, or cancer, though all of these maladies are present. The hole in their lives is a literal one. One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne’s 350 residents — an exodus that still has no end in sight. Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse.

Texas Brine’s operation sits atop a three-mile-wide, mile-plus-deep salt deposit known as the Napoleonville Dome, which is sheathed by a layer of oil and natural gas, a common feature of the salt domes prevalent in Gulf Coast states. The company specializes in a process known as injection mining, and it had sunk a series of wells deep into the salt dome, flushing them out with high-pressure streams of freshwater and pumping the resulting saltwater to the surface. From there, the brine is piped and trucked to refineries along the Mississippi River and broken down into sodium hydroxide and chlorine for use in manufacturing everything from paper to medical supplies.

What happened in Bayou Corne, as near as anyone can tell, is that one of the salt caverns Texas Brine hollowed out — a mine dubbed Oxy3 — collapsed. The sinkhole initially spanned about an acre. Today it covers more than 24 acres and is an estimated 750 feet deep. It subsists on a diet of swamp life and cypress trees, which it occasionally swallows whole. It celebrated its first birthday recently, and like most 1-year-olds, it is both growing and prone to uncontrollable burps, in which a noxious brew of crude oil and rotten debris bubbles to the surface. But the biggest danger is invisible; the collapse unlocked tens of millions of cubic feet of explosive gases, which have seeped into the aquifer and wafted up to the community. The town blames the regulators. The regulators blame Texas Brine. Texas Brine blames some other company, or maybe the regulators, or maybe just God.

Bayou Corne is the biggest ongoing industrial disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of. In addition to creating a massive sinkhole, it has unearthed an uncomfortable truth: Modern mining and drilling techniques are disturbing the geological order in ways that scientists still don’t fully understand. Humans have been extracting natural resources from the earth since the dawn of mankind, but never before at the rate and magnitude of today’s petrochemical industry. And the side effects are becoming clear. It’s not just sinkholes and town-clearing natural gas leaks: Recently, the drilling process known as fracking has been linked to an increased risk of earthquakes.

“When you keep drilling over and over and over again, whether it’s into bedrock or into salt caverns, at some point you have fractured the integrity of this underground structure enough that something is in danger of collapsing,” observes ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber, whose work has focused on fracking and injection wells. “It’s an inherently dangerous situation.”

sinkhole
Jerry Dubinsky for Leanweb.org/LMRK.org
The sinkhole forced the entire town of Bayou Corne to evacuate.

The domes are not just harvested for their salt. Over the last 60 years, in the Gulf Coast — and to a lesser extent in Kansas, Michigan, and New York — industry has increasingly used the sprawling caverns that result from injection mining as a handy place to store things — namely crude oil, pressurized gases, and even radioactive materials. The federal government considers salt tombs in Louisiana and Texas ideal for the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The hundreds of salt caverns that honeycomb the substrata, as companies like Texas Brine take pains to point out, are mostly safe, most of the time. But when something goes wrong, the results are disastrous — sometimes spelling the end for nearby communities. The dangers are myriad, from sinkholes to natural gas explosions to toxic-fume releases. Salt caverns account for just 7 percent of all natural gas storage facilities in the United States (although that number is increasing) but 100 percent of all major accidents, according to one industry analyst.

Bayou Corne residents need only drive a quarter mile down Highway 70 to see the worst-case scenario. On Christmas Day 2003, a methane leak from a Napoleonville Dome salt cavern storing natural gas forced residents of Grand Bayou, a neighboring hamlet, to evacuate. Dow Chemical, which owned the cavern, bought out the mostly elderly residents, leaving only concrete slabs behind. In places like Barbers Hill, Texas, similar leaks have turned once-thriving neighborhoods into ghost towns. A 2001 cavern leak in Hutchinson, Kan., spewed 30-foot-tall geysers of gas and water and caused an explosion that left two people dead.

“I hate to say, but it’s not an unusual event,” says Robert Traylor, a geologist at the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s oil and gas regulator. “These things happen. In the oil business, a million things can go wrong, and they usually go wrong.”

But disasters like the one in Bayou Corne have done little to slow the growth of injection mining. Last spring, lawmakers in Baton Rouge pushed through a handful of modest reforms in response to the sinkhole, but the toughest regulations were knocked down by the chemical industry. New caverns continue to be permitted. It’s not a question of whether there will be another Bayou Corne — but where, and how big.

On a scorching June morning, I board a Cessna to survey the sinkhole. My 45-mile flight passes through the heart of southern Louisiana’s industrial jungle, a continuous series of pipelines and processing plants that line the Mississippi as it twists like a busted-up slinky toward the gulf. The smoking skyline gives way to a checkered ribbon of cane and soybean fields and at last to the swampy interior of Assumption Parish.

You notice the booms first, bright yellow plastic rolls designed to trap the oil and brine that collect on the surface and prevent them from seeping into the surrounding waterways. A grove of cypress trees has been stripped bare and sits gray and rotting. At 500 feet, the air is thick with the smell of crude, and the water has a rainbow sheen; in the last few hours, the sinkhole has burped again, and workers are scurrying to contain the new release.

The Acadians — the French Canadian refugees who settled here in the 1700s — were drawn to the bayous by their bounty of gators and crawdads and spoonbills. Petrochemical giants came for other reasons: the chemicals in the salt domes and the oil and gas reserves that surround them. Gas and brine pipelines cross over and under the town and its surrounding swamps, carving up the basin into a web of rights of way for companies including Chevron, Dow, Crosstex, and Florida Gas.

Texas Brine’s Oxy3 cavern, one of 53 in the Napoleonville Dome and one of six operated by the company, is more than a mile below the surface. At that depth, 3-D seismic mapping is both time-consuming and expensive, and as a consequence, injection-mining companies often have only a foggy — and outdated — idea of what their mines really look like. “Everybody wants to do it within a certain budget and a certain time frame,” explains Jim La­Moreaux, a hydrologist who organizes an annual conference on salt-cavern-caused sinkholes. In some cases, he says, it’s possible that companies cut corners and fail to commission the proper studies.

Texas Brine’s first and last mapping project was in 1982, and by the company’s own admission, it understated Oxy3′s proximity to the edge of the salt dome and the possibility of a breach. When another company surveyed the dome a few years ago, it found that Texas Brine’s cavern was less than 100 feet from the outer sheath of oil and gas, far closer than is permitted in other states. While Louisiana had restrictions on gas storage caverns, it had nothing on the books for active brine wells — only what regulators called a “rule of thumb” that wells be set back 200 feet.

When Texas Brine applied for a permit to expand Oxy3 in 2010, the company pressure-tested the cavern as mandated by the state, but it was unable to build up the requisite pressure, let alone sustain it. “At this time, a breach out of the salt dome appears possible,” Mark Cartwright, a Texas Brine executive, notified the state’s Department of Natural Resources. The DNR asked Texas Brine to “plug and abandon” the well. The agency did not, as it sometimes does, request further monitoring. Both parties expected the cavern to hold its shape, and it did until early June 2012, when Gary Metrejean felt the ground shake.

“I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want everyone to think I was crazy,” he says. But his neighbors noticed it, too. And they also saw something else unusual — bubbles of gas (“like boiling pasta,” one resident recalls) appearing around the bayou.

Oxy3 was starting to cave in, but at the time the community was at a loss. The state’s experts first suspected a leak from a natural gas pipeline, but that turned up nothing, so they investigated and ruled out the possibility that the bubbling might be “swamp gas” — naturally occurring emissions from decaying plant life. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed an increase in seismic activity but couldn’t determine its exact source — there are no fault lines in the area. At the end of July 2012, with tremors and bubbling increasing and no clear signs of subsidence, Texas Brine, which had emerged as a possible culprit, told state officials that a sinkhole was highly unlikely.

On Aug. 3, Bayou Corne residents awoke to the smell of sweet crude emanating from a gaping pit on the other side of the highway. Gov. Bobby Jindal issued an evacuation order that afternoon. Texas Brine got a permit to drill a relief well. When the company finally accessed the plugged chamber, they found the outer wall of the salt dome had collapsed. The breach allowed sediment to pour into the cavern, creating a seam through which oil and explosive gases were forced up to the surface.

It has been well established that structurally challenged caverns, owing to a lack of maintenance or poor planning, can cause sinkholes. In 1954, the collapse of a brining cavern at Bayou Choctaw, north of Baton Rouge — located in the same dome that today houses part of the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve — created an 820-foot-wide lake. In 2008, a 150-foot-deep crater known as “Sinkhole de Mayo” opened up over a cavern 50 miles northeast of Houston that had been used for storing oil drilling waste. But those disasters were all due to top-down pressure. Oxy3 collapsed from the side, something regulators and briners had previously considered impossible — highlighting, once again, how poorly understood the geology of salt caverns truly is.

Texas Brine’s official line is that it has no idea why its cavern suddenly gave way; a mess appeared on its property without warning, and it is doing the responsible thing by cleaning it up. Yet it didn’t begin paying buyouts to evacuees until nine months after the collapse, when Jindal threatened to shut down its Louisiana operations if it didn’t. The settlements come with no admission of wrongdoing — to the contrary, the company insists the town is perfectly safe, and that residents (some of whom have defied the evacuation order) are taking advantage of Texas Brine’s generosity by accepting weekly $875 stipends for living expenses while never leaving their homes. Only 59 homeowners have taken deals so far; others have signed onto a class action lawsuit against the company that’s set to go to trial next year. Celebrity activist Erin Brockovich has been shuttling back and forth to Bayou Corne enlisting plaintiffs. “I just don’t think anyone’s gonna live there again,” she says. “And if no one lives there, what desire is there for Texas Brine to clean it up? It’s a tragedy really all the way around.”

I meet Millard Fillmore ”Sonny” Cranch, a crisis PR specialist retained by Texas Brine, in a trailer a hundred yards from the edge of the sinkhole. Nearby are two storage silos emblazoned with the company’s slogan, “Texas Brine. Responsible Care.” Cranch is a self-described “old fart” with Harry Potter glasses that wrap around his curly white hair and a habit of pounding the steering wheel when he wants to make a point.

The company’s cleanup crew is rounding the “clubhouse turn,” he explains, and they believe the sediment level in the cavern is stabilizing; the sinkhole may still expand slightly, and the burps might continue, but the worst is in the past. Truth be told, he’s not even sure why the evacuation order is still active, but hey, if there’s a “perceived risk,” then safety first, right? According to Cranch, most of the gas that has been detected in explosive levels under the community is “naturally occurring swamp gas.” (State officials aren’t so sure.) Besides, Cranch tells me, it’s not as if there’s anything particularly menacing about hydrogen sulfide. “Flatulence is H2S,” he says, sensing a chance to lighten the mood. “You’re producing H2S as we speak right now.”

In the car, Cranch says this morning’s burp hadn’t released much oil, but once we get to the site and inhale the fumes, he quickly revises his estimate upward: “I lied — that’s more than five gallons.” While the DNR warns that accurate measurements are difficult, John Boudreaux, the Assumption Parish director of emergency preparedness, told me more than 300 gallons had surfaced. (In July, Boudreaux double-checked the company’s estimate of the sinkhole’s depth — 140 feet, Texas Brine claimed — and found that it had understated the figure by a factor of five.)

Given the class action, Texas Brine has a financial interest in deflecting the blame. During our outing, Cranch floats two possible culprits for the sinkhole: an oil well that another company drilled just outside the edge of the dome in the 1950s, or perhaps an earthquake. This isn’t the official Texas Brine position, he’s careful to add — “that’s just Millard Cranch, theorizing.”

The locals find such theories particularly irksome. “They think we’re just a bunch of ignorant coonasses,” says Mike Schaff, who like a few dozen Bayou Corne residents has ignored the evacuation order and stayed in his home. “We may be coonasses — but we’re not ignorant.”

Ignorance, willful or otherwise, is inextricable from what happened in Bayou Corne. Not only do Louisiana regulators have a poor grasp on how miners may be disturbing subsurface geology, they also have a pretty vague sense of how many caverns are located close to the outer ring of salt domes. In January, the Department of Natural Resources ordered companies with salt caverns to provide their most recently updated maps, and the agency is working on rules that would require additional modeling of the 29 caverns that are within 300 feet of an edge. And the agency is proposing regulations mandating that caverns be shut down and monitored for five years, rather than simply plugged and abandoned, if they fail a mechanical integrity test.

That’s a start. But Wilma Subra, a MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winning chemist who advises the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a group that’s been monitoring the Bayou Corne sinkhole, is dubious that any meaningful action will be taken. “The regulatory climate is such that agencies are only allowed to put forth regulations that the industry supports,” Subra says. Meanwhile, she adds, “What occurred in Bayou Corne shows what could potentially occur in any number of the other salt domes that have storage caverns.”

Just down the road from what’s left of Bayou Corne, the slabs and dead grass of Grand Bayou stand as a warning, albeit one nobody paid much attention to. There’s a road sign on the water’s edge bearing an Oliver Wendell Holmes quote: “Where we love is home — home that our feet may leave but not our hearts.” The sign includes a date to mark the beginning of the settlement. There’s no year of death, but it reads like the town’s tombstone.

Back at the Assumption Parish library, Candy Blanchard has the floor and she’s rolling. The exodus is on everyone’s mind. She and her husband were planning out their retirement in a community their families had called home for generations. “Anybody who stays here and camps here, you gotta wanna be here,” she says. “I mean, it’s not a booming place.” They hunt, they fish, they frog — or they did, anyway. But for the last 10 months, they’ve been crashing with friends in Paincourtville, and her husband has fallen into depression. Every morning, Blanchard, an elementary school teacher, breaks down on her drive to work and collects herself in the parking lot. But there’s something about her odyssey her students seem to grasp immediately. “I taught migration this year,” she tells the sniffling room. “It was the easiest lesson I’ve taught in my entire life.”

This story was produced by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

California’s fracking regulatory bill: Less than zero

Only a full ban on fracking will do. Regulations can neither prevent nor mitigate the disastrous consequences inherent to fracking. We need to keep the carbon in the ground. Photo: Californians Against Fracking

Only a full ban on fracking will do. Regulations can neither prevent nor mitigate the disastrous consequences inherent to fracking. We need to keep the carbon in the ground. Photo: Californians Against Fracking

By Lauren Steiner, Common Dreams

A year after buying his dream home in Los Angeles, Gary Gless started falling down and breaking bones.

Fourteen years and one thousand doctors visits later, his neuromuscular disorder hasn’t been specifically diagnosed. He survives on painkillers and sleep aids.

Gless’s backyard overlooks the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the nation. Within the field, gas companies have been secretly fracking in the middle of this community of 300,000 residents for nine years.

Many of Gless’s neighbors also suffer from neurological, auto-immune and respiratory diseases and several types of cancers. Many have died. Homes and swimming pools are cracking.

None of these people will be helped by passage of the only fracking bill still alive in California’s legislature: Senate Bill 4. That’s because the regulations in SB 4 do nothing to actually make fracking safer.

Instead, the flawed bill sets up a process for notification, disclosure, monitoring and permitting and simply calls for future regulations by other agencies and a scientific study.

Telling someone when you’re going to frack, where you’re going to frack and what chemicals you will use, is like a murderer telling you he’s going to shoot you on your front porch at noon tomorrow using an AK-47.

At the end of the day, you’re still dead.

The State of Play

Worse than having no regulations, weak regulations provide political cover to legislators who could otherwise be pressured to vote for a moratorium on the practice.

58% of Californians want a moratorium on fracking. The state Democratic Party, the majority party, passed a resolution calling on legislators to impose a moratorium.

Activists were also able to get two strong moratorium bills introduced in the legislature.  Only one made it to the full Assembly.

Worse than having no regulations, weak regulations provide political cover to legislators who could otherwise be pressured to vote for a moratorium on the practice.

Had 18 Democrats voted “yes” instead of abstaining, the bill would have passed. When asked why they didn’t vote for a moratorium, many said they were planning to vote for SB 4 instead.

Passage of this bill will remove the regulatory uncertainty currently surrounding fracking. It will give the green light to Big Oil to frack the Monterey Shale, the largest oil play in the nation holding nearly 2/3rd of all US reserves.

This bill must be stopped.

A big fat compromise

SB 4 – just like the Illinois fracking regulation bill passed in May – will probably be hailed as the strongest fracking regulatory bill in the country.

But even the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Fran Pavley, calls this bill a compromise.

“We’re trying to put regulations in place that will address public concerns,” Pavley said in an April interview. “This bill does not place a moratorium on the process. It will go on. I consider this a compromise measure.”

Although industry representatives testified against the bill, they tempered their criticisms. It’s an indication this bill is seen as preferable to those placing a moratorium on fracking.

“I’ve told the oil companies that the public is going to go there if it thinks they have something to hide,” she said, suggesting that lack of legislative action could potentially lead to a ballot initiative to ban fracking in California.

Big Oil also loves the “big fat compromise.”

“It is in our best interest that we have disclosure,” said Western States Petroleum Association’s spokesman Paul Deiro. “To calm the fears that are out there is in our interest, because we believe it’s a safe technology.”

Dissecting the Bill

Fran Pavley is known as an environmental hero for authoring the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Clean Car Regulations.

She accepts no money from Big Oil and is considered by many “the best friend environmentalists have in California.” Platitudes aside, this bill does no favor to the environment or to public health.

While proclaiming to provide full public disclosure of fracking chemicals, exceptions are provided for “proprietary trade secrets.”

As Kathryn Phillips, legislative director of Sierra Club California states, this would be “the first overt statutory recognition in the nation that fracking fluids qualify for trade secret protections. This would set us back, not forward, in our efforts to make sure that fracking in this state does not harm public health and the environment.”

For this reason, Sierra Club opposes this bill, as do Food and Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility and most of the other organizations in the coalition Californians Against Fracking.

Furthermore, we already know the chemicals used in fracking.

They were disclosed to the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment and the US House Energy and Commerce Committee. Of the thousand of possible products frackers use, 650 contain chemicals that are known toxins or carcinogens.

In the Inglewood Oil Field, the operator also released the list of 40 chemicals used. They include benzene, toluene, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and formaldehyde, all known carcinogens.

As to the notification, giving someone 30 days notice before doing a frack job is not much comfort.  Making matters worse, groundwater monitoring is to be conducted by the oil company, a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house.

A permit would be denied if it presents “an unreasonable risk.”

We already know that fracking fluid includes multiple carcinogens and the re-injection of fracking wastewater causes and exacerbates earthquakes.

Are these considered reasonable risks? If so, what risk would fracking have to pose before this bill would prohibit it?

The bill also directs other agencies to make regulations, failing to specify what those regulations should be.

No regulations can prevent leaks. 6% of wells leak immediately; and 50% leak within 20 years. If the industry could make well casings leak proof, they’d do it. It’s their own valuable product that is lost.

The bill calls for an independent scientific study on the effects of fracking.  Originally the bill said that if the study were not completed by January 1, 2015, there would be a moratorium on all new fracking. But Pavley was pressured to remove this moratorium provision from the bill.

Learning from History

Although an independent study sounds better than one conducted by the industry, many “independent” studies are done by firms so entrenched in the oil industry they can’t risk losing future business.

Such is the case with the last two State Department studies on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Many studies are victims of the political winds of the day. “Gasland Part II,” outlines three EPA studies that proved fracking was contaminating groundwater in Dimock, PAPavillion, WY and Parker County, TX.

As soon as President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address that fracking – utilizing American Petroleum Institute talking points – was to be the centerpiece of his national energy policy, those studies were all scuttled within the next year.

Plenty of independent studies already exist, further calling the rationale for the need for “more studies” into question.

Duke University 20112012, and 2013 studies all linked methane contamination of groundwater in Pennsylvania to fracking. Another study from the University of Texas found elevated levels of lead and other heavy minerals close to natural gas extraction sites in Texas.

A Colorado School of Public Health study found fracking increases cancer risk, contributing to serious neurological and respiratory problems in people living near fracked wells.

Fracking’s brief history in the U.S. shows one thing clearly: it creates havoc wherever it goes.

Regulations: Only as Good as the Regulators

In states where there are regulations on fracking, they aren’t enforced either by design, or because agencies are both underfunded and understaffed by state governments often bought and paid for by Big Oil.

Worse, when fracking violates existing regulations, many states simply change the regulations to the benefit of Big Oil.

In Colorado, the Air Quality Control Board is being directed to increase the allowable air pollution because of the air pollution caused by the fracking boom.

If you say that can’t happen here in California, look what’s already happened.

Democratic Party Gov. Jerry Brown actually fired the head of Department of Conservation and the head of its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Regulation (DOGGR) for pushing for tougher permitting requirements.

Brown said the firings were because DOGGR was “steadfastly blocking oil production permits,” citing the state’s need for “a healthy and vibrant oil and gas industry.”

The move was hailed by then State Senator Michael Rubio from Shafter, a community being devastated by fracking.

“We have worked diligently with the governor’s administration to reduce the roadblocks for the oil and gas industries to receive permits,” Rubio said at time.

Less than a year and a half later, he resigned to take a position in government affairs with – wait for it – Chevron.

When regulations are enforced, fines are so low, they are written off as a “cost of doing business.”

In Shafter, Vintage Oil, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, flared off gas – a by-product of fracking – for two months. This created constant noise as loud as a jet engine.

Five tons of nitrous oxide and two tons of volatile organic compounds were released into a community with the worst air quality in the state. This clearly violated the Air Board’s regulations.

Vintage’s big penalty? $750.

Don’t expect any stronger regulations or enforcement of existing ones to come from Governor Brown. He has already accepted $27,200,the maximum donation allowed, from Occidental Petroleum for his re-election campaign.

Big Oil’s the biggest spender in California politics. The Western States Petroleum Association has already spent $2,308,790 on lobbying efforts in the first half of this year.

Plus, Brown is salivating over the tax revenues he expects from this oil boom.

“One wonders whether there might be the ingredients of a grand bargain – the oil industry is given the green light to develop Monterey shale with some stringent but not crippling regulation, in return for which the state could impose a severance tax on new production that would benefit state and local governments,” Dan Walters pondered in a recent column in the Sacramento Bee.

Ban It

Even if regulations could magically make fracking safe, it uses too much water in a drought prone state. The hundreds of daily diesel truck trips will also cause extensive damage to local roads and increased incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases.

Fracking causes the industrialization of bucolic landscapes and noise and light pollution. In other states, fracking’s “man camps” are rife with drugs, alcohol, gambling and prostitution. Fracking would also most likely decimate the food and wine industries, which are far more important economically to the state than oil.

The oil will not always even go toward energy independence – despite the popular refrain– as it will be exported to the highest bidder, predominately Europe and Asia.

Finally, fracking all that oil out of the Monterey Shale will accelerate climate change. According to climate blogger RL Miller, the CO2 released from burning it will be almost as much as that released by the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Coming full circle, this will prevent California from achieving the 20% reduction in CO2 called for in Pavley’s signature bill, the Global Warming Solutions Act.

Regulations can neither prevent nor mitigate the disastrous consequences inherent to fracking. We need to keep the carbon in the ground.

Pavley should withdraw her regulatory bill and fight for a ban instead.

Confirmed: Fracking triggers quakes and seismic chaos

quake_630_2By Kate Sheppard, Brett Brownell, and Jaeah Lee, Source: Grist

Major earthquakes thousands of miles away can trigger reflex quakes in areas where fluids have been injected into the ground from fracking and other industrial operations, according to a study published in the journal Science on Thursday.

Previous studies, covered in a recent Mother Jones feature from Michael Behar, have shown that injecting fluids into the ground can increase the seismicity of a region. This latest study shows that earthquakes can tip off smaller quakes in far-away areas where fluid has been pumped underground.

The scientists looked at three big quakes: the Tohuku-oki earthquake in Japan in 2011 (magnitude 9), the Maule in Chile in 2010 (an 8.8 magnitude), and the Sumatra in Indonesia in 2012 (an 8.6). They found that, as much as 20 months later, those major quakes triggered smaller ones in places in the Midwestern U.S. where fluids have been pumped underground for energy extraction.

“[The fluids] kind of act as a pressurized cushion,” lead author Nicholas van der Elst of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University explained to Mother Jones. “They make it easier for the fault to slide.”

The finding is not entirely surprising, said van der Elst. Scientists have known for a long time that areas with naturally high subsurface fluid pressures — places like Yellowstone, for example — can see an uptick in seismic activity after a major earthquake even very far away. But this is the first time they’ve found a link between remote quakes and seismic activity in places where human activity has increased the fluid pressure via underground injections.

“It happens in places where fluid pressures are naturally high, so we’re not so surprised it happens in places where fluid pressures are artificially high,” he said.

The study looked specifically at Prague, Okla., which features prominently in Behar’s piece. The study links the increased tremors in Prague, which has a number of injection wells nearby, to Chile’s Feb. 27, 2010, quake. The study also found that big quakes in Japan and Indonesia triggered quakes in areas of Western Texas and Southern Colorado with many injection wells. The study is “additional evidence that fluids really are driving the increase in earthquakes at these sites,” said van der Elst.

Drillers inject high-pressure fluids into a hydraulic fracturing well, making slight fissures in the shale that release natural gas. The wastewater that flows back up with the gas is then transported to disposal wells, where it is injected deep into porous rock. Scientists now believe that the pressure and lubrication of that wastewater can cause faults to slip and unleash an earthquake.
Leanne Kroll / Brett Brownell
Drillers inject high-pressure fluids into a hydraulic fracturing well, making slight fissures in the shale that release natural gas. The wastewater that flows back up with the gas is then transported to disposal wells, where it is injected deep into porous rock. Scientists now believe that the pressure and lubrication of that wastewater can cause faults to slip and unleash an earthquake.

This story was produced for Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Brett Brownell is the multimedia producer at Mother Jones.

Jaeah Lee is the associate interactive producer at Mother Jones.

Kate Sheppard was Grist’s political reporter until August 2009. She now covers energy and environmental politics for Mother Jones. Read her work and follow her on Twitter.

Quebec rail disaster shines critical light on oil-by-rail boom

By Scott Haggett, Dave Sherwood and Cezary Podkul

(Reuters) – The deadly train derailment in Quebec this weekend is set to bring intense scrutiny to the dramatic growth in North America of shipping crude oil by rail, a century-old practice unexpectedly revived by the surge in shale oil production.

At least five people were killed, and another 40 are missing, after a train carrying 73 tank cars of North Dakota crude rolled driverless down a hill into the heart of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where it derailed and exploded, levelling the town centre.

It was the latest and most deadly in a series of high-profile accidents involving crude oil shipments on North America’s rail network. Oil by rail – at least until now – has widely been expected to continue growing as shale oil output races ahead far faster than new pipelines can be built.

Hauling some 50,000 barrels of crude, the train was one of around 10 such shipments a month now crossing Maine, a route that allows oil producers in North Dakota to get cheaper domestic crude to coastal refiners. Across North America, oil by rail traffic has more than doubled since 2011; in Maine, such shipments were unheard of two years ago.

“The frequency of the number of incidents that have occurred raises legitimate questions that the industry and government need to look at,” said Jim Hall, managing partner of consultants Hall & Associates LLC, and a former chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

“The issue here is: are they expanding too rapidly?” he said. “Are they in a rush to accommodate and to make the economic advantage of carrying these?”

MUCH AT STAKE

There are many unanswered questions about the Quebec disaster that will likely shape the public and regulatory response, including why a parked freight train suddenly began rolling again, and why carloads of crude oil – a highly flammable but not typically explosive substance – caused such widespread disaster.

“There may have been some vapours, maybe? I don’t know. We don’t know exactly what happened,” Edward A Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said in an interview on Saturday when asked about why the tankers may have exploded.

Apart from the human toll, the disaster will draw more attention to environmental risks of transporting oil.

Much is at stake: Oil by rail represents a small but important new source of revenue for big operators like Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd (CP.TO: Quote, Profile, Research) and Warren Buffett’s BNSF, which have suffered a drop in coal cargo. It is also a flexible and cheaper option to more expensive European or African crude for refiners like Irving Oil, which confirmed on Sunday that the train was destined for its 300,000 bpd plant in Saint John, New Brunswick.

And for producers like Continental Resources Inc (CLR.N: Quote, Profile, Research) which have pioneered the development of the Bakken fields in North Dakota, railways now carry three-quarters of their production; new pipelines that can accommodate more oil are years away.

Saturday’s train wreck may also play into the rancorous debate over the $5.3 billion Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Midwest, which is hinging on President Barack Obama’s decision later this year.

Obama said last month that approval for the line would ultimately depend on its impact on carbon-dioxide emissions. An earlier draft report from the State Department suggested that rejecting the project would not affect emissions because crude would still be shipped by rail.

As a result, the incident may strengthen the resolve of those opposed to the Keystone pipeline rather than soften resistance. The oil industry at large is already broadly supportive of both rail and pipeline transport.

“Committed critics … could conceivably seize upon the Lac-Megantic incident – in tandem with recent pipeline spills – to argue against oil production, irrespective of its mode of transport,” said Kevin Book, managing director of Research at ClearView Energy Partners.

MOVE IT BY RAIL

The railway industry has this year mounted a more robust effort to counter the suggestion that rail is a riskier way to transport crude than pipelines.

The American Association of Railroads has declined to comment on Lac-Megantic, but previously said its spill rate – based on the number of gallons of crude oil spilled versus every million miles of transport per barrel – is less than half that for pipelines.

The AAR also said the number of train accidents involving the release of hazardous material has dropped by 26 percent since 2000, and by 78 percent since 1980.

Since the beginning of the year, U.S. railroads moved nearly 360,000 carloads of crude and refined product, 40 percent more than in 2012, according to the AAR. In Canada, year-to-date traffic is up 24 percent.

With that growth has come a number of high-profile spills and accidents, many on Canadian Pacific Railway’s network, which runs through Alberta, the largest oil exporter to the United States, and the Bakken field.

Canadian Pacific suffered the industry’s first serious spill in late March, when 14 tanker cars derailed near Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, and leaked 15,000 gallons of crude. Regulators have not released the results of their investigation into the incident, and Canadian Pacific declined to comment.

Even before Saturday’s disaster, the practice of shipping oil by rail was stirring opposition in Maine.

“It’s a wake-up call of the worst kind,” said Meaghan LaSala, an organizer with 350 Maine, a group that opposes the hydraulic fracturing – or “fracking” – technology that makes shale production possible. “They say rail is the safest method, but there simply is no guaranteed way to transport such highly toxic and explosive materials.”

TOO SOON TO SAY

Many observers say it is too soon to say if the Lac-Megantic disaster will quell the crude-by-rail boom. Refiners not connected to the Midwest pipeline network will still use rail to access the cheapest crudes.

“On the face of it this should be a boost for pipeline solutions, especially given the improvements in pipeline technology over the past five decades,” said Ed Morse, managing director of commodity research at Citi Group.

But he and other analysts noted that not every devastating tragedy leads to new policy.

“We need all forms of transportation for oil, whether they’re rail, whether they’re pipeline, and no system is failsafe,” Charles Drevna, president of American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, said in a phone interview.

For Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, crude oil shipments are a relatively new phenomenon. With just 510 miles of line, the small railway primarily carried paper and forest products until the financial crisis, and had suffered in the years after until the shale boom came along.

In the first four months of the year, it carried about 16,500 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, 10 times more than a year before and up from zero in early 2011, according to data from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

“In the 10 years or so we’ve been in business, this is the only serious derailment we’ve ever had,” Burkhardt told Reuters in the interview.

Henry Posner III, a former business partner who invested with Burkhardt in a railroad in Estonia, said he could not recall any incidents similar to what happened in Quebec during the 5-1/2 years they were in business together.

“Safety is the most important component of railway culture in North America and that’s one of the things we’re most proud of having exported to Estonia,” said Posner, who chairs Railroad Development Corporation, a Pittsburgh-based company that invests in railroads.

(Reporting by Scott Haggett in Calgary, Alberta, Dave Sherwood in Portland, Maine, and Cezary Podkul in New York; additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago, Jonathan Leff in New York and David Ljunggen in Ottawa; editing by Tiffany Wu and Matthew Lewis)

Hundreds of Protesters Shut Down Oil & Gas Chemical Supplier to Protest Fracking

protest-earth-first!Source: Earth First! Newswire

On the edge of the western mountain range, protesters with Croatan Earth First! are currently occupying an industrial manufacturing facility owned by Momentive and located at 114 Industrial Drive.  North Carolinians, who have been fighting to prevent hydraulic fracturing from coming to central North Carolina are joined in this action by people from around the country who also oppose shale gas extraction nationwide.  Momentive is one of the largest worldwide distributors of “resin coated proppants,”  a necessary component for fracking.  Each fracturing stage requires approximately 136 tonnes of proppants.

“We are here to send a message to the oil and gas industries: we will not stand idly by as you destroy this land, or any other, for your personal profit. Respect existence, or expect resistance,” said an Earth First! activist.

The North Carolina legislature plans to begin permitting frack sites as early as March 2015 in the Cumnock Shale Basin located underneath Lee, Moore, Chatham, and surrounding counties.  Fracking has been tied to water aquifer contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming according to an EPA study and linked to high levels of methane in Pennsylvania water wells according to a study by Duke University.  Researchers with Cornell University found that fracking operations nationwide released massive amounts of methane (a greenhouse gas) straight into the atmosphere, and concluded that, if not curbed, would speed climate change faster than carbon emissions.

The NC legislature is negotiating on the possibility of legalizing toxic wastewater injection in state or transporting it elsewhere.  The process uses 1-8 million gallons of clean water each time a well is fracked.

“We are under drought conditions already, yet the oil and gas industry is allowed to pump millions of gallons of water out of our streams.  This is devastating life in our rivers and streams.  To make matters worse they send this water back into the riverways poisoned with radioactive materials,” said organizer Lydia Nickles.  “Preserving our waters is preserving our lives and all life. We want an end to shale gas extraction everywhere.”

Activists with the Earth First! Movement are calling on people nationwide to resist fracking where they live and organize solidarity actions.

“Even if you don’t have a rig in your area to shut down, you can affect the industry.   Momentive and other companies that create proppants for the gas industry have facilities nationwide as well as internationally.  It’s time to disrupt the chain of supply.  Go to www.frackindustry.org and organize to take action now!”

Momentive’s worldwide headquarters are located in Columbus, Ohio and other locations can be found online at: http://www.momentive.com/locations_home.aspx?id=293

A message from Croatan Earth First!:  “We are acting in solidarity with and take inspiration from the courageous many who have been standing together to take action in the North Carolina capital during Moral Mondays, and we encourage everyone to continue to show our collective power, acting up against the repressive corporate and legislative powers for the liberation of all and the integrity of land, water and air.”

Media Co-op reporter Miles Howe released from police custody; Mi’kmaq war chief also arrested

A photo taken by Miles Howe on June 21st, when 12 arrests were made near the sacred fire encampment in Elsipogtog.

A photo taken by Miles Howe on June 21st, when 12 arrests were made near the sacred fire encampment in Elsipogtog.

Ben Sichel, Halifax Media Co-op

Media Co-op reporter Miles Howe has been released from police custody after being detained near Elsipogtog, New Brunswick yesterday afternoon – but Howe says he thinks police are trying to prevent him from reporting news from a controversial shale gas exploration site.

Howe has been in New Brunswick since early June reporting on protests against shale gas exploration near the Mi’kmaq community. He faces charges of uttering threats to a police officer and obstruction of justice.

“I think they’re trying to restrict my access to seismic testing sites,” said Howe.

According to Howe, RCMP chief Rick Bernard approached him this afternoon as he stood next to Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) news reporter Jorge Barrera. The two were waiting for press access to a site where seismic testing, a precursor to hydraulic fracturing or fracking, was said to be taking place.

Bernard then informed Howe that he was under arrest for allegedly uttering threats against a police officer on June 21st.

APTN’s Jorge Barrera tweeted that Bernard arrested Howe “after shaking Miles’ hand.”

The Media Co-op’s Howe “has been doing the bulk of reporting in #Elsipogtog on anti-shale gas protests and has been taken in by the Mi’kmaq community,” Barrera also tweeted.

RCMP Cpl. Chantal Farrah confirmed to CBC that Howe’s arrest was indeed related to an incident on June 21st. The RCMP has not responded to the Media Co-op’s request for comment as to why his arrest was not made for 13 days.

According to Howe, the timing of the arrest is odd, since he has been in contact with police in New Brunswick twice since the alleged June 21st incident without being notified that police wanted to arrest him.

In particular, Howe says he gave a statement to police regarding a fire he witnessedon June 25th, involving equipment owned by SWN, the Texas-based company currently exploring for shale gas in New Brunswick.

“Police went to my house in Halifax seeking a statement about the fire I had seen, since I was the first respondent [at the scene],” Howe said. “When I heard that I went to the police here and they took a statement from me about what I had seen. They knew exactly who I was, yet there was no indication that I was wanted by them for any incident on June 21st.

“After they took my statement, they also mentioned that they’d be able to offer me financial compensation for information [related to the ongoing protests],” Howe added.

Howe also notes that his charges changed over the several hours he was in custody, from resisting arrest to evading arrest to obstruction of justice. He had no comment on the charges themselves.

War chief John Levi also arrested

Howe expressed concern for Mi’kmaq war chief John Levi, who was also charged today with obstruction in relation to Howe’s own arrest.

“He’s basically been charged with abetting me [over the past several days],” Howe said, despite Levi not knowing until yesterday that Howe was accused of a crime.

Howe described the charges against Levi as “trumped-up.”

“They may be using me to get at him,” Howe said. “This is a dangerous situation for Levi, who’s been an important leader for the people here.”

Anti-Fracking protests continue

There is an open invitation to a “Celebration of Unity with Elsipogtog” gathering this Saturday at 10 a.m. by a Facebook group called Walk for a Ban on Fracking.

“In the end [my arrest today] is just one small incident,” Howe said. “People here continue to show amazing strength.

“I’m not the story here,” Howe said.

Indigenous Struggles to watch in the United States in Canada

Photo taken during Mathias Colomb Cree Nation shut down of access to HudBay Lalor mine.

Photo taken during Mathias Colomb Cree Nation shut down of access to HudBay Lalor mine.

John Ahni Schertow, Intercontinental Cry

With the constant barrage of news headlines we’re confronted with, it can be very difficult to get a good fix on what exactly is going on these days, especially if you don’t know where to look. Most news providers are only interested in the latest trends (and, of course, whatever’s going to pay the bills). They ignore everything else.

In light of that fact, we wanted to put together a short briefing of important indigenous struggles that are taking place right now in Canada and the United States.

Note: If you know of something that isn’t on this list, please feel free to mention it in the comments below. All additional struggles will be added to the end of this briefing.

Last Updated: March 15, 2013

Mi’kmaq

Citizens from two different Mi’kmaq communities recently carried out an 11-day hunger strike to oppose the Made in Nova Scotia Process and the Made in New Brunswick Process, two framework agreements that follow a nationwide template in Canada that aims to extinguish Aboriginal sovereignty and title. Ultimately, the chiefs taking part in the process did not opt entirely, however, they did agree to halt negotiations until their communities can become better educated as to exactly what is at stake. The Mi’kmaq of Unamaki, meanwhile, are still attempting to deal with a proposed shale gas fracking development project at Lake Ainslie, the largest freshwater lake in Cape Breton.

Pit River Tribe

The Pit River Tribe Of California unanimously affirmed their opposition to geothermal and other industrial developments in the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands, located in Northeastern California . In a recent public statement, the tribe explained that “Geothermal development in such a sensitive hallowed place will despoil the environment and harm the Pit River Tribe.” Pit River has been struggling against geothermal development in the region since the 1980s, when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sold geothermal development leases to three corporations without consulting anyone.

Red Lake Anishinaabe

The Red Lake Anishinaabe Nation recently stood up to Enbridge Energy LP, a company that is openly trespassing on Red Lake Ceded lands in Minnesota, operating multiple pipelines without an easement. Through their ongoing protest camp, Nizhawendaamin Indaakiminaan, a group of grassroots Red Lake tribal members and allies, are demanding that the flow of oil through these pipelines be stopped.’

Havasupai

The Havasupai Nation joined forces with three conservation groups to sue the U.S. Forest Service over its decision to allow Energy Fuels Resources, Inc. to begin operating a uranium mine near Grand Canyon National Park without initiating or completing formal tribal consultations and without updating an outdated 1986 federal environmental review. As stated in a recent joint press release, “The Canyon Mine threatens cultural values, wildlife and endangered species and increases the risk of soil pollution and pollution and depletion of groundwater feeding springs and wells in and near Grand Canyon.” For more on the active threat of uranium mining at the Grand Canyon, please see here.

Mathias Colomb Cree Nation

The Mathias Colomb Cree Nation (MCCN) and The Wilderness Committee are working to oppose Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company’s (Hudbay) new Reed Mine project in Grass River Provincial Park. Pointing to unaddressed environmental concerns and a lack of free, prior and informed consent, MCCN Chief Arlen Dumas recently explained, , “The Reed Lake mine proposed by Hudbay is within the unceded traditional territories of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation. This proposed mine raises serious concerns in relation to caribou populations, water quality, and carbon emissions. The province of Manitoba and the proponent, Hudbay, have failed to meet with MCCN, the true owners of these lands and resources, in good faith to obtain our free, informed and prior consent on any proposed activities within our territories.”

Muscogee-Creek

Hickory Ground Tribal Town member, Wayland Gray, Muscogee-Creek, was recently arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat for peacefully entering the construction site of the expansion of the Wind Creek Wetumpka Casino. Wayland, who was arrested with three others, entered the site to pray over the desecration of the grounds because it is where 57 ancestral remains were unceremoniously moved to make room for the casino expansion. Wayland has since been released form jail, however, the charge of uttering a terrorist threat remains. Watch a video of the arrest.

Innu

In Quebec, the Innu are continuing to reject the “North for all” plan, a massive economic, social, and environmental development project that will directly impact Innu tradition, culture, language and history. The Plan Nord is a multi-faceted resource-exploitation project that involves digging mines, expanding forestry, and damming a slew of rivers.

Lummi

The Lummi Nation is continuing to push against the proposed Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point), a sacred landscape the Lummi have relied on for over 3,500 years. The proposed terminal and shipping point would be used to export Powder River Basin coal to China. If built, the project will set the stage for the possible destruction of all live in the Salish Sea. As Jay Julius, member of Lummi Nation tribal council recently pointed out, it could also destroy underwater archaeological sites and upland burial grounds. Late last year, a wid spectrum of Native and non-Native Fishers joined the Lummi Nation to oppose the project.

Wolf Lake and Eagle Village

While not a struggle per se, there is a situation with a proposed ‘rare earth’ mine that we should keep an eye on, for obvious reasons. In western Ontario, Wolf Lake and Eagle Village First Nation have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Matamec Explorations Inc., over a proposed yttrium-zirconium mine. Rare earth mines have gained alot of attention over the past couple years for the notorious amount of pollution they produce. The two First Nations are undoubtedly aware of this, however, they have decided to take a facts-based approach concerning Algonquin cultural impacts social economic impacts and specific environmental impacts.

Lake St. Martin First Nation

The entire population of the Lake St. Martin First Nation continues to remain homeless after their reserve was drowned in water by the Manitoba government in 2011. As if the loss of their homes was not enough, the people of Lake St. Martin were left with no choice but to relocate to an old military base that has no infrastructure. For more on this, be sure to look at: Flooding Hope: Displacement Politics by the Province towards Lake St. Martin First Nation.

Dineh, Hopi and Zuni

A coalition of Indigenous and non-indigenous groups are working to stop the development of the Grand Canyon Escalade project at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. The $120 million resort and tramway project is being pushed forward by the Navajo Nation government despite the obvious risks to the environment and the cultural and spiritual well-being of the Dineh, Hopi and Zuni Peoples. Several groups have come together to stop the project, including the Diné Medicine Man Association, Inc., Forgotten People, Next Indigenous Generation, and the Grand Canyon Trust. Hopi leaders have also unanimously agreed to oppose the commercial initiative.

Ohlone, Miwok and Yokut

The Ohlone, Miwok and Yokut peoples are working to protect Brushy Peak, a sacred place near Livermore, California, that is a part of their origin stories. The East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD), which maintains and operates a system of regional parks within the San Francisco Bay Area, wants to turn the area into a recreational preserve against the wishes of the concerned Indigenous peoples. Buried Voices, a new documentary film by Michelle Steinberg, provides a great deal of insight into this ongoing struggle. Other recent struggles in the region include the effort to protect Glen Cove (Sogorea Te) and Rattlesnake Island.

Navajo, Hopi, Apache, Acoma, Zuni…

The long-running struggle to defend the San Fransisco Peaks continues in Arizona, despite the fact that the infamous Snowbowl has since become the first ski area in the world to make fake snow from 100% treated sewage waste water. Activists working to defend the Peaks lament that “We have temporally lost this battle with attacks on us from the U.S. Forest Service and the so called U.S. ‘judicial system’”. Nevertheless, they remain committed to stopping the production and use of the disgusting snow.

Anishinaabe

A group of Anishinaabe citizens from seven different communities/reservations in northern Minnesota are struggling to defend the sacred manoomin (wild rice) from the dire impacts of sulfate contamination. the group, known as Protect Our Manoomin is working specifically to oppose mining legislation that endangers manoomin and the ecosystem of northern Minnesota; and to educate and inform Anishinaabe communities of the imperilment of nonferrous mining. Companies that are currently threatening manoomin include PolyMet/Glencore, Twin Metals/Antofagasta, and Kennecott/Rio Tinto.

Ktunaxa

The Ktunaxa, meanwhile, are continuing to resist an impending cultural and environmental disaster in southeastern British Columbia. The Jumbo Glacier resort proposal, located in the heart of Qat’muk (GOT-MOOK), threatens critical grizzly bear habitat, and ignores the cultural and spiritual significance of the area to the Ktunaxa. According to Ktunaxa belief, Qat’muk is home to the Grizzly Bear Spirit, which makes it a culturally pivotal sacred site. The BC government, in order to move forward with the project, recently created the Jumbo Glacier Resort Municipality (JGRM), a municipal body that doesn’t represent any actual people. The undemocratic body is being challenged in court.

Asubpeeschoseewagong

Grassy Narrows is gearing up for yet another court battle in their decade-long struggle against clearcut logging on their territory. In January, the Ontario Government began proceedings to overturn a major legal victory that was eleven years in the making. On August 16, 2011, Ontario Superior Court Justice Saunderson found that the Government of Ontario did not have the power to unilaterally take away rights outlined in Treaty 3. The province preposterously claims that Justice Saunderson’s analysis was the “antithesis of reconciliation.” Grassy Narrows meanwhile, continues to cope with the impacts of mercury pollution on their lands along with White Dog FN and some members of Wabauskang who lived at Quibell. In March 1962 Dryden Chemicals began dumping an estimated 10 metric tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River, contaminating the fish which formed the subsistence and economy of all three communities. The mercury was never cleaned up.

Dineh

Returning to Navajo territory, uranium companies are working double time to convince the Navajo nation to let them mine their “uranium-rich” land, despite the overwhelming number of abandon uranium mines that continue to pollute the territory. There are over 1000 abandon mines.

The Confederated Tribes of the Goshute

Elsewhere in the Southwest, the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute are stepping forward to stop a water pipeline that has been proposed by the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA). According to the Protect Goshute Water website, the pipeline “would draw 150,000 acre feet per year from the Great Salt Lake Watershed Basin lowering the water table, drying up our springs, and fundamentally changing access to water over this vast region for plants, wildlife, and people.. Even a slight reduction in the water table will result in a cascade of wildlife and vegetation impacts directly harming our ability to engage in traditional practices of hunting, gathering, and fishing on ancestral lands.”

Cree

The Grand Council of the Crees just called on the Quebec government to move forward with its plan to convene an independent evaluation of the uranium industry in Quebec. The Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee has consistently stated its opposition to uranium mining in all its forms in the Eeyou Istchee James Bay territory. In August 2012, the Cree Nation enacted a permanent moratorium on uranium exploration, mining, milling and waste emplacement in Eeyou Istchee. The Crees are also intervening in the legal proceedings recently commenced against Environment Quebec by Strateco Resources, the proponent of the Matoush advanced uranium exploration project, the most advanced uranium project proposed to date in the Province.

Dene

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) and Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN) announced in February that they will not support the proposed Nechalacho rare earth mine at Thor Lake, about a 100 km southeast of Yellowknife. The project would exploit a total 15 rare earth metals – including radioactive ones like uranium and thorium. The YKDFN explained their opposition stems from a deteriorating relationship with the company behind the project and that the potential environmental impacts resulting from the project far exceed the perceived benefits.

Winnemem

The Winnemem Wintu Tribe and their allies are pushing against the proposed Shasta Dam expansion project, which would flood the Winnemem’s sacred sites for a second time! The proposed expansion also jeorpardizes the site of the Winnemem Coming of Age ceremony. Furthermore, in conjunction with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan it would also hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species.

Alutiiq, Cherokee, Chumash, Crow, Dakota, Euchee, Lakota, Mohawk, Navajo, Ojibwe, Salish, Sauk, Squamish Wampanoag…

Amidst these many struggles, there are numerous efforts around the continent dedicated to reclaiming, revitalizing, and securing traditional languages, many of which are on the brink of extinction. In Canada alone, there are over 60 communities working to record/document their languages before they are lost. As highlighted at Our Mother Tongues, language revitalization efforts include the Akwesasne Freedom School, the Chumash “Silent No More” project at the University of California at Berkeley, the Wicoie Nandagikendan: Dakota-Ojibwe Language Immersion Preschools and the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project. Also, The Squamish Lan­guage is making a come back; and efforts are underway for language reclamation at Shoal Lake. Then there is the Digital Indigenous Democracy project, described by Christa Couture of RPM.fm as “a remarkable endeavor that will bring interactive digital media to eight remote Baffin Island Inuit communities – communities whose 4,000 year-old oral language will become extinct without digital media to carry it forward into the next generation.” There are many other programs and efforts across the US and Canada; new ones are appearing all the time.

Attawapiskat First Nation

In recent months, the Cree community of Attawapiskat has held a constant presence in the news. Most notably, Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence carried out a six week fast as a part of IdleNoMore; and let’s not forget the coordinated media effort to discredit her in order to weaken the IdleNoMore movement. Last month, members of Attawapiskat also set up a blockade on the road leading to the De Beers Victor mine with a second blockade by a different group of Attawapiskat citizens who wanted their own concerns addressed. Meanwhile, the reserve continues to cope with a long-standing housing shortage.

Wet’suwet’en

For more than 15 months, the Grassroots Wet’suwet’en peoples have maintained The Unist’ot’en Camp, a resistance community that was established to protect Wet’suwet’en territory from several proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and shale gas from Hydraulic Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region. Most recently, in November, the Wet’suwet’en of the C’ilhts’ekhyu and Likhts’amisyu Clans confronted, and escorted out, employees and drillers of the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) who were attempting to enter Wet’suwet’en lands without consent.

Aamjiwnaang

Aamjiwnaang is an Anishinaabe reserve located just outside of the city of Sarnia in Southwestern Ontario–an read well known as “Chemical Valley.” Home to 40% of Canada’s petrochemical industry, the Chemical Valley region experiences some of the worst air pollution in Canada. The Aamjiwnaang Reserve, boxed in by industry on three sides, bears the brunt of this pollution. Currently, two Aamjiwnaang band members, Ron Plain and Ada Lockridge, are confronting this with a lawsuit against the Ontario Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Suncor Corporation. Their argument is a simple one: they believe it is a basic human right to step outside one’s home and not breathe air harmful to one’s health. Another challenge faced by the community is the lack of legal protection from spills and intentional dumping of toxic chemicals within the reserve, a problem that is known very well by reserves across the country.

Blackfeet

For the past few years, the Blackfeet Nation in what is now northern Montana have been struggling with a problem that has now reached several reserves across the continent: the controversial practice known as fracking. In the case of the Blackfeet, who are one of three members of the Blackfoot Confederacy, fracking has not only harmed the land. It has also divided the Blackfeet People. Since 2009, the Blackfeet Nation Tribal Council has taken it upon itself to lease out 1 million acres or 66% of the reservation to three companies: Newfield, Anschutz Exploration, and Rosetta Resources. Blackfeet citizens have had little say in the actions of the Tribal Council, nor opportunities to learn about what is being done on their land. Fortunately, there are those among the Nation who are demanding accountability, transparency, and who wish to defend their land from the pollution of oil and fracking chemicals.

Kanai (Blood Tribe)

The Kanai, another member of the Blackfoot Confederacy, find themselves in much the same situation as their southern relatives, the Blackfeet. In this case, the Kanai Tribal and Business Councils signed almost half of the reserve over to oil companies, again, without any involvement from the citizenry. The situation gained major headlines in 2011 when three Kainai women carried out a protest on the Blood Reserve, in southern Alberta. Soon after the protest began, all three women were arrested and charged with trespassing and intimidation. Sadly, there have been no other major protests since then.

Athabasca Chipewyan

In northern Alberta, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) is trying to stop an oilsands expansion project on their traditional territory. Industrialization of the Denesuline community’s traditional territory has lead to the cumulative removal of lands, wildlife and fish habitat as well as the destruction of ecological, aesthetic and sensory systems. The expansion of Shell’s Jackpine Project would cause even more damage, specifically at Poplar Point, the heart of the ACFN homelands.

Barriere Lake Algonquins

For more than twenty years, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake have been struggling to get the governments of Canada and the Province of Quebec to honour the landmark 1991 Trilateral Agreement, an alternative to Canada’s preferred negotiation policy, called the “Comprehensive Land Claims.” Canada has tried every trick in the book in order to get out of the 1991 agreement, including placing the community under third party management using Section 74 of the Indian Act. The community has won some important victories over the last couple years – and one or two that were less than ideal – nevertheless, ABL presses on. Most recently, the Algonquins made there position clear on proposed exploration activities of the junior mining company Copper One.

Victory! Council of Yukon First Nations declares traditional lands “frack free”

John Ahni Schertow, Intercontinental Cry

On Friday, June 28, 2013, the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN) passed resolution declaring their traditional lands to be “frack free” and calling on the Yukon government to prohibit all fracking in the territory.

The resolution reads:

Be it resolved that the Council of First Nations calls on the Yukon Govt. to prohibit fracking in the Yukon and declares our traditional territories to be frack-free.

As reported at Rabble.ca, “The resolution was passed by full consensus of the general assembly of those present.”

The Council of Yukon First Nations is a central political organization that represents eleven of the fourteen First Nation governments in the Yukon on a national and International level.

First Nation governments in the Yukon consist of:

  • Carcross/Tagish First Nation
  • Champagne and Aishihik First Nations
  • Ehdiitat Gwich’in Council
  • First Nation of Nacho Nyak Dun
  • Gwichya Gwich’in Council
  • Kluane First Nation
  • Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation
  • Nihtat Gwich’in Council
  • Selkirk First Nation
  • Ta’an Kwach’an Council
  • Teslin Tlingit Council
  • Tetlit Gwich’in Council
  • Tr’ondek Hwech’in
  • White River First Nation

Fracking Troubles Atlantic First Nations After Two Dozen Protesters Arrested

Via APTN NewsAnti-fracking protesters in New Brunswick in early June.


Via APTN News
Anti-fracking protesters in New Brunswick in early June.

David P. Ball, Indian Country Today Media Network

One week after 12 fracking protesters were arrested in New Brunswick, Mi’kmaq critics of the controversial extraction industry relit their sacred fire on the road to a seismic testing site and vowed to continue their opposition.

On June 19, fracking opponents held a sunrise ceremony beside a ceremonial fire they said was extinguished during the arrests, which included seven indigenous protestors, among them a pipe carrier and a ceremonial firekeeper. Another 12 people were arrested on Friday June 21, National Aboriginal Day.

“We’re not going to stop,” Amy Sock, a member of Elsipogtog First Nation, told Indian Country Today Media Network. “We don’t want shale gas to come to New Brunswick. To be honest, we have a big nuclear plant here. Once fracking goes on—once we start getting earthquakes—I’m afraid that thing is going to blow up. That’s one of my fears. Our priority is Mother Earth.”

Sock said that despite some tribal leaders’ support for shale gas exploration by SWN Resources Canada, which is preparing for seismic testing in Kent County, most Mi’kmaq are against the project. Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process in which high-pressure chemicals are injected deep underground to break apart the shale rock layer and pump oil out. Government studies in the U.S. and U.K. have concluded the process can cause earthquakes, but proponents argue that they are not significant or dangerous tremors. (Related: Fracking Suspected in Dallas-Area Earthquakes)

“I can cry, get mad, pray, forgive, and do my pipe ceremony to keep my strength and courage up,” Sock said, “but this is one tough battle. We live by the river… Our regular diet—fish, clams, eels, bass, salmon, and lobster—that’s what we eat. I want to continue eating that without getting sick [from pollution].”

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Corporal Chantal Farrah issued a statement following the first spate of arrests, saying that work crews had been blocked from the company’s operations.

“They were attempting to block the heavy equipment from traveling on the road,” she said. “Now the people who were doing so were breaking the law and they were informed that they were breaking the law and that they needed to move. They refused and 12 people were arrested, so of those people there were seven men and five women.”

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) also issued a statement after the arrests, saying it supported band leaders who were working with government and industry for “responsible and sustainable natural resources development for the benefit of all in the province,” but did not mention the protests or arrests.

“We stand in full support of the New Brunswick First Nations leadership as they are asserting and protecting their rights on natural resource development for the future and betterment of their communities,” said National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo. “As stewards of the land, First Nations have a sacred duty to protect the lands, waters and vital resources bestowed upon them. It is our responsibility to fulfill the vision of our ancestors—a vision of shared prosperity and success for all our peoples. This requires supporting First Nation governments in driving their own economies and engaging meaningful business opportunities and partnerships, through the basic and standard principles of free, prior and informed consent. This is the road to productivity and prosperity for all of us.”

A warrior chief of Elsipogtog First Nation, John Levi, issued a call for support from other Natives.

“We’re fighting with SWN gas company, which is doing seismic testing here in New Brunswick,” he said. “We invite all the reserves to come support our cause, because if it comes to your province, we’ll be there, we’ll support you. We’re asking for your help now.”

Sock said that every day, non-Native supporters have come to the protest site with gifts of food and other supplies, and also brought in portable toilets. She said many residents in the region are farmers as concerned as First Nations about fracking’s impact on the environment.

On June 24, two SWN company shot-hole drillers involved in gas exploration were set ablaze. No charges have been laid in the arson. Several other pieces of SWN equipment were seized by gas opponents.

 

Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/06/28/fracking-troubles-atlantic-first-nations-after-two-dozen-protesters-arrested-150192