A group called the Justin Trudeau Brigade has stepped up the battle against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project.
According to founding member David Mivasair, the group has been staging daily blockades at the company’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby since the middle of January this year.
Starting sometimes as early as 5 a.m., protesters would block or delay the entry of construction vehicles and workers to the facility where oil tankers bound for overseas markets are loaded.
“It’s like a dance or a game, but it has consequences. It slows them down,” Mivasair told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
He related that police would come and tell them to leave, but this does not end the day for protesters.
“We leave, they [police] leave, we come back,” Mivasair said.
In December last year, the National Energy Board (NEB) issued an order allowing Kinder Morgan to begin work at the marine terminal as well as in Burnaby Terminal, which is the nearby tank farm where the pipeline terminates.
The improvement of the marine terminal and tank farm form part of the $7.4 billion expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
Kinder Morgan has yet to get the necessary permits to undertake full construction for the pipeline expansion.
“Westridge Terminal is ground zero,” Mivasair said.
By delaying work at the terminal, the Justin Trudeau Brigade aims to help slow down the completion of the project, increase losses by the company, and ultimately, make the project unviable.
In an affidavit submitted to the NEB, Michael Davies, vice president of operations with Kinder Morgan, said that it could cost the company up to $35 million in expenses for every month of delay.
Kinder Morgan also stands to lose at least $90 million in potential revenues for every month that the pipeline is delayed.
In the same affidavit, Davies acknowledged that delays could kill the project.
Davies wrote: “A delay of an indeterminate nature will create uncertainty regarding the Project’s future and the In-Service Date of the Project, potentially resulting in the failure of the Project.”
Mivasair said that hoisting banners will not stop Kinder Morgan.
“We have to stop their vehicles, stop their workers, stop their equipment, physically get in the way, and if hundreds of people will do that we can stop it,” he said.
On January 17 this year, Kinder Morgan announced further delays to the pipeline expansion project.
The company is now projecting completion by December 2020, a delay of three months from the previous September 2020 target.
The project was originally planned to be operational by December 2019, but Kinder Morgan has faced challenges in securing permits from local governments.
By first pushing back its December 2019 deadline to September 2020, Kinder Morgan stood to lose $810 million in revenues for the nine-month delay.
The latest snag that reset by three months the operational date to December 2020 could represent additional revenue losses of $270 million.
Work for the pipeline expansion is set to intensify this year.
In January this year, Kinder Morgan scored a major victory before the NEB when the board laid down a process for permitting disputes between the company and provincial and municipal authorities.
Under this dispute process, the energy company may be able to secure permits even though local governments do not agree.
On February 15, 2018, the NEB released decisions that will enable Kinder Morgan to start construction of a tunnel entrance on Burnaby Mountain.
The Justin Trudeau Brigade takes inspiration from the prime minister’s statement in 2013, which says that while government’s grant permits to projects, only communities can give permission.
The brigade had its beginnings in the fall of 2017, launching its first blockade in November, which later became more often.
According Mivasair, members have been blocking the entrance of the marine terminal Monday through Saturday since the middle of last month.
Mivasair is a retired rabbi, who sees his environmental activism as an extension of his former religious work.
Mivasair said: “I am protecting God’s creation, you know, the land, the water, the air, the creatures, the plants, the humans, everything, the birds, the fish, the whale.”
The group can be found on Facebook at @JustinTrudeauBrigade. They can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.