Volume 5, Number 3
Fall 2003

Special Issue on Energy and Wilderness

The Energy Onslaught: The Impact of the Bush-Cheney Energy Plan on Canada’s Wilderness

Lower Churchill River: More hydro on the way?

A Word from the President

Call for SCC Award Nominations

Notes from the Executive Director

The Rupert River Sacrificed for Greed

Newsflash for Hydroelectric Proponents: People Do Live in Northern Manitoba’s Boreal Forest

RIO: Report on International Obligations

Action Alert: First overview of new Large-scale national threats by energy mega-projects

Planet by the Numbers...Exploiting Canada for Oil and Gas

Coastal Oil and Gas: defending a moratorium on one coast; fighting to win one on another!

Pipeline to Cross Site for Potential National Marine Conservation Area in BC

The Castle Wilderness: A Missing Link

Genocide of the Dene: The Proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline

Mackenzie Valley Pipeline: A disguised subsidy to the Athabasca tar sands

Membership and Donations

The Energy Onslaught:
The Impact of the Bush-Cheney Energy Plan on Canada’s Wilderness

We have a profound problem. The US Administration has an energy plan; Canada has none. The US Administration’s energy plan is all about boosting the supply of cheap energy. While Canada has parted ways with the US Administration on Kyoto, we are, de facto, part of the expansionist energy planning of Bush and Cheney. In a real sense, Canada is becoming “America’s Gas Tank.”

The US announced their energy strategy in 2001 which was largely developed by Vice-President Dick Cheney and the large fossil fuel and nuclear industry companies. Capitalizing on the California energy crisis, which had been brought on by the market manipulations of another close Bush crony, Enron’s Ken Lay, the US Administration called for more of everything — coal, oil, gas, nukes. The only energy item excluded was energy conservation. As Cheney said, “While conservation may be a personal virtue, it has no place in an energy strategy.” Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources at the time, Ralph Goodale, commented that conservation was an essential part of the energy planning of “any intelligent society.” Where will the US find the vast amounts of energy it demands for its massively inefficient and polluting economy? George W. Bush has stated, “We’ve got a plan to make sure that gas comes — flows freely out of Canada into the United States.”

Without ever having analyzed the environmental and social impacts of becoming locked into the US Administration’s demands for more energy, escalating greenhouse gases and trans-border smog, Canada has become an ever more significant energy exporter to the US. Since 1990, Canada’s oil production has increased by 47%, with 59% of total production being exported. Canada’s gas production has increased by 69%, with 57% of that being exported. Canada has now outpaced Saudi Arabia as the number one foreign supplier of oil and gas to the US.

Virtually all of our energy exports go to the US. This level of energy exporting must continue at the same, or growing, proportion under the terms of the energy chapter of NAFTA. It is called “proportional sharing” and it means that if Canada ever decides to reduce production, we are committed to maintaining exports to the US to the same proportion of our over-all production. Increasingly foreign companies, largely based in the US, own much of Canada’s energy industry. US energy companies Duke and Devon have bought more than $28 billion worth of Canadian energy companies. Conoco bought Gulf Canada for $7 billion. Hunt Oil of Texas is trying to explore in coastal Cape Breton, while El Paso has proposed a 1,200-kilometre offshore gas pipeline from Nova Scotia to New England. Increasingly, Canada’s energy planning will be determined in Houston.

We know that the rejection by the US Administration of Kyoto and greenhouse gas reductions are a threat to the planet through further destabilizing impacts of climate change. But in addition, what does America’s energy appetite mean for Canadian wilderness? This little examined question points us to the single largest threat to Canadian wilderness. On the drawing board are projects threatening pristine wilderness areas – from the Rockies to the Arctic, from coastal Nova Scotia to the Queen Charlotte Islands, to vast areas of Canada’s boreal forest threatened with flooding from major hydro developments. These plans are shown on the map in our centrefold. This map is an early draft for the work we are doing to develop a more complete picture of the energy threats to wilderness. If you know of a development, not yet pictured on our map, please let us know as we work toward a final product.

Sierra Club of Canada supporters know that we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Further, we know that large scale hydro is not “green” energy and produces a potent greenhouse gas, methane. We know we must reduce greenhouse gases, and to a far greater degree than our current Kyoto commitments. When we add to those imperatives the need to protect the Castle Crown wilderness, the Mackenzie Valley and the Rupert River, we make an even stronger case for an independent Canadian energy policy, one that conserves both energy and wilderness.

Elizabeth May

Sierra Club of Canada and the Natural Resources Defense Council teamed up to write a report, from which most of the information in this article is drawn. Thanks to Matt Price and John Bennett for their work on America’s Gas Tank: The High Cost of Canada’s Oil and Gas Export Strategy, available through the SCC national office, or

Lower Churchill River
More hydro on the way?

The development of further hydroelectric dams on the Lower Churchill River, Labrador, has been a gleam in the eye of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for over a decade. Newfoundlanders continue to be resentful of the deal signed with Québec in the 1960s to develop the original Churchill River project in Labrador, a long-term fixed-price contract that generates hundreds of million dollars of profit annually to Québec as it resells the electricity in New England.

After failing to re-open that contract, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, is seeking to rectify the situation by developing new hydro projects further downstream, at Gull Island and Muskrat Falls, and to ensure that this time around the province has a better negotiator. In the 1990s there was even the cockamamie idea to bring the electricity across the Strait of Belle Isle to the Island of Newfoundland, to power a mighty smelter of nickel ore from Voisey’s Bay.

The provincial bigwigs have always keenly sought ways to exploit Labrador for its abundant natural resources, while ensuring that the profits are generated closer to St. John’s. The people of Labrador are not amused. But not even the silver-tongued Brian Tobin was able to coax the federal government to cough up more than $1 billion for this boondoggle, as a so-called “climate change mitigation” measure.

In St. John’s, the Lower Churchill project continues to be promoted as “green power”. Never mind that the reservoir to be flooded, although not large by mega-project standards, would nevertheless drown some of the best forests in Labrador. (Labrador is big, but much of it is tundra and barrens. The richest forests and most diverse wildlife habitat are found in the river valleys.) Never mind that the project will not help Canada meet its Kyoto commitments, since the electricity would simply be sold to the US. Never mind that the carbon lost through deforestation will count against Canada’s Kyoto targets. Never mind that the government promoters inevitably fail to call attention to these drawbacks. Instead, what we hear is same cry that went up when the Hibernia platform was under construction: “Never mind, me sons, there’s concrete to be poured!”

Martin von Mirbach
National Conservation Director, SCC


A Word from the President


The results are in! Congratulations to new board members Ian Waddell and Greg Malone and to returning board member, Amelia Clarke. We thank Helen Lofgren and Ray Mickevicius for their willingness to serve. Any of the five nominated candidates would have been a tremendous addition. Thanks to the two out-going board members, Vicky Husband and Barry Breau, for their years of service and dedication. And thanks to the members of the Elections Committee Joseph Mayer, Daniel Van Vliet and George T. Wilson (all members of the Ottawa group) and the Nominating Committee -Vicky Husband, David Runnalls, Warren Verbonac, Allison Scott Butler, and Elizabeth May for ensuring that our first national election was run smoothly and professionally.

This election represents the first of three steps in moving towards a National Board that is directly elected by the members. After three years, and election of one third of the board each year takes place, the National Board will be made up entirely of candidates elected directly by the membership. Few national groups can make this claim! As we developed this theme on the effects of energy extraction mega-projects on wilderness I thought of a mega-project on which environmentalists spend too little time: the ‘human population project.’ Population and consumption are inextricably linked – the more people there are the more they will consume and where one lives on the planet has implications for how much they consume.

The average Canadian consumes sixty times as much as the average Cambodian. Canada ranks as the world’s sixth largest user of primary energy. (“This high level of use can be attributed to vast travel distances, a cold climate, an energy-intensive industrial base, relatively low energy prices, and a high standard of living. Energy use of this magnitude has a significant impact on the environment.”) Canadians are among the leading per capita producers of solid waste in the world. (“Inefficient production processes, low durability of goods, and unsustainable consumption patterns lead to excessive waste generation.”) Canadians are among the highest water users, using roughly twice as much per person as in other industrialized countries, with the exception of the US. (See Canada’s National Environmental Indicator Series English/Indicator_series/default.cfm).

We have come to believe that it is our right to consume, that we can buy whatever we want, whether or not we need it, use it or even enjoy it. After all it is a free country. Unfortunately, nothing is free! As individuals we can and should reassess our consumption patterns. In this world made small by globalization, our actions impact those in the farthest corners of the earth. As our slogan says ONE EARTH, ONE CHANCE — so lets not consume it all just because we can.


Call for SCC Award Nominations

The awards will be presented at the 2003 Annual General Meeting in November. For more details contact the national office at 1-888-810-4204. The John Fraser Award for Environmental Achievement is given to the public figure, generally an elected person, who has made the most outstanding contribution in that year or through their lifetime to protect of Canada’s and the Planet’s environment.

The Chuck Chamberlin Award is given to the volunteer who has contributed in significant ways to the health and growth of a local group, by donating extraordinary amounts of their time and who has left an indelible mark. The Conservation Chapter Award is given to the volunteer who has contributed to a significant environmental campaign within their chapter. This person will have steered, or made an indispensable contribution, to a chapter conservation campaign.

The Ron Burchell Membership Development Award is given to the volunteer who has contributed in an outstanding way to membership recruitment. The Sierra Youth Coalition Inspiration Award marks an outstanding contribution by a Sierra Youth Coalition member under 25 years old in recognition of innovative, creative and significant outreach to youth and/or the general public. The prize includes a scholarship, from the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation, where appropriate, to further educational goals. The Gary Gallon Award for Environmental Achievement is given annually to the staff member at the SYC, chapter or national level who best exemplifies qualities of commitment to the organization, respect for others and dogged perseverance in the cause of the planet and all its creatures.

Notes from the Executive Director

Did Orwell pick the wrong title for 1984? Should it have been titled 2003? Ministries of Truth doling out lies fit right into a world where a US President presents “evidence” of an Iraqi nuclear weapons programme based on a forged set of documents. (It was months before the International Atomic Energy Agency was allowed to see the “smoking gun,” the alleged correspondence between Iraq and Niger. The IAEA pronounced them forgeries, explaining that spotting the crude cut and paste job was the work of hours, not weeks.) By the time the fraud was exposed, leaving those with maximum sympathy for Mr. Bush only able to speculate that perhaps he had not known they were forgeries when he presented them to the US Congress, regime change in Iraq had been accomplished.

Words have taken on a Tweedle Dum/Tweedle Dee non-meaning. “Reality TV” exists to distract people from reality. Is “reality” a group of pathetic, if beautiful, hopefuls competing to marry a stranger before an audience of millions? Or is reality a planet with six billion people of whom one billion live on less than one US dollar a day?

Another distorted concept is “security.” Our obsession with “security” is making us less secure. As Amnesty International recently reported, human rights are at greater risk, everywhere from in the US to developing countries, in the name of “security.”

The so-called “security” agenda has consumed billions of dollars since September 11, 2001. The US government used the pretext of potential terrorist threats for the invasion of Iraq. Are we concentrating on the right threat? Former head of UN Weapons Inspections, Hans Blix, does not think so. In leaving his role, he commented that while he has specialized in the search for weapons of mass destruction, the larger threat is that of climate change. Governments are ignoring the most serious threat to global security, while creating mass fear of terrorism. Meanwhile, war has serious impacts on the environment. From nuclear materials looted from unguarded facilities in Iraq, with radioactive yellow cake dumped from barrels to be used by the poor for water, to depleted uranium coated weapons creating a long-term legacy of radiation. (Environmental consequences of war and the pollution created by a vast military machine is the subject of a new section of our web site.

Security is an essential part of a sustainable society. We cannot live in harmony with our environment when we cannot live with each other. Prominent Canadian academic Thomas Homer-Dixon is one of the key proponents of the view that scarcity of natural resources will increase conflict around the world. There are dreadful and despicable governments in a number of places around the world. Is it really credible to suggest that US interest in Iraq had nothing to do with Iraqi oil?

Is there a role for an environmental group to help find peace? The links between the issues of peace and environmental sustainability are evident. Our primary task is to protect ecosystems and species. But, at least, we should raise issues and links. We can help people recognize that in the search for peace and security, the impacts of climate change are a serious threat. That in the name of more secure societies we must reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and move to renewable forms of energy, like wind. Perhaps Bob Dylan was right in a very literal way. Perhaps the “answer is blowing in the wind.”

The Rupert River Sacrificed for Greed

The Eastmain-1-A Rupert River Hydro Project, proposed by Hydro-Québec, includes a massive diversion of the large and wild Rupert River by “redirecting” most of its waters to the Eastmain-1-A generating station. The scope of this project means the total destruction of one of the last remaining free and undeveloped large watershed in Québec’s North to produce hydroelectricity primarily for exports to the US.

The project includes the construction of four dams, a massive artificial spillway, 50 dikes, two diversion bays of 395 square kilometres, control structures and a network of canals or tunnels totalling more than 12 kilometres in length for “flow direction“ control. The sheer size of this project means major impacts to the environment of the Rupert River basin. The diversion will also increase flows to the Grande Rivière watershed that might cause distant and cumulative impacts.

Our concerns include the following potential impacts:

  • Massive loss of biodiversity to this part of the Québec’s northwestern boreal ecozone caused by the loss of habitat of certain rare or unique fish populations like the lake sturgeon and the Rupert River strain of brook trout and the rare boreal chorus frog;

  • Increased bioavailability of geological mercury (caused by the project’s land-rock erosion and flooding) which will contaminate fish and increase the associated health risk related to subsistence fish consumption by the Cree and by other users of the fishery;

  • Loss of carbon sinks and release of greenhouse gases (methane) following the flooding of boreal lands and reservoir creation;

  • Reduction of primary production and nutrient flows in the Rupert and distant and long-term effects in the marine water nutrient regime of James Bay around the Rupert estuary;

  • Loss of traditional fish, hunting, trapping and travel areas used by the Cree;

  • Non-sustainable and increased land use (hunting, fish, camping) by the residents of the James Bay region and by the southern populations caused by better access from roads built during the project.

Sierra Club of Canada played a significant role in the environmental assessment of the proposed Great Whale project in northern Quebec a decade ago. The environmental assessment process was aborted when the Québec government decided to abandon the project. We intend to aggressively pursue environmental assessment of the Rupert River. It is of the utmost importance to better document the negative environmental, social and cultural impacts of large hydroelectric projects. This must be done to counter the myth that large hydro projects are a form of “green energy.”

Daniel Green
Science Advisor, SCC


Newsflash for Hydroelectric Proponents:
People Do Live in Northern Manitoba’s Boreal Forest

The Pimicikamak, an indigenous Cree nation, have become a leading voice in the fight against large-scale hydro development. Their home is northern Manitoba’s boreal forest, the northern lungs of the planet.

In the 1970s, Manitoba-Hydro, the province of Manitoba and the federal government built a massive network of dams in Pimicikamak territory, redirecting rivers and flooding much of their home. Since then, their once independent way of life and economy has been devastated; the suicide rate among their youth is one of the highest in North America.

Today, more than 600,000 acres of boreal forest have been flooded or cleared because of hydro development in northern Manitoba, approximately 10 times the area lost to clear-cutting in Canada annually. The destruction continues as shorelines erode, dumping more boreal forest into hydro reservoirs and diversions.

The Pimicikamak have borne the impacts of hydro-development while profits and benefits flow south, filling government coffers and powering the homes and industry of Manitoba and mid-western US states. They have resolved to fight back, asserting their inherent sovereignty as a nation to heal the land and the nation.

And because of their first-hand experience with hydropower’s environmental effects, the Pimicikamak have led the charge to dispel the myth that hydro is a “clean and green” energy alternative. They have built strong alliances with the Sierra Club of Canada and together we are building a pan-Canadian coalition to work on hydro development.

The campaign seeks to hold governments and Manitoba Hydro to their responsibilities, insisting that they clean up the environmental and social mess they created as much as possible. They are also battling against the imminent threat of new hydro development projects. Manitoba Hydro is pushing for the expansion of its industrial hydro-complex in northern Manitoba that includes a network of transmission lines that will fragment Manitoba’s northern ecosystems.

Manitoba Hydro and the hydro-electricity lobby are using the Kyoto Protocol as a rationale for further hydro development, saying that it is greenhouse gas neutral despite the fact that flooded hydro reservoirs produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Indeed, the Canadian Hydropower Association is talking big, saying that Canada could develop another 118,000 MW of hydroelectric potential. Manitoba Hydro says the province’s boreal rivers are “only half exploited.”

What the hydro-development lobby never mentions, of course, is that their development plans are aimed at highly profitable energy exports to the energy hungry US.

The health and survival of Pimicikamak nation is bound to the fate of the boreal forest.

The Pimicikamak know, however, that their fight is not theirs alone. The health and survival of Canadians and people around the planet are linked to the fate of the boreal forest, the northern lungs of the planet. Shawn-Patrick Stensil Director, Atmosphere and Energy Campaign, SCC

Late-breaking news — Manitoba Hydro’s operation of the existing segment of the Churchill River Diversion may be in violation of provincial environmental law, and several federal statutes. The existing segment has never been subject to an environmental review or assessment. It clearly should be reviewed now as the basis for issuing licences and permits that may be required to remedy the violations.

RIO: Report on International Obligations

In conjunction with 30 other non-government organizations, the Sierra Club of Canada has graded Canada’s federal and provincial governments on the fulfillment of commitments made internationally. This year the report broadens its measures of progress on environment and development commitments, whether reached in Rio, Kyoto, Johannesburg or Stockholm.

For a copy, please go to

Or contact the national office at

Tel: (613) 241-4611
Fax: (613) 241-2292
Toll-free: 1-888-810-4204

1. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Scale: The coastal plain is about 1.5 million acres; oil exploration and development would affect most of it.

Proponents: The Alaskan government, George W. Bush, the lobby group Arctic Power. Licenses are held by British Petroleum, Exxon, Chevron and others. Species/ecosystem under threat: Area has been referred to as “America’s Serengeti” for its biodiversity. The coastal plain of the refuge is the most important denning area for polar bears in the US and is the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd which now numbers 125,000. Seventy bird species use the coastal plain for nesting. The culture and subsistence lifestyle of the Gwich’in people is threatened.

SCC Campaigner: Peter Mather,, (867) 456-4069.

Action: Contact campaigner, or write the prime minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Environment, or the Minister of International Affairs and Northern Development, and thank them for supporting the Gwich’in in their fight to preserve the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd, and to push the issue with the US government.

2. MacKenzie Valley Pipeline

Scale: 6 billion dollars, 1,400 km through a watershed that represents 1/6 of Canada

Proponents: Transcanada Corp., Imperial Oil, Conoco, Phillips Canada, Shell Canada, ExxonMobil Canada, and Mackenzie Valley Aboriginal Pipeline Corporation

Species/ecosystem under threat: Canadian Low Arctic Tundra

SCC campaigner: Shawn Patrick Stensil, director, Atmosphere and Energy Campaign,, (613) 789-3634.

Action: Write to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development and the Environment Minister, addresses on page 5. Insist on a full environmental assessment prior to the commencement of the regulatory process.

3. Coastal Offshore Oil and Gas

Development (western Canada)

Scale: Probability of oil spills and release of other chemicals are not unlikely. The area proposed for development is one of the roughest seas in the world, seismically active, remote and difficult to access. Most significantly, the natural hazards along the west coast such as severe winds, earthquakes, wave and tidal action makes any released oil and chronic impacts difficult to control. Such conditions will guarantee negative impacts on sensitive habitat along the shoreline as well as substances that sink to the bottom.

Proponents: BC provincial government (also needs the approval of the federal government).

Species/ecosystem under threat: Home to 26 species of marine mammals, including BC’s remaining, and declining, orca populations, five species of salmon, groundfish, over 50 seabird colonies and millions of birds. Sea otters are also making a comeback from the brink of extinction.

SCC campaigner: Sharon Chow,, tel. (604) 386-5255, ext.207 Action: Write to the Minister of Natural Resources address on page 5.

4. Georgia Strait Crossing (GSX) Pipeline

Scale: 2.7 million cubic metres per day, with potential to more than double that in future. Proponents: BC Hydro, through its subsidiary, GSX PL Ltd & Williams Gas Company (one of the largest US gas pipeline companies). Species/ecosystem under threat: Disruption of southern resident population of nationally endangered orcas, and harbour porpoises.

SCC campaigner: Thomas Hackney, volunteer, BC Chapter,, tel. (250) 381-4463.

Action: See action alert at Write to the Prime Minister, and to the ministers of Environment and of Canadian Heritage to oppose an unnecessary pipeline through a proposed National Marine Protected Area, where two threatened species live.

5. Castle Wilderness Oil and Gas Development

Scale: Castle encompasses an area of 1040 km2 .

Proponents: Shell Canada, off-road vehicles lobby groups, local timber companies.

Species/ecosystem under threat: The Castle Wilderness contains some of the richest mix of biodiversity in Alberta and is an important transboundary movement corridor for large carnivores and ungulates. It is home to half of Alberta’s 1600 plants including 160 provincially rare and 38 nationally rare plants.

SCC campaigner: Dave Keith, volunteer, Chinook Group,, tel. (403) 266-3630.

Action: Contact campaigner.

6. Pimicikamak Cree Territory Hydroelectric Dam Complex

Scale: 600,000 acres.

Proponent: Manitoba Hydro.

Species/ecosystem under threat: Boreal forest.

Campaigner: Shawn Patrick Stensil, director, Atmosphere and Energy Campaign,, (613) 789-3634.

Action: Contact campaigner.

7. Rupert River Hydroelectric Development

Scale: Destruction of the Rupert River.

Proponents: Hydro-Quebec.

Species/ecosystem under threat: Rupert River strain brook trout; lake sturgeon, rare boreal chorus frog.

Campaigner: Daniel Green, Science Advisor, SCC,

Action: Write to the Minister of Environment and to the Premier of Québec. Ask for a panel review with hearings to include southern Québec.

8. Lower Churchill Falls, Labrador Hydroelectric Development

Scale: $10-12 billion project on Labrador’s largest river which has already undergone radical changes from a hydroelectric project at Churchill Falls. Additional flooding would cover 86 km2 of shoreline habitat above Gull Island and 36 km2 above Muskrat Falls. The project plans to divert 50% of the watersheds of two rivers flowing south into the Gulf of St. Lawrence, to create an additional 1000 km2 of flooding.

Proponents: Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, Hydro-Quebec.

Species/ecosystem under threat: Atlantic salmon population in the St. Jean River, forest wildlife habitat which is uncommon in Labrador.

SCC Campaigner: Catherine Boyd,, tel. (709) 634-8830.

Action: Contact campaigner.

9. Coastal Offshore Oil and Gas Development (eastern Canada)

Proponents and scale: Corridor Resources has a 600,000-acre seabed permit. Hunt Oil in partnership with TotalFinaElf have two permits for nearly 1.5 million acres.

Species/ecosystem under threat: The most biologically rich waters within Canada through which one million tons of sea life migrate. Minke, grey and pilot whales and marine mammals such as harbour seals and dolphins, some of which are officially at risk. Seabirds such as Atlantic puffins, virtually only found at Bird Islands sanctuary, within the boundaries of Hunt Oil’s lease.

SCC campaigner: Bruno Marcocchio,

Action: Write to the Ministers of Natural Resources and of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (see address below). Support the coalition fighting the inshore oil leases: Save our Seas and Shores (SOSS), which includes Sierra Club of Canada. See

10. Blue Atlantic Project (El Paso Pipeline)

Scope: 1,020-km sub-sea pipeline, $2-billion pipeline project from Shelburne County, N.S. to New Jersey linking the natural gas reserves of Sable Island with lucrative New England markets. Pipeline would carry up to a billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. (Put on hold until at least late 2004.)

Proponents: Houston-based El Paso Corp. (through its indirect subsidiary El Paso Oil and Gas Canada, Inc.) and Canadian Superior Energy. Species/ecosystem under threat: The pipeline would accelerate extraction of oil and gas in the sensitive waters adjacent to the Georges Bank moratorium area, Browns Bank, and the recently declared ’Coral Box‘ protected area in the N.E. Channel. It would also have been the first step to overturn Canadian and American moratoria on leasing for oil and gas extraction in place since the 1980‘s.

SCC campaigner:Mark Dittrick, Atlantic Canada Chapter Conservation Chair, (902) 532-2108

Action: Contact campaigner.

Coastal Oil and Gas
Defending a moratorium on one coast; fighting to win one on another!

BC’s coastline has been protected from oil and gas development for two decades. The ecological and psychic shock of the Exxon Valdez oil spill helped lead to public opposition to tanker traffic and offshore petroleum development. Now the government of Gordon Campbell wishes to lift this essential environmental protection. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers claims to be disinterested. Unlike most assaults on wild places, in this case, the industry is taking a back seat and letting the government do all the heavy lifting.

Can anyone really imagine that if the moratorium is lifted, oil and gas development will not follow? The Campbell strategy is deceptively clever. By allowing the industry to hibernate through the debate, wild exaggerations of potential economic benefit go unchallenged. The reality that oil and gas development has brought surprisingly few permanent jobs to the Atlantic Provinces is not widely known in BC. The very successful Sable Island development, south of Halifax, produced fewer than 60 permanent jobs, few of those local. At the height of employment in Sable, when the pipeline was under construction, only 200 people had jobs on the project.

Meanwhile, the BC public and environmental groups are besieged by the most brutal cuts in the public service and in environmental protections in the history of Canada. On the Atlantic coast, offshore oil and gas development has been under way for over a decade. In the late 1980s, the federal and provincial governments negotiated two accords to promote development: the Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board and the Canada-Nova Scotia Off-Shore Petroleum Board. Men with petroleum industry experience dominate these unelected boards. Fishermen in both provinces complain that the petroleum boards exist to promote development and give short shrift to fisheries. Environmental groups agree. Governments and regulators work on behalf of industry having abandoned public interest long ago.

The Hibernia development east of Newfoundland’s east coast benefited from billions in government subsidies to help Mobil develop the offshore oil project. In Nova Scotia, the Canada-Nova Scotia Off-Shore Petroleum Board (CNSOPB) has granted nearly 8 million hectares of exploration licenses since 1996. Despite the fact that a Marine Protected Area has been promised for The Gully, the CNSOPB continues to allow seismic testing within earshot of the area’s threatened whales. The Gully is an underwater canyon off Sable Island, 30 by 80 kilometres in area and reaching to depths of 2,000 metres. It is an important habitat for undersea corals and for rare bottlenose and sperm whales. Recently, COSEWIC listed the bottlenose whale as endangered with specific reference to the threat of seismic testing encroaching on The Gully.

Seismic blasting represents a huge assault on cetaceans. Whales can become disoriented and beach themselves. Their hearing can be permanently damaged. At a minimum seismic testing can move them from migratory routes and preferred feeding areas. Seismic blasting also damages fish, killing some outright and driving others away. The potential impacts on reproduction have not been adequately studied but cod do rely on acoustic communications for reproduction. The failure of the cod stock to rebound may be related to the oil and gas assault off the coast of Newfoundland.

Failing to perceive that the licensing of oil and gas development in shoreline areas was any different from development 160 kilometres off-shore, the CNSOPB granted licenses to Corridor Resources and Hunt Oil (in partnership with TotalFinaElf) to explore some of the richest fishing waters in Canada, in the southern Gulf of St.Lawrence and Sydney Bight. The Newfoundland board granted development permits close to the shoreline. Now Quebec also wants to explore for oil and gas in the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Scientists researching the life of whales are worried. The Gulf of St. Lawrence is home to a number of species of threatened whale populations, as well as the leatherback turtle.

The need to prevent further assaults in the beleaguered ground-fish stocks, to protect endangered species and ensure a healthy coastal ecosystem for future generations demands that the coastal developments be rejected. The issuing of licenses continues as an almost unbearable barrage.

Elizabeth May

Pipeline to Cross Site for Potential National Marine Conservation Area in BC

BC Hydro proposes to build a natural gas pipeline from Sumas, Washington State to Vancouver Island. The Georgia Strait Crossing (GSX) would supplement an existing gas pipeline and more than double the potential gas supply to the Island. BC Hydro wants to use GSX to fuel the proposed 265-megawatt gas-fired power plant. The Vancouver Island Generation Project (VIGP) would be followed by future gas plants, in an overall strategy by which most new electricity generation in BC would come from burning fossil fuels.

Currently, some 90 percent of BC’s electricity is generated at hydroelectric dams. BC Hydro’s proposed shift toward fossil fuel generation means an additional 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year by 2010 — an increase of about four percent in BC’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Sierra Club of Canada BC Chapter has formed the GSX Concerned Citizens Coalition with several environmental groups and concerned citizens to oppose GSX and BC Hydro’s fossil fuel strategy. (See We believe that BC Hydro should enhance its efforts to promote energy conservation and to procure addition electricity from “green” sources, including wind power, small hydroelectric projects and small cogeneration projects.

Capital investment in GSX and VIGP would make it more difficult to promote these alternatives in the future. GSX would run through the southern Gulf Islands of BC, widely recognized by environmental groups and the federal government as a unique bioclimatic area (a bioclimatic area is characterized by a particular mix of vegetation and climate).

The pipeline corridor goes directly through the proposed southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area. Prime Minister Chrétien recently confirmed an intention to proceed with this National Marine Conservation Area. This is part of the habitat of the southern resident population of orcas, which is listed as endangered. There are also concerns that the construction of GSX could displace the harbour porpoise from its only habitat in the southern Strait of Georgia.

Tom Hackney
Volunteer, Global Climate Change Committee, BC Chapter

The Castle Wilderness: A Missing Link

Located north of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park in Alberta, the Castle Wilderness is an area of 1040 square kilometres. It is an area of spectacular beauty, and outstanding ecological importance. The Castle supports some of the richest mix of biodiversity in Alberta. It lies on the northern edge of the transboundary Crown of the Continent ecosystem, and is a connecting bridgehead for wildlife migrating between this region and the Central Rockies (Banff-Kananaskis) ecosystem to the north.

Lying in one of the “pinch points” of the Rocky Mountains, the Castle plays a critical linking role in the overall Yellowstone to Yukon ecosystem complex. Dr. Chris Servheen, director of the US Interagency Grizzly Bear Recovery Team, has stated flatly that if the Crowsnest Pass is lost to conservation, grizzly bears will be lost to the United States. It would also mean the loss of the Yellowstone to Yukon vision.

Although the entire Castle Wilderness is public land and two major public hearings by provincial agencies have each recommended its legal protection, a park has not come about. This is largely due to the sub-surface petroleum leases held by Shell Canada, including existing roads and wells located in the ecologically unique Front Range canyons of the Castle. The Shell-Waterton Gas Field, discovered in 1954 and extending into the Castle Wilderness, made Shell Canada, and continues to be exploited and explored today.

Shell could be a catalyst for the establishment of the entire Castle as a wildland provincial park. Its protection would restore a major piece missing from the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem centered around Waterton and Glacier National Parks. Indeed, much of the Castle was once a part of Waterton Lakes National Park. Its removal cut the national park in half. Conservation groups from Canada and the US, including the Sierra Club of Canada and the locally based Castle Crown Wilderness Coalition, have stepped up their campaign for the Castle’s preservation, insisting that no new surface disturbances such as roads and drilling occur in the proposed park and that the area be legally protected as a wildland provincial park.

Dave Keith
Volunteer, Chinook Group, SCC

Genocide of the Dene
The Proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline

We, as young Indigenous women, are opposed to the development of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline through the Northwest Territories. As Indigenous people, we have a duty to protect our inheritance from exploitation. The land is our inheritance to be passed on to our children. To develop the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline is to break our sacred covenant with the land and we have to ask ourselves if we as Dene people are truly willing to sell our sacred inheritance for the Pipeline?

The proposal is not justifiable. The energy demand pushed for only southern market interests contradicts traditional values of the people of the Northwest Territories which are aimed at maintaining a respectful balance among people and between us and to the environment. Now we see our own governments adopting and creating policies that are not embedded in traditional laws.

More than ever, economic development is focused on putting monetary value on the natural resources of our land. This demonstrates the devaluation of nature and of our sacred land by our leaders. We must all recognize that our mother earth has an inherent value, beyond human needs. Our lands contain a lot of power and only should be used in respect, in ways of the Dene notions of respect and not for the shortsighted generation of wealth for others.

Globalization with its cognitive and linguistic imperialism is the modern force that is taking our thoughts, heritages, knowledge, and creativity. We respect and appreciate the inherent value of every life force and place in the ecological order. Yet, we know by experience that not all peoples share our worldview. Indigenous peoples have experienced the migratory predators of the world in the process of European colonization. We have experienced the colonization of our creation, our ecologies, our minds, and our spirits.

Yet, even with horrendous losses we have resisted and endured. Indigenous knowledge disappears when Indigenous peoples are stripped of their lands, their languages and their lives. Although many of the processes of old-style colonization have waned in the new millennium, a new threatening transformation has emerged. Globalization with its cognitive and linguistic imperialism is the modern force that is taking our thoughts, heritages, knowledge, and creativity. Today industrialized societies are demanding that the Dene share their land, so that Eurocentric society can continue their domination of the earth to the detriment of humanity.

The current discourse surrounding the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline is completely void of honoring our voices as Indigenous peoples. We as the Dene have shared interest in the future of humanity and life on earth. In the process of deciding whether we want a pipeline down the Mackenzie Valley, we the people have a powerful and indispensable role. We have the right to voice our concerns and have them respected. We are opposed to the Development of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline though the Northwest Territories and we are not the only ones. We encourage others to use your Dene voice to stop the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline.

Elaine Alexie and Jennifer Duncan

Dene Youth Alliance

To support the Dene Youth Alliance, send your donation to the Sierra Club of Canada earmarked for the Dene Youth Alliance. The letter has been edited for reasons of space limitations.

Mackenzie Valley Pipeline:
A disguised subsidy to the Athabasca tar sands

The Berger Inquiry of the 1970s has long been one of the milestones in the creation of environmental review and marks the beginning of activism for many Canadian environmentalists. When Mr. Justice Berger traveled to remote Northern villages, he gave voice to the concern for the land and the distrust of a proposed pipeline. So much has changed. The oil and gas companies have been laying the ground for partnerships with indigenous governments.

Now, nearly every First Nations government in the region supports the pipeline and is seeking an equity position in the expected wealth. Only a scattering of Dene and Gwich’in leaders, people like Goldman prize winner and Gwich’in environmentalist, Norma Kassi, and Elaine Alexie of the Dene Youth Alliance (see her article at left), are raising their voices against the pipeline.

Many conservation groups will not be opposing the pipeline as they have been working to press for new protected areas as a pre-condition to any pipeline. While we do not criticize their motivation, Sierra Club of Canada has signaled, both through a letter published in the New York Times and through correspondence with all key federal ministers, that we will be opposing the building of the 1400 kilometre Mackenzie Valley Pipeline.

It is clear that the major multinational petroleum companies (such as Shell and Chevron) interested in the pipeline are counting on the regulators fast-tracking approval. In fact, although the proposal for the pipeline has not yet even been filed, the companies have demanded a commitment that the entire project (both EA and regulatory approvals) be completed within two years of the application. The federal budget included $32 million for the “streamlining” of the Mackenzie Valley approval process.

The regulatory process is immensely complex. Some fourteen different federal, territorial and First Nations regulatory bodies have a role. The project will be subject to environmental assessment requirements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, and the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act. Negotiations between all parties have resulted in a June 2002 Cooperation Plan for the Environmental Impact of a Northern Pipeline Project through the Northwest Territories.

The environmental concerns about this proposal are many. The plan to ship natural gas south is another aspect of production of the most carbon intensive oil in the world, that from the Athabasca tar sands. Transforming tar sands muck into oil is essentially a mining operation. It takes huge amounts of power and six barrels of water to produce one barrel of oil. Natural gas flowing through the pipeline would largely be used to produce Athabasca tar sands oil for export. The pipeline itself would run underground in inconsistent perma-frost, which, given climate change, will be melting.

Perhaps the surest environmental damage to predict will be that which occurs in construction. These areas are pristine and experience elsewhere suggests that pipeline construction with its heavy equipment is massively damaging to the immediate environment.

Elizabeth May


Sierra Club of/du Canada