Eco-defence & international solidarity: #2 the Coastal GasLink pipeline

The second in our 5-part series shining a light on major struggles against destructive mega-projects happening in different parts of the world, each involving companies with links to the UK (details of those at the end). For part one on the resistance to the Mountain Valley Pipeline, see here.

What is it?

A fracked, liquefied natural gas (‘LNG’) pipeline is being built by Canadian company Coastal GasLink (‘CGL’), from northeastern British Columbia’s gas fields to an LNG terminal in Kitimat on the country’s coast. From there, the gas will be exported to Asia. This terminal, called LNG Canada, is also currently under construction. LNG Canada is owned by a consortium of multinational oil giants, Shell (40%), Malaysian company Petronas (25%), PetroChina (15%), Mitsubishi (15%), and Korean firm KOGAS (5%).

A third associated project under construction is the Site C hydropower dam, which would provide electricity to the LNG Canada project. The publicly-funded dam would be built on Peace River, in the province’s north east. Coastal GasLink and another pipeline, Trans Mountain, are not the only pipelines being proposed in British Columbia. If built, they and their associated infrastructure are likely to ‘blaze a trail’ for others.

Image from Montreal Counter-Information

What’s wrong with the project?

Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people, whose land is crossed the pipeline, have been staunchly opposed to the project. Hereditary chiefs have refused CGL permission to carry out work and have called the project genocidal.

Aside from the devastating ecological impact of fracking itself, the pipeline would also cut through pristine old-growth forests, fragile wetlands, and severely-endangered caribou habitat. Conservationists say the plight of these caribou is caused by logging, oil and gas activity and hydropower. Yet in a bid to avoid blame for the animals’ impending extinction, Coastal GasLink – in collusion with the provincial government – have paid for a large-scale cull of wolves, who are caribou predators.

The Site C dam meanwhile would flood Indigenous land, including sacred sites and burial grounds, as well as agricultural land and the habitat of over 100 species. Site C has been described in a University of British Columbia study as the most ecologically-damaging project in recent Canadian history. Members of the West Moberly First Nations, who inhabit the lands along Peace River, are currently engaged in legal action against the project for treaty infringement.

How have people been resisting?

Pipeline construction began in 2019, but is way behind schedule. Like the Trans Mountain line (to come in this series), the Coastal GasLink project has thrust the ongoing fight for Indigenous sovereignty into the limelight and delayed the pipeline’s development. Wet’suwet’en people have been – quite literally – standing in the way, setting up structures such as the Unist’ot’en camp and Gidimt’en camp on the pipeline’s route through their territories.

In February 2020, heavily-armed police carried out provocative raids and arrests on some of the camps in Wet’suwet’en territory. Leaked documents subsequently showed lethal force had been authorised in the raid. The aggression triggered a wave of solidarity actions dubbed ‘Shut Down Canada’. Mohawks and other land defenders blockaded passenger and freight train lines in the East, paralysing the country’s rail network. This was followed by a succession of blockades along railway lines throughout Canada (map here), often in heavy snow. Occupations spread to ports, motorways and politicians’ offices. The combined blockades held up an estimated $425 million in cargo each day, according to the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters association. Dozens of people still face charges from the actions, and police and security have since maintained a constant presence in Wet’suwet’en territory, where they have been harassing land defenders.

There has been a recent upsurge in resistance as CGL cleared a Gidimt’en archaeological site, and is now trying to drill under the sacred Wedzin Kwa river on Gidimt’en territory. Indigenous land defenders have built a cabin in the pipeline’s path, and have been subjected to continued intimidation and violence – which eased off only on Canada’s ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ day, before swiftly resuming.

Elsewhere, others have rallied in solidarity under the cry of #AllOutForWedzinKwa, blockading Vancouver port and taking actions against CGL’s owners.

Since the sale of a large stake in CGL to US private equity firm KKR in 2020, some campaigners have turned their attention to this company. In September 2020, Facebook suspended hundreds of accounts associated with an online action against KKR, including those of major NGOs such as Greenpeace USA. In the UK, Wetʼsuwetʼen Solidarity activists occupied KKR’s London offices.

An Indigenous-led #DivestCGL campaign is currently calling on banks to pull out of the the project. The pipeline, LNG Canada terminal, and Site C dam are all behind schedule and are struggling with soaring costs, with LNG Canada recently complaining about the growing costs of the pipeline to its terminal.

Main companies

Coastal GasLink Pipeline Ltd is the owner and builder of the pipeline. It is owned by Canadian firm, TC Energy Corporation (formerly TransCanada, of Keystone XL notoriety); US private equity firm KKR; and AIMCo, a Canadian state investment fund.

Other companies involved

BC Hydro, a Canadian state-owned company, is developing the Site C dam. The LNG Canada export terminal is a joint venture between Shell, PetroChina, Petronas, KOGAS, and Mitsubishi. Law firm Fasken has advised CGL on ‘the implementation of an injunction order and engagement with Indigenous protestors regarding blockades’, and has worked with BC Hydro. The Canadian branch of the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright has also been providing legal services in support of the Coastal GasLink project. The banks financing the pipeline can be found here, with Royal Bank of Canada leading the way. Liberty Mutual are suspected of providing insurance services, since the company has insured all of TC Energy’s other pipelines.

Companies with UK offices

KKR, Shell, Petrochina, Mitsubishi, Fasken, Royal Bank of Canada (and many of the other banks listed); Liberty Mutual, Norton Rose Fulbright. Click on the links for details and addresses.

More information

Gidimt’en Checkpoint on Twitter; Unist’ot’en camp; Timeline of Wet’suwet’en struggles; Shut Down KRR; recent updates on It’s Going Down; Blockade Defense (to support and donate to blockade defendants); Wet’suwet’en Solidarity UK

Current call. Image: Gidimt’en Yintah Access

Blockade in Toronto. Image: No-one is Illegal

Image: the Unist’ot’en Camp

Unist’ot’en territory cut through by the pipeline. Image: the Unist’ot’en Camp