Kinder Morgan leaves through back door

By Pete Rockwell, January 2013

Is Victoria just too darn cantankerous for pipeline PR personnel...and review panels?

Energy giant Kinder Morgan wants to build a new pipeline from Alberta’s tar sands to Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet. This would facilitate pumping solvent-diluted bitumen over the Rocky Mountains and across southern BC to Westbridge Marine Terminal, where it would be loaded onto oil tankers. Oil tanker traffic—through Burrard Inlet, past Vancouver, across Georgia Strait, through the Gulf and San Juan Islands, past Victoria, and out the Strait of Juan de Fuca—would increase by 500 percent. Preceding their application to the National Energy Board for this project, Kinder Morgan is holding “public information sessions” in various places along the proposed route. I decided to attend the one held on December 5 in a back room of Saanich’s Cedar Hill Recreation Centre.

Walking towards the building, I started thinking about the dire warnings that I’d read recently about the effects of global warming: about heat waves and droughts and mega-storms. About melting ice. About the end of civilization. These warnings came from surprising places: the Pentagon and the World Bank, among others. That morning, at the Doha climate talks, Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN, said “I personally believe we’re dealing here with a threat [global warming] to the future of our planet that is rivalled in its cataclysmic effects only by thermonuclear conflict.” 

So why are we talking about more pipelines pumping more oil to sell and burn at a time when, clearly, we should be burning less of it? OK. That’s what I was going to ask if I got a chance at the info session.

I stepped out of the dark and the rain into the covered entryway of the rec centre. People opposed to the pipeline project handed out leaflets and blue felt “water drops.” A woman came out of the building carrying a folding table and some leaflets; she’d been told by someone in a uniform she couldn’t set up an information table at the information session. 

Inside, just outside of a small and very crowded room where everybody was talking at once, I was greeted by a young woman wearing a green zip-up fleece jacket. Her tag said her name was Denisa. I launched into my question about why are we even considering pipelines in view of…when she informed me that she was “media relations liaison” and couldn’t answer any questions about the pipeline project. 

Just inside the door the cacophonous din grew, and I noticed that about every third person was wearing a green zip-up fleece jacket. Green. Was this a taunt? A challenge? I asked “communications,” a woman standing behind a kind of check-in table, why so many green jackets? “They’re specialists…we’ve got experts on operations, marine, and environment.” She also had a green jacket on. Would she answer my question? No, she “wasn’t expert.” 

Around the perimeter of the room were placed tripods holding placards with pictures and talking points on them. They had headings like “identifying route options” and “engagement.” There were too many people in the way to read the small print. OK, where’s the environment guy? “Communications” pointed him out and I edged my way through the crowd. 

Eventually I got close enough to hear random parts of what was being said. The environment specialist was talking to someone who was writing things in a little notebook and it didn’t look like it was going to end anytime soon, so I started milling around through the crowd. 

The people in the green jackets were talking all at once and gesturing with their hands. It was hard to hear much in the way of specific information. There was a logo and the words “Trans Mountain” on the back of each jacket. Like some kind of team. I overheard a couple of comments from people not wearing green jackets. Like: “It’s a sell job,” and “I thought they’d have a panel and we’d have an opportunity to ask questions and then other people would listen, but no….”

The din was penetrated by a First Nations woman who announced that August Thomas and some of his family members would perform First Nations’ dance and song. This called to my attention the fact that none of the land housing the night’s meeting or the proposed pipeline has been ceded to anyone. Energetic drumming, singing and dancing ensued in space created by all present withdrawing to the periphery of the small room.

After the drumming, thinking about leaving, I went into the hall. I glanced back through the glass wall. Something had changed.

The headings on the posters had changed. In fact the posters had been replaced with ones that said things like “criticism of Kinder Morgan’s public information sessions” and “no pipelines.”

I went back in. It was still hard to get through the door. People, mostly young, were sitting on the Trans Mountain placards. The transition had been done quickly, quietly. A TV team was interviewing two young women, the reporter sounding kind of exasperated, as if some sacred protocol had been violated. Greg Toth, project director for Trans Mountain, the head green jacket, was saying this wasn’t the right way to register opposition to the project and that the information session was over. All the other green jackets were being ushered out the back door by a man in a black overcoat.

They all ended up in another small room, Art Room 2. They entered through its back door. At the front door of Art Room 2, people were trying to talk the Kinder Morgan people into returning to Art Room 1 to engage in a public conversation with the people who had set up an open microphone. The Kinder Morgan people declined the invitation and left the building. Using the back door. 

Meanwhile, people were taking turns at the microphone in Art Room 1. Anyone was welcome to speak. I heard one cite the inevitability of oil spills. Another was opposed to the whole idea of promoting tar sands oil due to the environmental damage it does and its contribution to global warming.

Kinder Morgan issued a statement the next day. They said they were concerned about their safety and that’s why they left. I didn’t see anything to warrant their concern. I couldn’t help noticing that the people who replaced Kinder Morgan’s “presentation materials” with their own, were mostly a generation younger than those presenting their case for more pipelines to sell more oil. These young people too were concerned with their safety. Ours too.

 

Northern Gateway Community Hearings will take place in Victoria Jan. 4 and 5 and Jan. 7 to 11 at the Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Hotel. Citing “a history of protests around the project in Victoria and Vancouver,” the Panel is prohibiting the public from attending these hearings (unless already registered to speak). Instead, the public can attend live video screenings three kilometers away at the Ramada Hotel, 123 Gorge Road East.

Pete Rockwell is a photojournalist living in Victoria.