Tar Sands Pipelines as Bottle-necks Against the Consolidation of Power in Canada

Posted: November 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

Reposted from Infoshop News

Perhaps more than at any other time in its history, the Canadian state has invested its future in a single massive industrial project. The Tar Sands (1) is increasingly the driver of Canada’s economy, a symbol of its national identity, and central to how it seeks to position itself globally in the future. As pipeline projects advance across the continent, there is a pressing need for us to understand how, in opposing the transportation of Tar Sands oil, we have an unparalleled opportunity to disrupt the capitalist political system in this country. This is especially important in Ontario, where presently the movement against the pipelines is weakest.

Up to now, the Tar Sands oil has been largely landlocked and its price is suppressed by the glut of supply this has created in the markets that can access it. The elites in Canada see this inability to access broader markets as hurting their profits, which in turn reduces their ability to reinvest in expanding the Tar Sands. From the perspective of the powerful, Tar Sands oil must have access to ports in order for the project to expand. The Canadian government has also been finalizing free-trade deals with China and the European Union, so the buyers are lined up once the oil is available.

Opposition to the extraction and transportation of Tar Sands oil has largely been seen as an environmental issue, with an emphasis on climate change and carbon emissions. Sustained resistance by Indigenous communities has made the issues of Indigenous sovreignty impossible to ignore in the Athabasca basing and in the regions crossed by the pipelines. In the past year, struggles against Tar Sands pipelines have intensified across the Canada and the United States, and more reasons for opposing the Tar Sands have blossomed with each new community in struggle.

The Tar Sands is not just an environmental issue though, and it does not just affect the areas around its pipelines. The Tar Sands is increasingly central to how power exists in the Canadian territory. The current push to build pipelines is a crucial moment for both the financial and political systems, and for the movements that oppose them.

I don’t want to be another voice claiming that one issue is the centre piece of the system of domination. However, this escalation in the movement and production of Tar Sands oil is very real and current, and it has links in almost every part of Canadian society. Here are a few examples:


  • Austerity cuts to social programs are made with the same stroke of the pen that removes environmental oversight from pipeline projects and that sends massive subsidies and incentives to oil and pipeline companies. (2)
  • The government prepares for the fallout of scrapping social programs by expanding the prison system (3). Those most affected by prison will continue to be Indigenous communities and people of colour, and these communities will also continue to bear the brunt of the toxicity associated with oil refining and manufacturing related to Tar Sands production. A company owned by an Enbridge executive has already received a contract to build a new prison in Nova Scotia following the passage of Bill C-10, the crime bill (4).
  • Currently, about ten thousand men from Atlantic Provinces are employed in the Tar Sands (5), being coerced through economic necessity to spend their lives in boom towns like Fort McMurray, in an atmosphere dominated by drug addiction, organized crime, and sexual violence. These social problems then travel back home with them.
  • Currently, there are several pipelines (including the Pacific Trails (6)) being built to supply the insatiable Tar Sands with natural gas. However, some industry estimates still say that even with this added supply, they’ll be out of gas there in less than thirty years. The state intends to respond to this by building as many as twelve nuclear power plants. This waste will likely be stored on the shores of Lake Huron (7), and this escalation of nuclear power will likely fuel a new phase of nuclear armament as powerful countries vie for dwindling resources.
  • The rhetoric of Canadian oil for Canadian consumers is preparing for a global future of ever increasing inequality. Alongside assuring its “have” status, Canada is moving to secure its borders, restricting freedom of movement and cracking down on migrants. The constitution of a national identity around privileged access to to a decisive energy resource is inseperable from xenophobic, racist policies.
  • Other areas in Canada are undergoing a boom in destructive extractive industries, particularly in the north. The Ring of Fire (8) developments in Ontario and le Plan Nord (9) in Quebec are two important examples. Financially and politically, these projects are deeply tied to the Tar Sands. It is only by maintaining privileged access to oil for industry that the Canadian state can envision these projects being at all viable over the long time frames imagined for them.
  • Most of the factors discussed above affect Indigenous people disproportionately, because of the long-standing racist, colonial stratification of Canadian society. Native people who resist the Tar Sands and other incursions on their land and sovreignty are increasingly being treated as terrorists by the state, with huge amounts of intelligence resources dedicated to disrupting and suppressing their movements (10).

So if we recognize that the Tar Sands is a vital chokepoint for the political, economic, and industrial systems in this country, how do we position ourselves against it?

A key strategic principle is to bring decisive force to bear against your enemy at critical times and places. For those of us who see the Canadian state and economy as our enemies, the Tar Sands pipelines are critical places, and the moment to move against them is while they are being built or repurposed. This work is being done now and over the next couple of years. We will only have one such opportunity to stop this oil from reaching ports.

Three main paths for Tar Sands oil are actively being pursued at this time. The western path is known as the Northern Gateway and would see this dirty, toxic sludge transported across the Rocky Mountains, across the headwaters of countless rivers and streams, through the unceded territory of several Indigenous nations, to reach a port in one of the world’s most hazardous waterways. To the south, the oil would travel down the Keystone XL pipeline, crossing ecologically sensitive regions everywhere along its route and disposessing hundreds of people of their land.

Both the western and southern paths have encountered massive resistance, especially from Indigenous Peoples. In particular, the Yinka-Dene alliance forms an unbroken wall of Indigenous nations blocking access of Tar Sands oil to the Canadian Pacific coast. Opposition to the Northern Gateway is so strong that even the opportunistic provincial government of British Columbia has jumped on the bandwagon to oppose the federal government’s plan.

Another important strategic truth is that “an attacker willing to pay the price can always penetrate the strongest defenses.” But “defense is the stronger form of combat” and on the west coast, the defensive mobilization is already formidable, and even the arrogant, colonial federal conservative government would hesitate to provoke such an enormous confrontation with Indigenous nations.

The sheer monstrous ridiculousness of the Northern Gateway has made the third option for moving Tar Sands oil, the eastern path, seem so reasonable by comparison that every liberal organization in the country – from the NDP to the Toronto Star – is rushing to support it.

The reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline through Ontario is by far the least politically expensive and logistically simplest of the three routes for Tar Sands oil. It just involves reversing existing pipelines from Sarnia to Hamilton then on to Montreal. From there, another pipeline could be reversed to carry the oil to Portland, Maine where it would have easier access to Atlantic ports. A plan identical to the current Line 9 reversals was proposed back in 2008, but was withdrawn after the economic collapse and in the face of heated opposition.

We need to stop the movement of Tar Sands oil no matter what route it takes. Though we might argue about the risks of a spill to a particular sensitive area to gain local support, it doesn’t matter if it’s crossing pristine mountain streams or Hamilton Harbour. The Tar Sands is an ecological and social nightmare that benefits only the elites, and it’s going to get worse if its market is allowed to expand.

Tar Sands oil is coming East. To all the anarchists, radical environmentalists, and militants of any sort along the Line 9 route: we have a golden opportunity to prevent the state and capitalists from further consolidating their power. Enbridge intends Line 9 to be fully ready for Tar Sands oil by the Spring of 2014, so our time frame is tight. There will not be very many easy sites of intervention (like construction projects, for instance) so we need to be ready in our home communities to act quickly when these chances present themselves.

Some starting points to learn more about the Line 9 reversal:




1) If you haven’t seen how the dirtiest oil in the world is extracted, take a minute to look it up before reading on. http://oilsandstruth.org/ is a good place to begin.

2) The 2012 omnibus federal budget bill, bill C-38, scrapped environmental assessments (and many other legal protections that were expensive for corporation) and maintained low taxes and infrastructual support for the Tar Sands. It also cut eligibility for Old Age Security, and Employment Insurance, among lots of other changes. Some more details here: http://www.mediacoop.ca/story/10-reasons-oppose-bill-c-38/11347

3) For an anarchist analysis of the current prison expansion, check out EPIC out of Kingston, https://endthepic.wordpress.com

4) J Richard Bird is the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer at Enbridge. He also owns Bird Construction, which was handed a 38.5 million dollar contract to build in Nova Scotia the first prison stemming from Bill C-10. Follow this link for a lefty analysis: http://www.canadianprogressiveworld.com/2012/07/05/enbridge-executives-company-awarded-first-bill-c-10-38-5-million-prison-project/

5) This paper studies the migration of workers from Nova Scotia to the Tar Sands region: www.justlabour.yorku.ca/volume17/pdfs/08_ferguson_press.pdf

6) For more information about opposition to the Pacific Trails pipeline, http://intercontinentalcry.org/pacific-trails-pipeline-drillers-evicted-from-wetsuweten-territory/


7) The town of Saugeen Shores currently seems to be the likely recipient of all of Canada’s spent nuclear fuel. http://saveoursaugeenshores.org/

8) On the Ring of Fire and opposition to it: http://toronto.mediacoop.ca/story/first-nations-oppose-ring-fire-mining-projects/11622

9) For updates on opposition to the Plan Nord: http://www.indigenoussolidaritymontreal.net/

10) An article about the escalation of spying against Indigenous people: http://www.mediacoop.ca/story/rcmp-spied-protesting-first-nations/9303

  1. I’m largely sympathetic to those working against the pipeline around North America.However, we need to consider the fact that without these pipelines, we in eastern North America will continue to rely on oil from Nigeria with all of its environmental damage (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_industry_in_Nigeria#Impact_of_oil_industry_on_the_environment) and Saudi Arabia, with all of its human rights issues (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_rights_in_Saudi_Arabia#Women.27s_rights).

    Personally, if we’re going to use fossil fuels to drive, produce fertilizer and food, and blog, I think I’d rather have oil from North America where we have first world environmental laws, constant pressure on corporations, and human rights.

    • Hi Peter,

      To me, it seems pretty non-sensical to talk about some oil being more ethical than others. Is it ethical to poison Indigenous communities downstream of the Tar Sands? Is it ethical to accelerate the production of the world’s dirtiest oil without at least trying to reduce society’s dependance on fossil fuels? Is it ethical to condemn future generations to catastrophic climate change?

      Setting up some oil as more ethical than others is a deceptive funded by oil companies and conservative political bodies, and I don’t want to play the game of choosing one greedy, destructive capitalists over another.

  2. Quitadebois says:

    Reblogged this on Tar Sands Solidarity Brighton and commented:
    Canadian Anarchist perspective on tar sands industry and expansion plans.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s