First Nations opened two new legal fronts against Canada’s two biggest pipeline companies, challenging industry leaders Enbridge (annual revenue $32.9 billion) in Wisconsin and TransCanada Corporation ($10.2 billion) in northern Ontario.
The most audacious move was against Enbridge, with the Bad River band of Chippewa in Wisconsin declining to renew almost a dozen easements that allow the company’s Line 5 pipeline to cross 20 kilometres of tribal land along the south shore of Lake Superior. The line, which transports Canadian oil and natural gas liquids to near Detroit, has been in place for 64 years. Enbridge had been negotiation since 2013 to renew the leases. The band wants the Line 5 segments on those parcels of its land removed.
Enbridge’s vice-president of U.S. operations Brad Shamla told the Associated Press he was “surprised” by the band council resolution, but the community was ready with an explanation.
“We depend upon everything the Creator put here before us to live a good and healthy life,” Bad River Chairman Robert Blanchard said in a news release. “These environmental threats not only threaten our health, but they threaten our very way of life as [Chippewa]. We all need to be thinking of our future generations and what we leave behind for them.”
Other easements held by Enbridge on the Chippewas’ land run until 2043—or in perpetuity.
In a semi-related development, Enbridge delayed closing its acquisition of a minority position in the Dakota Access Pipeline until the end of March to allow the line’s builders, Energy Transfer Partners LP, more time to meet several conditions, E&E News [subscription] reports. One of them is that ETP acquire an easement from the U.S. federal government to complete a crossing beneath the Missouri River that has been held up for months by Indigenous and other resistance.
Meanwhile, two northern Ontario First Nations have filed suit and sought an injunction against #2 Canadian pipeliner TransCanada, the National Observer reports, for “doing and allowing damaging physical work on a 30-kilometre stretch of the pipeline that runs through their traditional territories,” without fulfilling its Constitutional obligation to consult them. The Aroland and Ginoogaming First Nations also name the National Energy Board and the government of Canada as defendants in their suit.
TransCanada planned to begin digging up sections of its Mainline pipeline that cross the two nations’ traditional territories this month in order to check its condition—and if necessary repair it—before converting it to carry diluted bitumen instead of natural gas as part of the company’s proposed Energy East project.
“The digs will likely cause impacts on Aboriginal and Treaty 9 rights to harvest (hunt, fish, trap, gather plants and medicines) and to protect burial grounds and other cultural heritage sites and values,” said Kate Kempton, a lawyer for the communities, in a statement. “They will cause impacts to the First Nations’ culture, sacred relationship to the land that is at the core of their identity as Indigenous communities, and on their ability to continue to survive with the land.”
Kempton noted that neither TransCanada “nor the NEB, nor Canada, even admit that a duty to consult and accommodate under the constitution is owed. TransCanada seems to take the position that since the pipeline was approved and first built starting in the late 1950s, before Aboriginal peoples’ rights were ever considered, that any physical work on the land about the pipeline can be done without respecting such rights under the law today.”
TransCanada said it had agreed to postpone work scheduled to begin next week until January 25.
Fifty Aboriginal groups from Canada and the United States have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion, promising to support each other’s fight against further development of tar sands/oil sands projects in their territories.