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Canadian Protesters Stopped an Oil Company from Drilling on Burnaby Mountain—for Now

Activists successfully put a stop to Kinder Morgan's work, but it might not be enough to permanently halt work on a pipeline.
December 2, 2014, 2:00pmUpdated on December 3, 2014, 1:45pm

Longtime forest campaigner Tzeporah Berman spreads word that Kinder Morgan is leaving Burnaby Mountain. Photos by Jackie Dives

This post originally appeared on VICE Canda

​After weeks of heated protests that saw over 120 people arrested, Texas oil giant Kinder Morgan packed up its drilling equipment and left British Columbia's ​Burnaby Mountain this weekend.

Kinder Morgan first kicked the anti-pipeline hornet's nest when it sent crews to cut down a bunch of trees in early September. The company wanted to test the feasibility of tunneling a pipeline through Burnaby Mountain, but the city of Burnaby immediately issued a stop-work order, claiming testing inside the conservation area violated city bylaws. The National Energy Board overruled that decision, which stirred up a group of indigenous land defenders, university professors, and environmental campaigners who began camping out at the worksite, standing in the way of workers.

Police in military gear remove a restrained 18-year-old from the injunction zone

The company has faced increasing public opposition to its proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which would enable it to transport 890,000 barrels of unrefined bitumen from Edmonton through Metro Vancouver to international markets. The proposal, which is still being reviewed by the National Energy Board, would triple the pipeline system's current capacity and dramatically increase tanker traffic along densely populated waterways. Opponents of the project call the NEB hearings "flawed" and have used civil disobedience to draw attention to the project's environmental risks and encroachment on unceded First Nations land.

Over several weeks, the drama on Burnaby Mountain began to snowball. Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrig​an said his council's federal court challenge "will be a war." Then several protesters, including Simon Fraser University professors Lynne Quarmby and Stephen Collis, were named in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. On October 30, the company sought a court order to stop protesters from obstructing the survey work. That injunction was granted November 14 and enforced by more than 60 RCMP officers beginning November 20.

Since then, a range of new and old activist personalities have crossed the police tape—some have been met with force, but most with good manners. First it was David Suzuki's relatives and a rogue senate page getting loaded into paddy wagons, then delegates from several indigenous resistance camps and the 90s Clayoquot Summer scene, and a couple of adorable grannies. Renowned authors and academics piled in. The cofounder of Greenpeace, too. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs crossed on Thursday, November 27—the same afternoon as several religious leaders.

The number of arrestees seemed set to climb even higher into the weekend, until BC Supreme Court Judge Austin Cullen took issue with Kinder Morgan's GPS coordinates. In the company's application to extend its court order to December 12, Judge Cullen highlighted discrepancies between the coordinates enforced by RCMP and the coordinates submitted by Trans Mountain. The judge essentially tossed out protesters' civil contempt charges and denied the company an extended injunction. Only a handful of protesters still face criminal charges for abuse and obstruction of justice.

Hundreds of people took to the mountain Sunday afternoon to celebrate Kinder Morgan's departure and the unexpected BC Supre​me Court decision. "Trans Mountain is disappointed we were not granted an extension to our injunction," reads Kinder Morgan's respo​nse from November 27. That injunction expired yesterday, December 1.

Daily marches up the mountain grew to several hundred people

Activists waved goodbye to Kinder Morgan helicopters hauling equipment on Friday, declaring a small but significant victory.

"It's so important to recognize we accomplished something here," reflected Mira Hunter, whose civil contempt charges have now been dropped. "It's a battle, but not the war."

Others on the mountain saw less reason for celebration: "The fact that Kinder Morgan was denied an extension on an injunction against the people is not even a victory, but a small stepping stone," responded 18-year-old Jakub Markiewicz, who pinned himself under a Kinder Morgan truck, spent five days in a tree, and was finally carried out of the injunction zone in stretcher-like RCMP restraints. "The injunction should not have been implemented in the first place."

Adorable grannies were among those arrested on Burnaby Mountain last week

Kinder Morgan is claiming its own small victory, having completed geotechnical testing at one of two planned drilling sites. "Trans Mountain is confident it has been able to obtain a sufficient amount of information from geotechnical and engineering studies to meet the Board's information requirements," writes Kinder Morgan Canada's VP Finance Scott Stoness in a letter to the NEB. Earlier Trans Mountain media releases stated two 250-meter deep boreholes were required for testing. A more recent company statem​ent says crews drilled to a depth of 183 meters at the first test site, and only 70 meters at the second site.

Kinder Morgan filed results to the NEB yesterday, and the review panel will ultimately decide if the testing was sufficient. With more public hearings to come in early 2015, there's a good chance we won't see anti-pipeline clashes like these again until the new year.

Follow Sarah Berman on ​Twitter.