The fight against pipelines could ultimately go down in the woods off a remote logging road in northern B.C.
After all the public hearings are done, the regulatory permits issued, and the legal challenges exhausted, the battle against oil and gas pipelines may move to a Native camp near Kilometre 66 of the Morice River forest-service road.
To get to this place last summer, a Victoria woman known in activist circles as Zoe Blunt and many others travelled more than a thousand kilometres in a caravan from Vancouver to Houston, a small town in the Bulkley Valley.
From there, it’s a two-hour drive to a bridge where some members of the Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have set up a blockade against the coming pipelines.
“The gauntlet has been thrown down,” Blunt told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.
This spring, a call has gone out to fortify the camp. Volunteers are needed to help build pit houses and gardens. Blunt, a director of the Forest Action Network whose real name is Tracie Park, is organizing a team to work with the Unis’tot’en from May 6 to May 24.
“People are saying, ‘We’re not going to leave willingly. You will have to force us off,’ ” Blunt said. “They’ve drawn the line.”
The Unis’tot’en count as many as nine pipelines that may cross their territory, conveying heavy crude from the tar sands of Alberta and natural gas from the hydraulic fracturing—or fracking—fields of B.C. to the northwest coast in Kitimat.
These include Enbridge Inc.’s controversial Northern Gateway pipeline. Public hearings on the $6-billion project conclude in Prince Rupert on May 18.
Northern Gateway and the others will be preceded by the Pacific Trail Pipelines stretching 463 kilometres to deliver gas from the fracking wells of Summit Lake, B.C., to Kitimat. A joint venture of Apache Canada Ltd. and Chevron Canada Limited, the project was granted an environmental-assessment certificate by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office in 2008.
The pipeline is an integral part of the two companies’ plan to export 200 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas over a 20-year period, which the National Energy Board of Canada approved in October 2011.
Apache Canada didn’t grant the Straight an interview. In a February 25, 2013, news release, the joint-venture partners announced a $200-million benefits agreement with a consortium of 15 First Nations groups, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, in connection with the pipeline component of the LNG project.
No Unis’tot’en camp spokesperson was available for an interview before the Straight’s deadline.
When Blunt was in the camp in August 2012, she manned the coffee and tea station while others helped build a meat smokehouse, latrines, and a water system. She witnessed the Unis’tot’en turn away a forestry crew that came to clear the Pacific Trail Pipelines route.
Maryam Adrangi, an organizer with the activist group Rising Tide: Vancouver Coast Salish Territories, also spent time at the Unis’tot’en camp last summer.
“People in urban centres think of the North as this expansive land where no one lives, and I think going up really showed that, no, that’s not actually the case,” Adrangi told the Straight by phone. “This is land that people need to protect because people depend on it.”
Adrangi’s group is helping arrange transportation for volunteers going to the camp this spring. “It’s an essential and pivotal point,” she said of the Unis’tot’en resistance. “It means stopping the fracking operations that are destroying and polluting water in northeastern B.C. It means not allowing other pipelines that the PTP [Pacific Trail Pipelines] would pave the way for.”