Tribal Councils in U.S. and Canada Uniting Against Oil Sands Pipeline

kristy Sustainability News

It’s Time to Reconsider This Day!
We are honoring this day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day – please join us in doing the same today- and every day by supporting climate justice for Indigenous Peoples world-wide.

Sadly, we continue to celebrate the myths of discovery by honoring Columbus on October 12 in the United States. But the truth continues to emerge as more people learn about the genocide perpetrated on the Indigenous Peoples of the Carribean in the quest for weath and power.

The genocide continues to this day – as Indigenous Communities of Turtle Island suffer disease, loss of land, and subsistence resources. From the Canadian Tar Sands to the uranium mines of the Southwest – water, land and air are being destroyed and polluted- and are causing new and virulent cancers and dibilitating diseases.

The tireless efforts of our staff, organizers, partners and affliates are concentrated on climate and energy justice – be that in fighting against big oil, coal, uranium, and gas companies by lobbying our governments to limit and regulate out of control industries or for real investment in renewable, clean, and sustainable energy sources.

Please support our work by rejecting the myth of Columbus and this holiday and by making a donation so we can continue our work.

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Reconsider Columbus Day

Tribal Councils in U.S. and Canada Uniting Against Oil Sands Pipeline
Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States are singing the same tune in opposition to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline.

Last week, representatives from Canada’s First Nations traveled to Washington, D.C., to explain how mining of tar sands for heavy crude oil is causing severe health problems and environmental upheaval across their communities. They’ve also joined forces with Native American groups in the U.S., calling on tribal councils along the Keystone XL’s route to come out against the proposed pipeline.

Their concerns are being echoed on Capitol Hill by a pipeline safety organization that recently recommended to a congressional subcommittee specific safety measures to include in any potential pipeline legislation.

Calling All Tribal Councils

To build solidarity between Native Americans in the United States and First Nations in Canada, groups such as the nonprofit Indigenous Environmental Network are fostering cross-boundary bonds. The network already operates anti-tar-sands campaigns out of offices in Ottawa, Ontario and Bemidji, Minn.

Marty Cobenais, a member of the Red Lake Band of the Chippewa and a Minnesota-based organizer with the network, is doing much of the groundwork.

Tribes have varying reasons for rejecting the pipeline, Cobenais said, including that it potentially threatens the enormous Ogallala Aquifer or desecrates sacred lands on traditional homelands.

He estimates there are 15 to 20 tribal councils along the 1,375-mile section that starts in Montana and stretches through South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

“We want the Canada and U.S. tribes to stand in unity to fight this,” Cobenais said, adding that this is a prime opportunity to stand behind President Obama’s public statements about the need to wean the U.S. from fossil fuels. “We can’t allow a divide-and-conquer mentality to prevail.”

The tribes are rallying with green groups that are calling for pipeline standards to be upgraded and public notification to be expanded. Specifically, they are addressing safety issues, among them pipeline lifecycles, rules for abandonment, waivers for the thickness of steel pipes and maximum pumping pressure.

“When the pipeline can no longer be used, are they going to be removed?” Cobenais asked. “Right now abandoned pipelines are filled with what they call nontoxic chemicals, even though they haven’t disclosed what they are. We want them taken out. Otherwise, you have toxic waste fields crisscrossing America.”

For the most part, their demands are on the same page as the Pipeline Safety Trust, which monitors all types of pipeline issues. Officials from the nonprofit, based in Bellingham, Wash., are regularly called to Capitol Hill to offer testimony at oversight hearings.

Change the System, not the Climate!
Today is an International Day of Action for Climate Justice, Indigenous People’s Rights, and the Rights of Mother Earth. This day of action is just one of many social movement events that will happen leading up to the Conference of Parties (COP) negotiations on climate change in Cancun, Mexico this November/December. It also comes a little more than a month after the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina – an important date for social movements in the US to remember as we work toward climate and ecological justice.

This global day of action is part of a week of protests, demonstrations, forums, sit-ins, and other actions that will be carried out to:
Oppose the commodification of life, and the criminalization of migrants and of social struggles
Promote the defense of land and water and the right to live well
Warn of the imminent danger of environmental ecological catastrophe and identify those responsible
Demand amnesty for all indigenous leaders, social and environmental activists who defend the rights of peoples and Mother Earth

IEN is a member of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) as well as a founder of the Global Well Being Working Group. Within GGJ we’ve made the commitment to increase our own education on the politics of climate change disruption and the need for climate justice as we build to the international climate negotiations in Cancun in November 2010. Within GGJ, we affirmed the need to prioritize popular education among our membership. To help make this happen, Global Well-Being Committee members Jihan Gearon of IEN, Sara Mersha of DARE and Rose Brewer of Afro-Eco have put together a popular education-action toolkit that you can use to organize educational workshops, forums, media events and actions in your areas.


Email Jihan at [email protected], Sara at [email protected], or Rose at [email protected] with any questions about the toolkit, or with information on additional resources.

Email Jen at [email protected] with any questions on the press release or for support with media outreach.

House Passes Pipeline Oversight Bill, First Nations Reps “Educate” D.C.
Even though TransCanada is vowing that its Alberta–to-Gulf Coast Keystone XL oil pipeline will be unparalleled on the safety front, that promise still makes opponents wince after reviewing the arithmetic.

How can anybody guarantee that a 36-inch diameter, 1,702-mile pipeline buried four feet deep and delivering up to 900,000 barrels of heavy crude per day won’t leak, environmental organizations keep asking?

And they are not alone.

Although Congress doesn’t have ultimate “yea” or “nay” power on this particular $7 billion tar sands project, Keystone XL is on their radar screens as federal legislators try to figure out if and how they should strengthen the pipeline regulatory agency. Officially, congressional authorization over the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) expired Sept. 30.

A series of summertime, headline-grabbing ruptures along the nation’s 2.3 million-mile network of oil and gas pipelines—most notably in California and Michigan—has prompted legislators such as Rep. Mark Schauer, D-Mich., and Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, to promote pipeline safety measures. The House passed Schauer’s bipartisan bill Sept. 28, just before representatives adjourned to return home to campaign for the Nov. 2 midterm elections.

Speaking Up on Capitol Hill

“For the environmental community, this is one pipeline too many,” Marty Cobenais, a member of the Red Lake Band of the Chippewa, told reporters during a late September news conference in Washington, D.C. “Tar sands don’t fit in a clean-energy economy.”

Cobenais is a Minnesota-based organizer with the nonprofit Indigenous Environmental Network, an advocacy group with offices in the United States and Canada. For several days, he joined two First Nations leaders from Canada in making the rounds among decision-makers in the nation’s capital to talk about the harm tar sands have caused.

One of their most enlightening visits happened in the office of first-term Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Cobenais explained. “We educated her. We wanted her to know that this isn’t all bright and rosy like they make it seem to be.” Read More

Heavy Haulers From Korea to the Tar Sands
Lewis and Clark traversed part of the route that would one day become U.S. Highway 12 during their 1804-06 Corps of Discovery mission to the Pacific Ocean.

So did the Nez Perce Indians during the tribe’s epic 1877 flight on horseback from the U.S. Army.

Now two of the nation’s largest oil companies want to drive mammoth truckloads of refinery equipment along the narrow ribbon of spectacular mountain road that borders national forests, wild and scenic rivers, historic sites and campgrounds. Local residents are not pleased.

“This is something that weighs 600,000 pounds, is two-thirds the length of a football field and 30 feet high,”

U.S. 12 runs from Aberdeen, Wash., to Detroit. But the oil companies want to cross a stretch of it that is designated as either the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail or the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. For 100 miles it tightly borders the Lochsa and Clearwater, both designated Wild and Scenic rivers.

All of the equipment is built in South Korea and would be barged up the Columbia and Snake rivers to Lewiston, Idaho, the most inland seaport on the West Coast. From there, it would be loaded on special transports so wide they cover both lanes of the shoulderless road.

Each truck would move only at night but take nine days to cross Idaho and Montana. And, yes, the rigs would be 3 stories tall, more than 200 feet long, and eight times heavier than a loaded semi-truck.

Because the trucks will require a rolling road block, stopping traffic up to 15 minutes as they pass, locals fear that fire and ambulance services will be disrupted.

U.S. 12 is the only east-west road across Idaho for a 300-mile stretch from Interstate 90 in the north to near Sun Valley in the south. A truck accident that closed the highway would force detours of hundreds of miles….read more.

Peoples Assemblies on Climate Justice

The next major round of UN climate negotiations will be held in Cancun November 29 to December 10. The last one in Copenhagen failed miserably. Learn More

Enbridge’s Dirty Oil Habit Put on Display for Investors
Toronto Organizers Confront Pipeline Giant Over Tar Sands Projects

TORONTO – As Enbridge holds its investors meeting in Toronto’s financial district, Environmental Justice Toronto sent them a message about their dirty investments in fossil fuels. Grassroots organizers sent up a banner attached to helium balloons that read “Enbridge Invests in Oil Addiction.” The banner was visible through the glass front of the building, outside of which activists held up another banner that read “Community Resistance is the Cure.”

“When it comes to the tar sands, Enbridge is Canada’s pusher, pumping dirty oil through unreliable pipelines which are bound to spill,” said Taylor Flook, an organizer with Environmental Justice Toronto. “Averaging at 61 leaks per year for the past 10 years, Enbridge is celebrating over 600 leaks and breaks—and its investors need to know that. Enbridge pipelines are too risky.” Read More….

Oil sands should be left in the ground: NASA scientist
One of NASA’s top scientists has told a panel reviewing a proposed oil sands mine in northern Alberta that the resource should simply be left in the ground.

James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies says allowing new developments such as Total E&P Canada’s $9-billion plan to build the Joslyn North mine would make it too hard to manage the impact of climate change.

“The simple message is the oil sands may appear to be gold. We do need energy and there’s a lot of potential energy in the oil sands,” Mr. Hansen said Tuesday during a break from public hearings in Sherwood Park, Alta.

“But it is fool’s gold because it’s going to be clear and understood within a reasonably brief period of time that we cannot exploit unconventional fossil fuels like tar sands and tar shale. If we do, we’re going to have to suck the CO2 back out of the atmosphere and the estimated cost of doing that is $200 to $500 a tonne of carbon.”

Hollywood director James Cameron came to a similar conclusion when he toured the oil sands last week. He said the resource could be a gift to Alberta and Canada in an energy-starved world, but could become a curse if not handled properly.

But Mr. Hansen, sometimes dubbed the godfather of climate-change science, goes even further. He said that burning the Earth’s conventional oil has already contributed to a dangerous level of heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Adding oil sands crude and new coal supplies to the mix would be too much for the atmosphere to bear.

“We should not develop the unconventional fossil fuels. Those fuels – coal and tar sands – are so dirty and have such large regional negative consequences that it only makes sense to leave them in the ground.”

“It’s not that the governments don’t know [about the consequences], but the governments are not doing anything,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to get the courts to order the governments to give them a plan for phasing down emissions at a rate that allows a stabilization of climate.”

Forging ahead with new developments foists the environmental costs on future generations, he concluded.

“This whole issue – carbon dioxide and climate – is a matter of inter-generational injustice where the current generation is getting the benefit of burning the fossil fuels and the consequences occur primarily with young people and future generations just because … it takes time for the largest effects to occur.”

The Total proposal would see the company develop a 5,400-hectare site adjacent to the community of Fort McKay along the Athabasca River north of Fort McMurray. The mine would eventually produce 100,000 barrels of bitumen a day and employ 1,650 workers during construction and 600 during operation. Read more….

Minnesota and Alberta Tar Sands
A September 22 forum at St. Thomas University, Alberta Tar Sands: Minnesota’s Dirty Oil Secret explored Minnesota’s dependence on the oil sands of Alberta.

Several petroleum reserves below the surface of Alberta’s north-eastern boreal forest cover a surface area of 140,200 sq. kilometers–roughly the size of New York State. The reserves are commonly referred to as oil sands as much of the recovered material consists of sand, clay and inorganic material, while the rest contains a tar-like substance called bitumen, from which synthetic oil can be derived. A 2009 Reuters article said of the process that, “developers must blast the gooey crude with large amounts of energy-intensive steam to separate the oil from sand They burn large amounts of natural gas, emitting volumes of carbon dioxide in the process.”

According to the government of Alberta, the recoverable oil within the sands amounts to nearly 171 of the estimated 178 billion barrels of oil in Canada, establishing the northern nation as the second most oil rich in the world. Due in part to the U.S. portion of Enbridge Inc.’s Alberta Clipper pipeline system, which stretches from Fort McMurray, Alberta to Chicago, Illinois, much of Minnesota’s oil imports comes directly from Canada. Canadian oil accounts for up to 80 percent of Minnesota crude oil imports, according to the Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The forum featured presentations from Simon Dyer, program director at the Pembina Institute; Clayton Thomas-Muller, author and activist of the Indigenous Environmental Network; and Michael Noble, executive director of the St. Paul non-profit, Fresh Energy.

“Oil sands represent a decision point for North America and the world,” said Dyer in a March 2009 National Geographic feature, “Are we going to get serious about alternative energy, or are we going to go down the unconventional-oil track? The fact that we’re willing to move four tons of earth for a single barrel really shows that the world is running out of easy oil.”

Clayton Thomas-Muller, an indigenous rights activist, cited the correlation between a study published in July 2010 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which found arsenic, mercury, copper, chromium, nickel, selenium, beryllium, lead, cadmium, silver, zinc, antimony and thallium, in the Athabasca River downstream from a dig site and the indigenous residents of Fort Chipewyan who were recently found to have elevated rates of cancer by the provincial cancer board.

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