The Department of the Interior has unveiled new regulations on hydraulic fracturing operations that take place on federal lands, requiring companies using the drilling technique to ensure wells are safe and to disclose chemicals used in the process.
The rules change follows a more than three-year review process and will affect the 90 percent of oil and gas wells on federal lands that now use so-called fracking to extract oil and gas.
“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.
Key provisions of the new rules, set to go into effect in 90 days, include:
— Requiring strong cement barriers between the well and any water zones it passes through.
— Requiring companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to the Bureau of Land Management through the website FracFocus, within 30 days of completing fracturing operations.
— Stricter storage protocols for recovered waste water used in fracking.
— Measures to lower the risk of cross-contamination from fracking chemicals by requiring companies to submit detailed information on the geology, depth and locations of wells that already exist.
“This rule will protect public health and the environment during and after hydraulic fracturing operations at a modest cost while both respecting the work previously done by the industry, the states and the tribes and promoting the adoption of more protective standards across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider.
The Associated Press writes:
“The rule has been under consideration for more than three years, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups. The industry fears the regulation could hinder the drilling boom, while some environmental groups worry that it could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.
“The final rule hews closely to a draft that has been lingering since the Obama administration proposed it in May 2013. The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations.”
Northwest Tribes and First Nations block fossil fuel exports.
Eric de Place (@Eric_deP) and Nick Abraham, Sightline Daily, September 8, 2014
Across the Northwest, Native communities are refusing to stand idle in the face of unprecedented schemes to move coal, oil, and gas through the region. It’s a movement that could well have consequences for global energy markets, and even the pace of climate change.
Now is a good moment for pausing to examine some of the seminal moments of resistance from tribal opposition to fossil fuel exports. Yesterday, the second Totem Pole Journey came to an end with a totem pole raising ceremony at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. As it did last year, the journey showcased the tremendous breadth and depth of indigenous opposition to coal and oil schemes—spanning Native communities from coastal forests to the high plains interior of North America.
The journey was a reminder not only of the particular moral authority of the tribes and First Nations in the face of fossil plans, but also the fact that they are uniquely equipped to arrest these export plans.
Like the United States, Canada is in the midst of a natural gas boom. The industry is trying desperately to move its products to foreign markets, but concerns about public health, fishing rights, and environmental damage have First Nations raising red flags.
Many of the First Nations in British Columbia have banded together against a liquid natural gas facility at Fort Nelson in northeast BC. At what is now being called the “Fort Nelson Incident” Chief Sharleen Gale gave a rousing speech, saying:
My elders said, you treat people kind, you treat people with respect… even when they are stabbing you in the back. So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourselves from the room.
Gale later asked LNG representatives to leave as well, and the event galvanized the BC aboriginal community. Since then, no fewer than 28 BC First Nation organizations have signed a declaration to put the facility on hold.
The Canadian federal government gave approval to the Northern Gateway Pipeline in June, and women of the Gitga’at Nation did not take it lying down. In protest, they stretched a 4.5 kilometer (2.7 mile) crochet chain across the narrow channel near Kitimat, where the export facility is proposed to be built.
“It’s to show that we’re prepared to do what it takes to stop them because we can’t let it happen. It’s the death of our community, our culture,” said Lynne Hill, who generated the idea.
You cannot eat money…you see the devastation of the oil sands: a huge part of that land is no good. What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to our children?
The US Northwest
Like their neighbors to the north, Washington Tribes have had major concerns over fossil fuel exports, not to mention the way they have been treated by proponents of the projects.
In 2011, the would-be builder of the Gateway Pacific coal terminal near Bellingham got into hot water with permitting agencies after it was discovered that they had begun construction without approval. Not only did construction crews destroy acres of sensitive wetlands, they also damaged local Lummi Nation burial grounds.
It was a not-so-subtle “accident” and was the last straw for many in the local tribal community. The Lummi subsequently burned a mock check from the terminal proponents at the site of the planned coal terminal. It was a pivotal moment for activism in the Northwest.
Opposition from the tribes can be a tremendous barrier for the coal, oil, and gas industries to surmount. Above and beyond their sovereignty, most of the Northwest tribes have specific fishing rights guaranteed to them in their treaties with the US government, rights that were subsequently reaffirmed and clarified by the Boldt Decision of 1974. Those tribes have firm legal footing for demanding access to their “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds, which include most of the places where fuel terminals would be located.
Other Puget Sound tribes have also made it publicly clear that they are firmly against coal exports. In April of last year, tribal leaders joined then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in the Leadership Alliance, a coalition against coal export.
Said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Melvin Sheldon:
When it comes to coal… the negative potential of what it does to our Northwest—we stand with you to say no to coal. As a matter of fact, the Tulalip say ‘hell no’ to coal.
Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and one of the state’s most influential Native American leaders, declared:
For thousands of years, Washington State tribes have fought to protect all that is important for those who call this great state home. We as leaders need to protect our treaty resources, our economies, and the human health of our citizens and neighbors.
The Nisqually Tribe likewise has submitted thorough public comment in opposition to a giant coal terminal planned for Longview, Washington. Beloved tribal leader Billy Frank, Jr., who recently passed away, was a persistent voice in opposition to Northwest fossil fuel exports. In one of the last things he wrote, he declared his solidarity with the Quinault Nation, who are fighting against a trio of oil terminals proposed in Grays Harbor Washington. Frank wrote:
The few jobs that the transport and export of coal and oil offer would come at the cost of catastrophic damage to our environment for years. Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, and neither do oil and fish, oil and wildlife, or oil and just about everything else. It’s not a matter of whether spills will happen, it’s a matter of when.
Networks of tribes, like the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), also voiced their strong concerns about what the proposals would be mean for their communities. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also declared its strong opposition to oil exports from the proposed site at Grays Harbor, highlighting fishing disruption in the Puget Sound, health problems in their communities, and pollution.
In fact, the 57 nations that make up the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians unanimously voted in May of 2013 to officially oppose all fossil fuel export facilities in the Northwest.
Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, may have put the tribal community’s view most clearly:
Our communities are wedged between the railroad and the river. We’ve got nowhere to escape. If we cannot escape, neither will the coal.
Lumley’s words are proving prescient. Last month, yet another Northwest coal export terminal was dealt what was likely a fatal blow. The Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit to Ambre Energy, which plans to ship coal from a site on the Columbia River. Among the most influential factors the state agency cited for its decision: tribal sovereignty.
The decision was, in some ways, recognition of the power that the region’s tribes and First Nations can exercise over the fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are cropping up across the Northwest. By asserting treaty rights and voicing cultural concerns, tribes are presenting a major barrier—are a key part of the thin green line—to a reckless expansion of coal, oil, and gas schemes.
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel on Thursday to stress that they don’t want the possibility of drilling off of the West Coast.
The Interior Department is developing an updated plan for its Outer Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, and the governors formally stated their opposition to the inclusion of any oil or gas lease sales off the coast as part of any new plan.
Govs. Jay Inslee, of Washington, Jerry Brown, of California, and John Kitzhaber, of Oregon, wrote that their three states “represent the fifth-largest economy in the world” and their ocean-dependent industries contribute billions of dollars to the region each year.
“While new technology reduces the risk of a catastrophic event such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, a sizeable spill anywhere along our shared coast would have a devastating impact on our population, recreation, natural resources, and our ocean and coastal dependent economies,” they wrote.
The governors, all Democrats, also stressed a commitment to develop a strategy to combat climate change.
“Oil and gas leasing may be appropriate for regions where there is state support for such development and the impacts can be mitigated,” they wrote. “However, along the West Coast, our states stand ready to work with the Obama Administration to help craft a comprehensive and science-based national energy policy that aligns with the actions we are taking to invest in energy efficiency, Oil and Gas Leasing Program alternative renewable energy sources, and pricing carbon.”
Inslee spokesman David Postman said that while there aren’t any current plans for West Coast leases, the governors want to ensure there aren’t any in the new plan.
LANDER, Wyo. (AP) – The first installment in a $157 million federal settlement began to pour into the Wind River Indian Reservation this week, as members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe started receiving $6,300 checks in the mail.
The impact of the cash infusion was almost immediately evident on the reservation and in surrounding communities, where many tribal members went to deposit their checks.
Riverton and Lander, both straddling the reservation border, were bustling. Banks saw long lines. Car dealerships and auto parts stores reported brisk business. And law enforcement in both communities was highly visible, posting cruisers at banks in what authorities said was an effort to protect tribal members cashing checks from would-be assailants.
Many tribal members welcomed the injection of money into a reservation long beset by poverty. Unemployment there is almost double the state average, while average family income lags far behind state and national standards.
But they also expressed trepidation that the money could lead to an increase in crime, and they worried that many tribal members might squander the once-in-a-lifetime payday.
“People need to be smart and budget their money,’’ said Randee Iron Cloud, of Ethete, who was with her husband, Norman, at the Atlantic City Federal Credit Union in Lander. “They need to think about the needs of the kids above all else.’’
The couple said they planned to use the money to pay down debt on their car and to take their five children on a trip to Albuquerque.
The settlement stems from a 1970s lawsuit brought by the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes against the federal government for its failure to properly collect mineral royalties from oil and gas development on tribal lands.
The total settlement is worth $157 million and will be split evenly between Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribal members.
Of the total, $10 million will be used to repair environmental degradation resulting from oil and gas operations.
Federal law requires that 85 percent of Native American mineral royalties be paid to individual tribal members, with the remaining 15 percent going to the tribes themselves.
The distributions to individual members varies by tribe, as the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone have different-sized membership rolls. Northern Arapaho members will receive $6,300 each, while Eastern Shoshone members are to receive $15,000. Eastern Shoshone members are expected to receive their checks next week.
Overton Sankey, who works at a local Head Start, said most tribal members have long prepared to receive their checks and made plans to save the money or use it for bigger purchases like cars.
While Sankey is not a tribal member, his wife is, and she received a check. The couple intend to use the money for home repairs, but not before going on a trip.
“We haven’t had a vacation in years,’’ Sankey said while playing the slots at the Wind River Casino. “We’re going to work on the house when we get back.’’
Businesses were bustling in Lander and Riverton. A parade of cars for sale lined U.S. Highway 287 approaching the Atlantic City Federal Credit Union in Lander. Inside the bank, Vice President of Member Services Kyleen West said the credit union had seen a steady stream of customers.
The bank was cashing checks from members and nonmembers alike. It would continue to do so until it ran out of money. A first pot of cash set aside to accommodate the settlements would likely be exhausted, West said, noting that a second installment was also due to arrive to meet the second round of checks.
As of midday Wednesday, all was going smoothly, she said. Local banks worked with the tribes in advance to encourage members to create bank accounts where they could deposit money. The bank has seen a rise in the number of new accounts as a result, she said.
“I have been very pleased with the way the tribes have worked with the banking industry, local law enforcement and the community,’’ West said.
In Riverton, Bobbi Higgs, manager of an O’Reilly Auto Parts, said the store was busier Wednesday than it is on strong Saturdays. Six cars for sale were stationed in the parking lot outside, an oddity in its own right, she said. Many of the new car owners then came into the store to buy parts, Higgs added.
“Everyone is selling what they can,’’ she said. In the adjacent Ace Hardware parking lot, a relatively new 35-foot camper sold quickly Wednesday morning, she said.
Law enforcement was ubiquitous in both communities. Police cars were parked outside banks, and officers stood by the doors.
Police officers from around the state were called in to help. Cruisers from Cody, Jackson and Green River were stationed in front of banks in Lander, while a trailer bearing the name of the Sweetwater County bomb squad helped form a temporary command center outside Atlantic City Federal Credit Union.
Lander Police Chief Jim Carey said the settlement had been well publicized, and authorities worried about outsiders who might potentially prey on tribal members cashing their checks.
“We want to send a message that anyone who wants to do violence to our citizens won’t be allowed to,’’ Carey said. “Our mission today is to prevent violent crime and make sure they can get their checks in a safe manner.’’
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com
The Arapaho and Shoshone tribes and the Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Land Management, signed a memorandum of understanding Feb. 25 in Fort Washakie.
Through the MOU, the parties said they will engage in a cooperative environmental program to promote compliance on oil and gas properties by lessees and operators on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
“This MOU is a good opportunity for all of us to start fresh, to be on the same page and to work toward the same goals,” said BIA acting Rocky Mountain regional director Darryl LaCounte.
Specifically, the MOU outlines a process and timelines for the parties to:
– review all ongoing oil and gas operations on the reservation with tribal ownership interest to identify actual or potential adverse environmental effects;
– identify prospective sources of federal funding to the tribes to support monitoring, inspection and enforcement;
– develop an environmental plan for oil and gas operations; and
– formalize a structure for future communications between the parties regarding environmental concerns arising from oil and gas operations.
“We look forward to working collaboratively with the Arapaho and Shoshone tribes, as well as with the BIA, to manage oil and gas activities on the Wind River Indian Reservation,” said BLM Wyoming state director Don Simpson.
For more information, call BIA realty officer Marietta Shortbull at 332-4639 or BLM resource adviser Stuart Cerovski at 332-8400.
Today Shell announced it was canceling its 2014 drilling in the Alaskan Arctic. This is a guest blog by Faith Gemmill, Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), on the court decision that forced Shell’s hand, and the Indigenous rights context behind it.
Last week the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the US government violated the law when it sold offshore oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. The decision stems from a lawsuit filed by a coalition of Alaska Native and conservation groups. Indigenous Plaintiffs included The Native Village of Point Hope, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope and Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), among numerous conservation groups. EarthJustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, represented our groups.
REDOIL joined this lawsuit because we strongly uphold and promote the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives and offshore development poses a very real threat to those rights in relation to the Chukchi Sea and Inupiat subsistence and that is unacceptable.
This decision is one that we celebrate. Although we’ve had legal victories in court skirmishes on this issue, we’ve been dealt political blows that favored Shell and ignored the rights of the Inupiat and their food security. This is another opportunity for those in decision making positions to realize that offshore drilling in this region is too risky, not only to Inupiat subsistence but to this critical ecosystem.
Indigenous Peoples have always viewed human rights and a healthy environment as fundamentally linked. The careful management and protection of the Arctic environment is a requirement for the enjoyment of Alaska Native human rights, particularly as they relate to the “subsistence” or “traditional” economy. Indigenous Peoples of Alaska have long fought for recognition of subsistence rights as a basic inherent fundamental human right. The Inupiat of the North Slope of Alaska continue to live the ancestral subsistence way of life, which is dependent on a healthy ocean ecosystem.
This right is recognized and affirmed in the international covenants on human rights. Article I of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights read in part:
In no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.
Proposed offshore drilling of the Chukchi Sea puts subsistence rights and multi-national companies at odds.
Though the subsistence rights of Inupiat was not the foundation of the ruling, it puts the impacts to those subsistence rights on the table again, because the impacts to the natural habitat and ecosystem of subsistence resources needs to be analyzed once again, and you cannot separate environmental impacts from subsistence impacts, for they are the same.
In this recent win, the Court ruled that the Department of Interior failed to adequately analyze the potentially dramatic environmental effects of the sale before offering the leases. It determined that the agency had analyzed
only the best case scenario for environmental harm, assuming oil development,
[this analysis] skews the data toward fewer environmental impacts, and thus impedes a full and fair discussion of the potential effects of the project.
The agency will have to revise or supplement its analysis for the lease sale once again and must reconsider its lease sale decision.
We believe that the lease sale should be cancelled. That would be the best decision that the US Government can make on this issue, for several important reasons. First is the relationship that the Inupiat have with the Chukchi Sea and the resources it provides the communities for their food security.
Mae Hank, Inupiat grandmother from the community of Point Hope was happy with the decision
With this court ruling; it has given me a sense of contentment for now that we have prevented another intent to drill in nature’s abundance of our food resources. With whaling season coming in a few months we will worry not, my heart sings with joy for this ruling we know there is justice!
The Chukchi Sea is home to several important Arctic species such as polar bears, walrus, beluga whales, bowhead whales, and seals. Therefore the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean is critical to Inupiat subsistence lifestyle. These vital subsistence resources that are intrinsic to the livelihood of Inupiat within the Arctic Oceans are at risk from pollution, noise disturbance, and spills. A major oil spill in the Arctic Ocean would be impossible to clean up and could have devastating consequences for the region’s ecosystem and communities.
Another factor to take into consideration is that Shell has proven that it has no capacity to drill in this region. In 2012 the company suffered severe setbacks and mishaps—including running one of its rigs aground, almost running its other rig aground, and incurring pollution and safety violations exceeding a million dollars, with investigations still ongoing. This should be taken into consideration, since the company itself suspended its program for 2013,acknowledging that it was not equipped to drill in this harsh Arctic region.
A final factor would be that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Indigenous communities in Alaska are already facing severe climate impacts. Why compound this with further oil extraction disrupting their food system? Barack Obama should take action to show he is still committed to act on climate change for the sake of future generations. The decision whether to affirm leases in the Chukchi Sea presents an important opportunity for the Obama Administration to take real and meaningful action to address climate change. He should cancel the leases and leave the oil in the ground under the sea, where it won’t spill or further warm the planet. Humanity would benefit from a decision to cancel the leases, but also the Indigenous peoples of the North’s food security would be assured, and an inevitable oil spill accident would be avoided in this critical ecosystem that is home to many threatened Arctic species.
Faith Gemmill is the Executive Director of Resisting Environmental Destruction of Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) REDOIL is a movement of Alaska Natives of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Eyak, Gwich’in and Denaiana Athabascan Tribes who came together in June 2002 in Cordova, Alaska to form a powerful entityto challenge the fossil fuel and mining industries and demand our rights to a safe and healthy environment conducive to subsistence. REDOIL aims to address the human and ecological health impacts brought on by unsustainable development practices of the fossil fuel and mineral industries, and the ensuing effect of catastrophic climate change. We strongly support the self-determination right of tribes in Alaska, as well as a just transition from fossil fuel and mineral development to sustainable economies and sustainable development.
The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council issued a news release Wednesday stating proposed oil and gas leases near Chief Mountain have been canceled. The mountain, located near the Canadian border and on the boundary between the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and Glacier National Park, is considered sacred by many of the Blackfeet people.
“The current proposed leases by Nations Energy, which are the subject of so much misinformation, were canceled on July 24, 2013 due to nonpayment by the company,” the tribal council news release states. “The intention of such leases was to explore an area of the reservation which is at least two miles from Chief Mountain and at least one half mile from the mandated buffer zone.”
The tribal council’s announcement comes three days prior to a planned protest in opposition to oil and gas development at the site. Reports that the council had approved exploration leases at Chief Mountain became public last week after a conservation activist posted lease documents purportedly obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) on his web site.
Included within those documents is a resolution signed by council chairman Willie Sharp, Jr. and acting council secretary Roger “Sassy” Running Crane reaffirming a prior resolution from January 3, 2013. The resolution approves the mineral lease development of 4,000 acres of tribal land by Nations Energy, LLC, with three wells to be developed within a five year primary term, the first to be drilled within 18-months of the lease signing.
Publication of these documents prompted a petition drive in opposition to the development, which had gathered more than 2,200 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.
The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council’s news release notes that as far back as 1982, nontribal people were prohibited from making incursions into a one mile buffer zone around the base of Chief Mountain, and that this protection was reaffirmed by tribal council action in 1992.
“The Blackfeet Tribal Business Council has always considered Chief Mountain as one of the most sacred sites on the Blackfeet Reservation,” the news release states. “This area was for spiritual use of the Blackfeet people only. This protection continues to this day and nothing has or will disturb this area, including any oil and gas development.”
It continues on to state that even if the agreement with Nations Energy had advanced to the drilling of wells, the tribe would have first had to complete an environmental and cultural resources study to see if the proposed wells would impact any Blackfeet cultural resources.
“However, since the leases no longer exist, this is not an issue,” the news release concludes.
The tribal council goes on reassert its “absolute right to develop its own resources on its own land.”
“The council is clear in its purpose to create a better economic environment for its people who currently suffer some of the highest rates of poverty and unemployment in the United States,” the news release states. “With that responsibility to better the lives of its people, however, comes the absolute mandate to do no harm to the tribe’s cultural sites, traditions and resources, including water. The two duties go hand-in-hand and this council will follow its oath and the Blackfeet Constitution to protect and defend its land and to responsibly develop its many and valuable resources.”
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.
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.
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!”
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.”