West, Weyler team up to battle Kinder Morgan

West, Weyler team up to battle Kinder Morgan

West, Weyler team up to battle Kinder Morgan
Ben West addressing a Vancouver crowd about Kinder Morgan in 2012 (Damien Gillis)

There’s big news on the environmental front!

Ben West, the eminent young environmentalist until now with Forest Ethics and, before that, the Wilderness Committee, has joined Rex Weyler fighting tanker traffic on the BC coast through Tanker Free BC. This makes a very potent combination indeed. (Full disclosure: My colleague, Common Sense Canadian publisher Damien Gillis, is a founding  board member of TFBC along with Mr. Weyler).

For those who may not know, Rex Weyler was a founder of Greenpeace International and its biographer. He has been active in environmental matters for many years and in 2009 took up the cudgels against tanker traffic on our coast. Tanker Free BC was formed some 5 years ago, specifically to take on the Kinder Morgan issue and the organization laid much of the early groundwork for the campaign to block the project.

Ben is a first class student of the environment and a very able presenter. I have had the privilege of appearing at podiums with both he and Rex.

Huge proposed increase in tanker traffic

The number of tankers required on our coast to transport the oil proposed by Kinder Morgan runs about 400 per year – minimum. This doesn’t count tankers coming from Squamish from a proposed LNG plant.

Despite what the professional mariners tell us, it’s a matter of mathematics. Sooner or later we’ll have a serious accident on our coast. In fact, there’s nothing to say there won’t be more than one.

If this were a relatively minor matter, we could and would have to live with it. But they are transporting bitumen, or dilbit, which is highly toxic and, as the spill on the Kalamazoo River by Enbridge 4 1/2 years ago demonstrated, it is virtually impossible to clean up. This means, to articulate the obvious, that the risk of running tankers on our coast cannot possibly match any advantage it would confer upon the people of British Columbia.

It’s for this reason that opposition to both the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipelines has been so vigorous. Of course, part of the opposition has come from those who must live with the pipeline in their communities but the issue is the same – be it train, truck or pipeline, they transport a vicious and dangerous poison.

Oil-by-rail threat used to scare pipeline opponents

MP James Moore being interviewed by CBC's Chris Hall (Photo: James Moore/Twitter)
MP James Moore being interviewed by CBC’s Chris Hall (Photo: James Moore/Twitter)

At the same time as the West/Weyler story we hear from Tory cabinet minister James Moore that pipelines must come, otherwise transportation will be by rail which, by common consent, is far more dangerous than by pipeline.

I must confess here that I’m not certain about the capacity of rail to deliver a comparable quantity of oil – in the case of Kinder Morgan 780,000-1.000,000 barrels a day, and this is of course an important figure to know. If pipelines were simply not to happen, would rail transport be sufficient to fill up 400 or more likely 450 tankers per year?

The answer, according to the limited research facilities available to me, is that this is highly unlikely. Moreover, the safety factors are enormous and make those of pipelines pale into insignificance. This, of course, is the argument that James Moore and the supercilious finance Minister, Joe Oliver, are making – permit pipelines or else…

Weston continues “Environment IS Economy” refrain

Just by way of an aside, a few moments ago when Wendy brought the mail, there was yet again another release by my MP, John Weston, bleating once more “the environment IS the economy”. As I’ve mentioned before, this slogan has about as much meaning as “please adjust your clothing when leaving the lavatory” and gives an idea of typical Tory bafflegab which desperately hopes that their own appalling ignorance is matched by that of the bovine masses.

Rex and Ben face the ill-disguised ultimatum laid down by James Moore that bitumen will come through British Columbia one way or another. The Tories are, of course, in thrall to Alberta voters with an election coming up where every seat is crucial and the safety of unreliable British Columbians not on the radar.

Remember the bitumen

We must remember that the enemy is not the train or the pipeline or indeed the tanker – it is the bitumen from the tar sands. We’re being asked – indeed perhaps ordered – to transport this highly noxious substance through the wilds of our province to populated areas, into tankers and shipped down our coast.

Sham “Process”

The politicians are unconcerned about the feelings of the people of our province. Mr. Moore has, from the beginning, been contemptuous of public opinion and those of us who have fought against the transport of bitumen are portrayed as American-financed neo-hippies. The so-called “process” by which energy decisions are made is as phoney as a three dollar bill as has been amply demonstrated by no less a figure than Mark Eliesen, one of the most prominent energy experts in the country.

Public attention, diverted by the pipeline issue, has not considered that the governments of Canada and British Columbia would cast aside safety issues and threaten the transport of this terrible substance by rail. What this does, of course, is clarify the issue for Ben and Rex and all those who join them in the fight, very much including me. It is the two senior governments who are the enemies – the bitter enemies.

The public of British Columbia must, by civil disobedience if need be, convince the federal and provincial governments that we have sufficient democracy left in this country that the people still count, or we’ll end up with a an oil sands catastrophe on our land and on our coasts, whether we like it or not.


About Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at rafeonline.com.

14 thoughts on “West, Weyler team up to battle Kinder Morgan

  1. Ben has slowly and gradually gained prominence as he pursues his good works. I met Ben many years ago when he started out and he has been fighting the street battles ever since. I admire his dedication and his single focus to save the environment. These fights make no-one rich. They also mean you have to watch your back every day and constantly fight to safeguard your reputation and integrity. Do lend him your support.
    John Mc

  2. Rex Weyler keeps insisting he’s one of the founders of Greenpeace
    But that’s just not true. He joined the movement early but wasn’t a founder.
    With that said the cause is still a good one.

  3. Excuse me for being suspicious of Ben West, -he’s not widely known to the BC environmental movement outside of Vancouver, where he appears at rallies with tightly controlled speaker lists. His most recent position at the Great-Bear-Rainforest sellout org, ForestEthics, which is the first go-to stop for corporate-media enviro-quotes doesnt do anything for his cred. It would be good if we could hear what Ben West has to offer to the tanker fight.

    Regrettably, there is a large schism which divides the BC environmental movement, mainly between professional, bureaucratically structured, top-down organized, due-process observing, Roberts Rules guided, charitable status guarding, careerist, entrenched, perpetually fundraising envirocrats, and those at the frontline, which is predominantly unfunded, volunteer, non-structured, spontaneous, free spirited, community service oriented, anarchical and…extremely successful. Show me a valley that has aquired some measure of credible protection from the scourge of industrial logging, for example, and invariably, there will have been a frontline action at the root of it. On the other hand, after decades, and multi millions, and what has conventional organizational enviroism achieved? What monumental success can be demonstrated by conventionally organized environmentalism, after having received so much for so long?

    Professional environmentalism will not examine this festering problem from within, will not introspect itself, look itself in the eye, self-examine, look at what works, what is motivating, inspiring and genuinely productive, nor will it ever face up to what has been less than effective, what compromises and capitulates or what has been total abject failure.

    This myopia has consistently undermined and squandered the power potential of the movement. ForestEthics track record is of collaborationist compromise, secret backroom sellout deals with BAU, and the backstabbing of fellow organizations. Neither FE nor WCWC are democratic organizations by any stretch, by which a membership might influence their direction and neither of them will have any involvement in such citizen-driven actions as Burnaby Mountain. That means they play by the rules, -rules established and enforced by HarperCon et al. There is no doubt that powers that be have great interest and make significant investment in infiltrating the movement, watering it down, message-managing, marginalizing and ridiculing it, acquiring greenwash and social license.

    Frankly, I’m sceptical to hear that yet another factotum from the professional claque will now “lead” the tanker fight.

    1. Ingmar, your concerns about business-as-usual “Big Green” ENGOs – to borrow Naomi Klein’s term – notwithstanding, Ben has been organizing in the trenches since the earliest days of the Kinder Morgan battle.

      I know because I was there with him and saw all the great work he did – then and since. He built strong, respectful relationships with local Tsleil-Waututh leaders and other First Nations and was instrumental in convincing many ENGOs who didn’t want to touch Kinder Morgan – instead keeping the focus squarely on Enbridge – to think in terms of the whole BC Coast, not just the Great Bear Rainforest.

      By your standard, the fact that he is no longer with FE and now leading arguably the first, grassroots group built specifically to tackle the Kinder Morgan issue, over 5 years ago (first as No Tanks, then renamed Tanker Free BC), should be a mark in his favour, no?

      It’s impossible to measure the impact of any individual on a particular campaign, but I feel confident in saying that Kinder Morgan would not have achieved the same level of public consciousness and criticism as it has today without the efforts of folks like Ben and Rex.

  4. As the saying goes “NO Farms NO Food” ,re site C dam ,,, well ” No Oxygen No Breathe” re burning fossil fuels, dirty fuels !

  5. Rail or pipeline? Wrong question. If you fall for that, you are victim to the oldest salesman’s trick in the book. “Well, M’am, do you want the yellow gadget or the green gadget?”

    No, we don’t want either gadget. The tar sands bitumen stays in the ground. We reduce carbon emissions and slow global heating. We protect our coastal communities, land, and water from oil spills. And then we do the smart things: We begin to build out renewable energy systems for the long-term benefit of the Canadian people. We promote massive energy conservation. We use trains for a good public transport system.

    And we send the Texas billionaires packing, back to Houston. No bitumen trains. No bitumen pipelines. No bitumen, period.

  6. In order to comment on the seriousness of the “oil-by-rail threat”, it is necessary to compare apples with apples. The story I’m told is that pipelines are being built to carry tarsands dilbit, trains will transport bitumen.

    If that’s the case, before comparing “the capacity of rail to deliver a comparable quantity of oil”, it is necessary to determine the barrel equivalents of dilbit and bitumen. Until that information is provided, any claims that rail will, or will not, be able to provide an equivalent-to-pipeline capacity are meaningless.

    Despite the fact there’s a world of difference between the two commodities in terms of toxicity and clean-up, in the event of a spill, our reluctance to kick our fossil fuel addiction is of far greater concern than the differences in toxicity or which mode of transport is used.
    If we persist in jacking up the amount of CO2 we introduce into the atmosphere and our oceans, the fight to stop tankers or pipelines will be little more than feel-good posturing.

  7. I am truly grateful for Blair’s and Damien’s research re the viability of rail, a critical aspect of the issue. Damien, however, hits the point why the addition of Ben West to the fight is so important. The public will be less concerned about economic viability than plain down and dirty safety. The Quebec catastrophe, which The Hon James Moore threatens us with if we don’t start loving pipelines, is fresh and vivid with pictures to boot. It is scarcely a bogeyman but a very real and major concern. West and Weyler are quite competent to deal with the numbers but they know, as Damien has said that the fight will be on the ground where potential destruction is there for all to see and in addition to his many other talents, Ben West is a first class street fighter. Now, if Rex and Ben could ony get Joe Foy to join them …

  8. A rpoblem with this article exists in that Mr. Mair’s limited research on the topic means that his numbers are not consistent with the actual Kinder Morgan plans. Given his admittedly limited research facilities let me provide some actual data supported by real documentation. As I detail at my blog the new pipeline configuration would, add 590,000 b/d to the existing system for a total capacity of 890,000 b/d. This includes an upgrade of the Puget Sound line to 225,000 b/d. So, no oil-by-rail doesn’t have to make up 1,000,000 barrels a day but about half that number. Moreover, as has been demonstrated by our US neighbours to the south, increasing rail capacity is not as hard as some appear to think it to be. The US is adding 720,000 bbl/day capacity for export of Bakken crude to the west coast and the rail connections from Alberta to the US mean that additional capacity can go that way as well as via existing Canadian rail lines. Since that US rail capacity will travel through the headwaters of the Kootenai river and along the Columbia it poses a real risk to West Coast fisheries and our own freshwater fisheries.

    1. Or…Apparently it is hard for rail to meet expanding oil transport demands. Just ask Warren Buffet, owner of the continent’s biggest oil-by-rail shipper, BNSF, who has acknowledged the company cannot increase capacity under conditions. In November, it was announced that he would be spending $6 Billion this year to ease rail congestion in order to address the bottleneck Bakken shipments are facing. Apparently people need rail tracks for things other than oil – like food. Go figure.


      But how are these plans now impacted by falling crude prices? Is he still going to invest $6 Billion to increase capacity, when Bakken production is crashing because it’s so expensive to produce compared to conventional crude?!


      Add to that the inevitable tightening of regulations for oil-by-rail on both sides of the border, which includes huge capital costs for replacing the ill-fated and deadly DOT-111 tanker cars;

      Add to that the increased cost of moving oil by rail, a major disincentive for an industry-wide shift to this traditionally boutique transport method;


      Finally, the devaluation of Bakken and oil sands product under these price conditions…And now your rosy prognosis for increasing oil-by-rail capacity starts falling apart.

      You’re deluded if you believe we’ll see 700,000 barrels – heck, even half a million barrels – of tar sands bitumen moving by rail through Vancouver.

      And why would the people of BC allow that anyway? They’ve demonstrated they have a problem with driving climate change through oil sands expansion, as well as the dangers of spills associated with moving a product which is intended solely for export and benefits them in no way financially. What makes you think this public – which has held at bay two multibillion dollar pipeline projects backed by the biggest energy transmission companies in North America – will stand for 700,000 barrels/day of oil-by-rail shipments to our coast?!

    2. Blair, to add to what Damien has clearly stated, I would go so far as today there is no benefit to Canada to continue this frenzy given the exorbitant tax relief and massive subsidies given to this industry. Along with a free ride when it comes to environmental responsibilities.
      You seem to be of the mindset that it is as important, as the sun rising, the air we breath or the food we eat, to get that toxic sludge from the ground and onto ships bound for the orient. What drives anyone to believe that?
      The ship has sailed on that plan. The times have changed for most and we no longer see the vision.
      Best to leave the sludge in the ground where it can cause no harm to an already fragile environment and ignore the cries of riches beyond our dreams.
      Give us a sustainable, nondestructive future or go away!
      It remains to be seen if these proposed pipelines or rail alternatives, if either is even viable given the current pricing. My opinion is no.

  9. One can be sure that John Weston ( or any other Conservative MP for that matter) wouldnt issue a statement about the economy OR the environment without explicit prior approval from the PMO.
    This new catch phrase ‘the envorinment IS the economy” sounds like nothing more than vote pandering.
    Unfortunately the average voter has the attention span of a dog chasing geese. Zero focus while racing to failure.

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