This past year saw wins for pipeline companies that had projects approved in Canada and the U.S., but an end to construction as usual as opponents stalled new projects — something that’s likely to heat up in 2018.
The problem of climate change became more severe in 2017, with historic floods hitting Ontario and Quebec, wildfires consuming western North America, and massive deadly hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria sweeping the Atlantic. Inuit elders noted extreme changes in northern Canada: the sun and stars are in the wrong place, the permafrost is collapsing, travel across the ice is becoming more treacherous, and rogue polar bears are prowling towns in search of food.
And as climate change intensified, the fossil fuel divestment movement gained steam, securing concrete victories by the end of the year.
Courts and regulators greenlit major oil pipelines
In January, newly minted president Donald Trump reversed former president Barack Obama’s decision on the $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline, granting a key easement it needed to pass under Lake Oahe, the very spot that thousands of people at Standing Rock had fought to keep free of oil. By the end of March, oil was flowing through the pipeline.
Bombshell reporting by the Intercept revealed in May that state police had worked with private security company Tiger Swan hired by Energy Transfer Partners to undermine protests at Standing Rock using counter-terrorism tactics.
North of the border in July, the Supreme Court of Canada granted permission for Enbridge’s Line 9 crude oil pipeline project to go forward in southern Ontario, through Chippewas of the Thames First Nation territory. The First Nation feared oil spills would threaten their land and water, and argued in court that the federal government hadn’t adequately consulted them. But the country’s highest court disagreed, paving the way for Line 9 to proceed.
November saw the final approval of the Keystone XL pipeline by Nebraska regulators only days after a massive oil spill on the existing Keystone line. Legally, regulators could not consider the spill in their decision to approve or reject the project.
Standing Rock spread
Where pipeline construction started this year, protests and sabotage followed.
In August, Makwa Camp, a protest camp resembling the early days of Standing Rock, sprung up in Minnesota with the goal of opposing Enbridge’s Line 3 expansion project.
Protests at pipeline construction sites in Wisconsin triggered arrests, though the numbers haven’t reached the scale of Standing Rock.
Meanwhile in British Columbia, a group called the Tiny House Warriors built small portable houses that they will position along the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline expansion route on Indigenous territory to stall and, they hope, stop construction.
In September, as construction continued on Enbridge’s Line 10 expansion project, an anonymous anarchist claimed responsibility for drilling holes and pouring corrosives into sections of pipe waiting to be put in the ground. While the activist claimed to be acting in solidarity with Indigenous people, Six Nations pipeline protester Todd Williams condemned the activist for using corrosives, calling it an “environmental concern.” Williams ran afoul of an injunction when he set rabbit traps along Line 10 work sites in order to call attention to Six Nations treaty rights.
In December, about 30 protesters blocked Line 10 workers from accessing a construction yard, the Hamilton Spectator reported.
As Indigenous protests sprung up on both sides of the border, VICE News obtained documents that showed Canada’s spy agency and national police force were watching. Documents show Canadian authorities were spying on Standing Rock and thought the protests had implications north of the border. And we obtained documents that showed the RCMP was watching as Indigenous protesters built a tipi on Parliament Hill on July 28.
Court battles and divestment
Red Fawn Fallis, a Standing Rock protester who is accused of firing a gun at police, appeared in court in December. Her trial will begin in Fargo on January 29 and is expected to be a rallying point for water protectors across North America who say the charges against her are unjust.
Although Canada’s federal government has approved Kinder Morgan’s $6.8 billion TransMountain pipeline expansion, the project will need to clear nine court challenges from First Nations, the city of Burnaby and the city of Vancouver before construction can begin. After a nail-biting provincial election in May saw the Liberal government fall, the NDP government supported by the Greens joined the legal fight against TransMountain.
Keystone XL, meanwhile, still faces a legal challenge by environmental groups who argue a 2014 environmental review of the pipeline was poorly executed, and therefore the presidential permit that allows it to cross the Canada-US border should be revoked.
As for Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline opposed by Makwa Camp, Minnesota’s Public Utility Commission is expected to approve or reject the project’s passage through the state in April 2018.
While pipeline showdowns loom in Canadian and U.S. courts, 2017 saw major wins for the fossil fuel divestment movement, which aims to hit the oil and gas industry where it hurts.
On the anniversary of the Paris Climate Accord, the World Bank and insurance giant AXA announced they were pulling billions of dollars out of fossil fuel investments.
The World Bank announced it was halting all investment in oil and gas exploration and production after 2019 — a move that means $2 billion less for the fossil fuel industry. The World Bank will continue to finance upstream gas “in exceptional circumstances …in the poorest countries.”
And Paris-based Axa Insurance, which manages about $600 billion, announced it is divesting roughly CAD $1 billion from “the main oil sands producers and associated pipelines.”
On December 19, in a bit of holiday cheer for the divestment movement, the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, called on the state’s $200 billion retirement fund to halt its investments in fossil fuels.
In a statement reacting to the news, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said, “Coming from the capital of world finance, this will resonate loud and clear all over the planet. It’s a crucial sign of how fast the financial pendulum is swinging away from fossil fuels.”