Tar sands pipelines

Kinder Morgan faces growing opposition across North America

Tsleil-Waututh Nation takes its message to shareholders and meets with activists facing down oil and gas giant
Photo: Roy Luck

Opposition to Kinder Morgan is not limited to British Columbia. In fact, the effort by First Nations, municipalities, and environmental groups to stop the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific coast is just one part of a rising tide of resistance to the corporate behemoth that bills itself as “the largest energy infrastructure company in North America.”

That’s the takeaway for organizers who took part in a meeting of grassroots organizations Monday in Houston, Texas on the eve of the annual general meeting for shareholders of Kinder Morgan Inc.

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For the second year in a row, Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation has travelled to Houston to personally deliver a simple message to the company’s shareholders: “It’s not happening!” George, of course, is referring to his nation’s steadfast opposition to the Trans Mountain project, which would see a new pipeline built alongside the existing one that transports oil from Alberta to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C. The National Energy Board is set to rule on the proposal this month, after which the federal government will carry out an additional period of consultation before making a final decision by the end of 2016.

“This time we’re here to show them we’re not alone,” George told Ricochet by telephone Monday. “When we unite we’re stronger, and so this year we’re meeting with friends and allies from across North America. We’re learning so much.”

Kinder Morgan’s losing streak

In a press release from organizers, the meeting of the various campaigns against Kinder Morgan was cheekily billed as a "Pipeline Slayers Symposium.” This year, activists have reason to be confident. The giant is far from slain, but local campaigns have recently won a series of David vs. Goliath battles.

“Kinder Morgan is not a financially sound company.”

In April, Kinder Morgan suspended its Northeast Energy Direct project, a planned $3 billion gas pipeline, which faced widespread opposition in New England. That setback for Kinder Morgan came just after the company was forced to suspend the proposed Palmetto pipeline, which was to carry petroleum from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the Southeast states.

“Kinder Morgan is not a financially sound company,” Tonya Bonitatibus, an activist with Savannah Riverkeeper who lives in Augusta, Georgia and was part of the effort against the Palmetto Pipeline, told Ricochet by phone on Monday from Houston. “They’ve lost money in the last couple of quarters, and they’ve backed out of these big projects.”

The coalition that came together in Georgia saw conservative legislators siding with environmental campaigners in opposition to Kinder Morgan. Bill Hitchens, a Republican legislator in the state, explained his constituents’ opposition to the pipeline in an interview with Inside Climate News: "They believe God gave them that property and Kinder Morgan is going to come through and take it away from them through eminent domain so that they can make profit off of it. They just didn't believe it was right that they would have to give up their property to the largest pipeline company in the country that is making billions of dollars so they could make billions of dollars more."

“Basically the pipeline was stopped by a piece of legislation in the the state of Georgia that put a halt to Kinder Morgan’s ability to rely on eminent domain to expropriate private property,” Eugene Kung of West Coast Environmental Law told Ricochet by phone.

Kung travelled with Rueben George to Houston, and was impressed with the diversity of the coalitions who met Monday. He said the activists identified common trends, referencing examples of Kinder Morgan’s sometimes indelicate approach to communities across North America.

“That type of arrogance is kind of getting them in trouble and helping galvanize public opinion against them,” Kung said. “If I was a shareholder with Kinder Morgan, I would be very concerned with how they conducted themselves.”

New pipeline capacity “doesn’t make sense”

The meeting in Houston included local organizers who are familiar with Kinder Morgan and its corporate antecedents.

“Kinder Morgan is so arrogant and so invasive,” Benjamin Franklin, an organizer with Tar Sands Blockade who grew up in Houston, told Ricochet by phone. Franklin, who took part in the Monday meeting with activists, noted that the corporation was founded by former executives of Enron, the notorious energy company that became synonymous with corporate malfeasance: “The baseball stadium here used to be named Enron Field, and you still have public parks that have signs about Enron sponsorship.”

Franklin, who focuses on environmental racism and the public health effects of Big Oil’s ubiquitous presence in Houston, empathized with the plight of the people of another industry town, Fort McMurray, Alberta which has been devastated by wildfires.

"These pipelines are being overbuilt throughout North America. It doesn’t make sense."

“We have to transition to a better system,” Franklin said. “The corporations care about their bottom line. They don’t really care about you. You’re better off building sustainable and stable lifestyles than buying these sandcastles that will just get swept away.”

The showdown in Houston this week between activists and Kinder Morgan is one part of a growing global climate movement. “There’s an upswell of people fighting back,” Bonitatibus says, noting that this all takes place against the backdrop of the recently-signed Paris Agreement. “Canada and the U.S. have signed on to some pretty aggressive climate emissions goals, and in order to meet those we have to start marking some pretty serious decisions. These pipelines are being overbuilt throughout North America. It doesn’t make sense.”

With the NEB’s decision on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline looming, activists are ramping up the pressure. This Saturday, May 14, a protest in B.C. will include a kayak flotilla, aiming to “encircle the Kinder Morgan facility on the ground and in the water.”

From the Gulf Coast to Burrard Inlet on the Pacific, from Georgia to New England, the diverse movements against Kinder Morgan are becoming impossible for shareholders to ignore.

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