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Are pipeline protests the social fault line of our times


On both sides of the Canada – U.S. border, a troubling pattern of loud and even violent protest appears to be taking root when it comes to pipeline hearings and building. 

In Canada, when the armslength National Energy Board (NEB) opened its public session  in Montreal to review TransCanada Pipeline’s Energy East proposal, security and police had to be deployed at the outset of the proceedings when environmental activists violently charged at the podium threatening the staff and 3 memeber panel. The hearings were abruptly adjourned and within a week, all three members of the board resigned, leaving the pipeline’s future in limbo.
To be sure, oppososition to the panel had been a flashpoint for politicians and activists after it was learned that the province of Quebec’s fomer Premier and now lobbyist for TransCanada had previously met in private with two of the three panelists who would ultimately decide the project’s fate. The optics therefore were thought to be about concern over process. However the resignation of all panelists has exposed the protesters to their main goal: no pipeline approval whatsoever.
The Energy East pipeline was seen as an alternative to getting Alberta oilsands to global markets given President Obama’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline last November.80% of the pipeline already exists as a natural gas pipeline carrying product from Alberta to Montreal. It was built some thirty years ago and has seen a substantial decline in activity given that eastern Canada now gets a growing amount of its natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. 
More importantly, for eastern seaboard refiners and Alberta oil producers, the ability to extend the pipeline to Canada’s east coast with 1.1 million barrels daily, would not only see it’s stranded oil fetch international prices, an increase of $14 a barrel, would boost Canada’s economy by well over $20 billion annually. Considering Canada’s large revenue dependent social safety net which includes free, universal healthcare, its a gift horse that protesters and unsuspectiong Canadian seem willing to take for granted, to a degree. This week, the country’s largest province, Ontario began to acknowledge the harm done with its Green Energy Plan which saw electricity rates grow a punishing 140% in the past 6 years. Feeling the political heat, it offered some tax relief.
The fault lines between environmantalists and consumers couldn’t be clearer and despite the fresh memory of the Lac Megantic disaster, due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure alternatives, governments are now being pressured to intervene and choose sides.
This appears now to be the case concerning the North Dakota Pipelne or DAPL.
A much needed pipeline, approved by State(s) and Federal authorities and regulators, construction began last month on Energy Transfer Partner’s $3.8 billion, 1172 mile project, which would carry 470,000 barrels a day of light sweet oil across four states from the Bakken in North Dakota to major refining centres near, around and connected to other oil lines to the Midwest and Gulf Coast markets at Patoka, Illinois. Over the past weeks clashes involving nearby native groups, landowners and environmentalists have escalated. Native protesters claim the digging has disturbed sacred native burial grounds and threatens water supplies. After an initial injunction which was overturned last Friday by a Federal judge, the US Department of Justice withdrew its approval on a small part of the building route near a reservoir under the authority of the US Army Corps of Engineers.  
An uncertain outcome is common for both Energy East and Dakota Access, The precedent now set by the Obama Administration to reverse an existing approval in the face of vocal protests and the suspension of any future hearings for Energy East in light of the violence at Montreal, brings to the fore the reality that vocal, loud and even violent demonstrations are the means to overturn approvals.
Arbitrary rule breaking precedents based on the interests, views or beliefs of a determined minority over deliberation and agreement, is a serious act that places mob rule above the rule of law.  

Senior Petroleum Analyst, Canada

Dan is a skilled and noted bilingual (French and English) consumer advocate specializing in energy and current affairs. Known as Canada's “Gas Guru,” he founded to better help motorists anticipate the price of gasoline in advance across Canada. He has over three decades of experience in the petroleum industry, as a parliamentarian and an analyst.