(YouTube video: Justin Chingee, 31, arrested during blockade of McLeod Lake Indian Band office on June 4)
By Jorge Barrera
APTN National News
The recent rash of oil spills in Alberta has at least one opponent of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline saying he’s willing to “die” to stop the project.
Over a million liters of oil have spewed from ruptured pipelines and wells in Alberta this month, the latest coming Wednesday when Enbridge’s Athabasca pipeline pumping station spilled 230,000 liters near Elk Point, Alta.
Clean up is already underway on two other spills in the province. About 800,000 liters of oil spilled from the Peace Oil & Gas well, which sits around 200 kilometres from the Northwest Territories’ border, and between 160,000 and 480,000 liters spewed from a ruptured Plains Midstream Canada pipeline beneath the Red Deer River.
Justin Chingee, 31, from the McLeod Lake Indian Band, said the recent spills have strengthened opposition to the Enbridge pipeline and he’s ready to die to stop the project to ship Alberta bitumen to the B.C. coast.
“A lot of members are ready to stand on the front lines and die to stop it because we realize the risk and we have an obligation to future generations to protect the water and the animals,” said Chingee. “The oil spills give us that much more incentive to be standing on the front lines.”
A B.C. First Nations group representing several First Nations communities that would be directly impacted by the proposed pipeline and the tanker traffic it would bring, issued a statement Wednesday saying the three recent spills prove Enbridge’s project is too dangerous to accept.
“This incident, along with the other two oil spills in the last month, is a grim reminder of the risks involved in pushing through the Northern Gateway Pipeline,” said Art Sterritt, executive director of the Coastal First Nations. “Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway is a dangerous, short-sighted project that would make oil companies rich and leave in its wake oil spills, environmental destruction and long-term economic damage to local communities.”
The Coastal First Nations includes the Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xaixais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Haisla, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate, and Council of the Haida Nation.
Chingee said people are organizing at the grassroots to stop the project.
“We are pulling together as a people and a community. We are pooling our resources, we are digging in for the fight,” he said.
Chingee is currently facing charges in relation to his involvement in an approximately two-week-long blockade of the McLeod Lake band office; he was arrested by the RCMP along with four others on June 4. The blockade was triggered partly over concerns the band council was going to sign onto the Enbridge pipeline project.
On June 8, Enbridge received a letter from McLeod Lake Chief Derek Orr stating the band would not be signing on to Enbridge’s pipeline project, which will cross 210 kilometres of McLeod Lake territory.
“The project…in our view poses too many environmental risks for us,” wrote Orr in the letter. “We furthermore reject your offer on the basis that it was presented to us without any meaningful negotiation or consultation.”
In an interview, Orr said the blockade of the band office did not influence the band’s decision to reject Enbridge’s project, but that there was widespread opposition to the proposed pipeline in the community.
“Our members are overwhelmingly opposed to the project,” said Orr.
Orr said the band is holding a community meeting on Friday to discuss their plans to oppose the pipeline.
An Enbridge spokesperson said the McLeod Lake decision does not impact Enbridge’s current tally of First Nations the company claims support the project because they were never included as supporters.
Enbridge spokesperson Todd Nogier maintains that 60 per cent of First Nations along the corridor support the project.