Escalation of anti-oil and gas activist tactics has frightening implications

David Suzki

David Suzuki warns pipelines will be ‘blown up’ as opponents become more extreme. Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick


Anyone who’s been paying attention to the increasingly fraught battles over oil and gas projects has seen a decided shift in the strategies employed by industry opponents.

While peaceful protest by earnest citizens remains the primary vehicle of dissent, and is rightly protected by our constitution, there is a growing edge to the tactics employed by professional activists, which have become more and more extreme, threatening our country’s economic well being as well as the health and safety of the public.

Troublingly, permissiveness of violent and extreme action to counter fossil fuel projects is becoming more mainstream, with Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki stating last weekend that “the next stage after this [is] there are going to be pipelines blown up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on.”

His statement follows London’s the Guardian on Thursday, Nov. 18 publishing a column by activist and author Andreas Malm, called “The moral case for destroying fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Malm, who wrote the controversial book How to Blow Up a Pipeline, argues that sabotaging equipment used in the construction of even legally permitted projects is a moral imperative.

“We could destroy the machines that destroy this planet. If someone has planted a time bomb in your home, you are entitled to dismantle it,” he wrote.

“This is the moral case which, I would argue, justifies destroying fossil fuel property. That is completely separate from harming human bodies, for which there is no moral case.”

Hours after Malm’s column was published, Mounties in B.C. began a “rescue mission” after 500 workers, including members of the Wet’suwet’en community, were trapped following the erection of three blockades on the Morice River public forest service road by activists, blocking all exits and access to two lodges while cutting off access to food, water and vital medical care.

Activists allegedly used stolen heavy equipment to fell trees and, in at least one case, tear up a portion of the road. When RCMP moved in to reopen the roadway, one was blocked with a crushed van and another vehicle that was set on fire.

Following the raid, RCMP arrested 14 people for breaching a Supreme Court of BC injunction that prevents obstruction of the road.

In a statement, Chief Superintendent John Brewer said police made the decision to intercede because workers trapped in the camp were “nearing the end of their essential supplies.”

“We have serious concerns that a number of individuals from out of province and out of country have been engaging in illegal activities in the area, such as falling trees, stealing or vandalizing heavy machinery and equipment and causing major destruction to the forestry road, all in an effort to prevent industry and police from moving through,” he said.

While Malm acknowledges there’s no “moral cause” for harming people, the escalation of activist tactics is absolutely putting innocent people in jeopardy.

A few recent examples:

  • Three weeks before the latest flare up by CGL opponents, activists allegedly damaged and stole heavy equipment, in some cases by force, according to TC Energy. They then went on to block the only access to a work camp with 500 people. According to a news release from the Likhts’amisyu, one of five bands within the Wet’suwet’en Nation, hereditary Chief Dini ze’ Dsta’hyl was arrested and then released after “decommissioning” 10 pieces of heavy construction equipment “in observance of Wet’suwet’en trespass laws.”
  • Shortly after that arrest, anarchist group Montreal Counter-Information, posted an anonymous video taking credit for smashing the windows at five RBC branches in the Quebec city while using a fire-extinguisher filled with paint to vandalize the facade of another in solidarity with activists opposed to CGL. They also implied the potential targeting of RBC employees. “If RBC wants to f— around, RBC is going to find out. The institutions, companies, and individuals responsible for ecocidal industry have names and addresses. RBC branches, ATMs, CEOs and board members are no exception,” the video said, posting a list of RBC executive members. RBC is one of the primary lenders for CGL.
  • In October, the FBI joined an ongoing police investigation in Michigan after the Line 5 pipeline project, which connects western Canadian petroleum to refineries in eastern Canada and the U.S., was tampered with by protesters, forcing it to briefly shut down. An unidentified, masked individual crawled under a security fence and used a pipe wrench to close a safety valve, authorities said, prompting Enbridge to temporarily close the critical pipeline due to the “reckless and dangerous” interference.
  • In September, a worker on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby was knocked unconscious by a falling tree branch while protesters were doing a “tree-sit” aimed at stopping the federally backed project from removing obstacles on the route. A few months earlier, an activist dubbed “Dr. Anonymous” embedded galvanized spikes in several trees to make them difficult to remove. Similar tactics have historically been used by logging protesters and have resulted in injuries to workers.
  • Over the summer, nearly 180 Line 3 protesters in Minnesota were arrested after “an extensive amount of damage” to equipment being used by Enbridge on the now completed project. Some 300 protesters assembled at a pumping station and allegedly began trying to scale the fence with ladders. The company said 43 employees on site were unable to escape the property after they were locked in by protesters. The local sheriff’s department said in addition to the damaged equipment, protesters left behind garbage, feces and a large boat that they had chained themselves to.
  • In August, one of two women accused of using shunts on railway tracks near Bellingham, Washington that could have caused a train derailment pleaded guilty to terrorism charges. A month later, her accomplice was convicted as well, and both now face up to 20 years in prison. Authorities believe the actions were done in opposition to the CGL pipeline. The FBI is investigating at least 41 incidents of railway sabotage in Washington state dating back to January 2020, including one last December that saw a train derail in Custer, spilling 130,000 litres of crude oil and prompting the evacuation of 120 nearby people.

Protesters opposed to oil and gas projects certainly aren’t new. What is new are the increasingly violent and destructive tactics being employed by a few that are putting innocent people in harm’s way.

In all the cases documented above, the projects have gone through all the necessary legal and regulatory processes, which in Canada have grown more rigorous in recent years and include unprecedented consultation and collaboration with affected Indigenous communities.

In the case of CGL, while activists have styled themselves as defending the rights of impacted Indigenous communities, they tend to ignore the fact that all 20 elected First Nations along the 670-kilometre pipeline route from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the LNG Canada terminal on the coast at Kitimat (including five Wet’suwet’en bands) support the project and have signed agreements that engage them in development.

As well, more than one-third of work so far has been conducted by Indigenous people, with $825 million in contracts awarded so far to Indigenous and local businesses, according to Coastal GasLink.

Even more puzzling from the standpoint of activists who claim to be taking action to help battle climate change, is that fact the same natural gas that will eventually flow through CGL to the still under construction LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat, BC, can make a real difference in helping to reduce global emissions.

With much of Asia still heavily reliant on coal, switching to cleaner burning natural gas can have a significant impact on lowering greenhouse gas emissions. According to a June 2020 study published in the Journal for Cleaner Production, replacing coal power with natural gas from Canada in China could reduce emissions by up to 62 per cent.

Canada is a proud democracy and any healthy democracy needs debate and healthy conversations about our future and the best way to approach it.

Violence when used to further an anti-oil and gas agenda is morally wrong, and has the potential to seriously harm citizens.

And the potential implications are frightening. 

This article first appeared on the Canadian Energy Centre’s website on Nov. 22, 2021.

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