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Activists Say They Drilled Holes in CGL Pipeline, Sabotaged Materials

The RCMP says the claims are under investigation. An expert predicts the situation is ‘only going to scale up.’

Amanda Follett Hosgood 1 Mar 2023TheTyee.ca

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

Authorities say investigations are underway after an anonymous post claiming to have sabotaged the Coastal GasLink pipeline in 10 locations, including holes “less than a penny wide” drilled into the pipe.

The claims were posted to a website called BC Counter-info last Friday. The post “Treasure Hunt for Coastal GasLink,” which is attributed to an anonymous contributor, claims that over the past few months, “several sections of the Coastal GasLink pipeline have been vandalized.” The damage includes drilling holes and damaging the pipe’s joints and protective coating, it said.

It also claimed to have weakened sections of concrete pipe meant to go under the Morice River.

When contacted by The Tyee, someone behind the BC Counter-info website said its submission system does not provide personal details, including contact information, for those who submit content. They didn’t respond to followup questions about whether it attempts to validate the authenticity of submissions.

The site says it publishes “original work, anonymous submissions and material from other websites for educational purposes only.”

“We do not endorse or promote illegal, violent and unlawful behaviour or actions, or acts of intimidation against individuals or groups,” its "about us" page adds. “We do not organize demonstrations or other actions, although we do give space for various groups to report, build and create capacity for various actions as they relate to social manifestations, struggles and movements.”

Of the 10 locations the recent post describes along the pipeline route, each several kilometres long, most are in Wet’suwet’en territory. Two are farther west — one of them in a rugged section crossing the Coast Mountains — and another is farther east, near Fraser Lake.

The site, which was established last June, also contains a post that claims responsibility for the alleged arson that destroyed RCMP vehicles in Smithers.

“Financially, the consequences of each act were minor: a few holes in the pipeline here, some corroded welding seams there, damaged concrete here. Our goal was to contribute to the small delays in a project that was already well over budget,” the post said.

It added that “only some” of the 10 activities outlined in the post had actually occurred, but the pipeline builder will have to “excavate and re-examine” pipe in those sections.

“Cracked concrete or rusted and patched pipes can lead to small leaks and large-scale spills, which is why every action, whether genuine or falsified, is being brought to the attention of the public long before the pipeline is operational,” it said.

The threats are the latest development in a years-long dispute over the 670-kilometre pipeline, which is under construction from northeast B.C. to the LNG Canada export facility in Kitimat. The project is currently more than 80 per cent complete.

But it has faced delays and rising costs, with the most recent estimate putting the price tag for construction at $14.5 billion — more than double the original estimate.

It’s also controversial: there have been ongoing environmental issues, which Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs say they foresaw when they “said no” to the project.

Opposition took a new direction one year ago, when Coastal GasLink reported that masked assailants had threatened workers and caused millions of dollars in damage at the site where it is drilling to put the pipeline under the Morice River, known to the Wet’suwet’en as Wedzin Kwa.

When asked about the recent claims of extensive sabotage, the RCMP said it is “aware of ongoing efforts by some individuals and groups to delay or obstruct the work of Coastal GasLink” and that “all incidents of damage to infrastructure or equipment that are reported to the RCMP are investigated fully.”

“It would be safe to say that the RCMP is investigating,” RCMP senior media relations officer Staff Sgt. Kris Clark said.

The BC Energy Regulator, which regulates pipeline construction, also said it is aware of the claims and takes them seriously.

“We will work as necessary in collaboration with the RCMP, CGL and other relevant parties to investigate and ensure public safety,” a spokesperson said. (The agency was formerly the BC Oil and Gas Commission.)

B.C.’s Public Safety Ministry confirmed the RCMP is “actively investigating.”

“Their priority remains the safety and security of people living and working in proximity to the pipeline. They continue to be in close contact with CGL to ensure every appropriate step is being taken in this regard,” it said. “For months, the RCMP have remained in an enhanced posture in the area to ensure public safety and to deter and respond to illegal activities.”

The ministry encouraged anyone with information about the investigation to contact the RCMP.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the pipeline had actually sustained damage. In an email, a Coastal GasLink spokesperson said the company is aware of the claims and it is looking into them.

“While we have no evidence at this time to suggest tampering has occurred, we take every threat to the integrity of our pipeline infrastructure very seriously,” it said, adding that inspections occur at “every step” of pipeline construction and testing is done before the pipeline becomes operational.

“These claims follow a concerning trend of escalating violence,” it continued, adding that attacks on energy infrastructure “should concern all Canadians.”

Will Greaves is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Victoria who studies the effects of climate change on Canadian security. He says that the pressures of climate change and an increasingly divided political landscape are creating more disruptive and potentially violent protest behaviour across the political spectrum.

“Climate activists are getting increasingly disruptive because of the increasing urgency of taking action. I think that that's only going to scale up,” he said, pointing to ongoing protests like those against old-growth logging at Fairy Creek and the Trans Mountain pipeline project.

He added that protests like art gallery vandalism and the slashing of SUV tires are similarly the result of younger generations in particular feeling hopeless in the face of climate change.

On the other side of the political spectrum, those pushing back against climate activism are also becoming more aggressive, he said.

“We saw a lot of that anti-climate-change discourse mobilized by the Freedom Convoy folks,” he said. “These are dynamics that I think are here to stay.”

Greaves noted that the public may never know if the claims are authentic, depending on whether Coastal GasLink chooses to disclose the information. He cautioned against labels like terrorism, which he said should be reserved for actions that directly imperil human life.

“Economic consequences, even job losses, and those kinds of disruptions would not meet a threshold of terrorism,” he said.

When asked whether the claims could present a threat to public safety, he suggested the goal was more likely to hurt the project economically.

“I would be prepared to take them at face value,” he said. “They actually state that the goal is to delay the project further and to increase the cost of the project. Ultimately, what you're trying to do through this kind of tactic is discourage the funders and the investors of the project from continuing to support it.”

Demonstrations against Coastal GasLink began in late 2018, when the B.C. Supreme Court issued an injunction to the pipeline builder that prohibits anyone from blocking access to roads or worksites associated with the project.

In response, members of the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en Clan established a camp on the Morice Forest Service Road, blocking access to a portion of the pipeline route through the nation’s traditional territory. A second barrier further down the Morice road on Unist’ot’en territory had been put in place years earlier.

The road was cleared by RCMP and 14 people were arrested at Gidimt’en Camp in January 2019.

A year later, the nation’s hereditary leadership again blocked access to the pipeline company, this time triggering a month-long standoff that ended with 28 people arrested during a weeklong enforcement in February 2020. The standoff garnered nationwide attention and solidarity actions that “brought the country to a standstill,” Greaves noted.

“Then the pandemic just changed the channel,” he said. “We didn’t actually resolve the underlying issues.”

In September 2021, Wet’suwet’en members and their supporters established a camp at the site where Coastal GasLink was preparing to drill under the Morice River. In mid-November that year, hereditary leadership again blocked the Morice road, leading to a two-day police enforcement and dozens more arrests.

Over the past year, actions against the project have taken a new turn. Not only did the alleged attack at the Coastal GasLink drill site on Feb. 17, 2022, mark an escalation in violence, no one has claimed responsibility for it.

Despite 40 investigators working on the case and a $100,000 reward offered by an independent business group, RCMP have never identified any suspects or made any arrests.

The force ramped up policing in the area following the incident, with people at Gidimt’en Camp reporting an increase in patrols, including officers doing regular sweeps through the camp, and costs for patrolling the remote resource road rising significantly in the early months of last year. RCMP spending on the pipeline conflict reached $25 million last March.

Then, last October, eight vehicles — including four belonging to the RCMP Community-Industry Response Group, the force tasked with policing the pipeline conflict — were set ablaze in an early morning attack in Smithers, about 100 kilometres north of where the pipeline is under construction through Wet’suwet’en territory.

RCMP have not identified any suspects in the alleged arson. Many have connected the incident to the ongoing pipeline dispute, with Skeena MLA Ellis Ross calling it “eco-terrorism.”

Ross took to Twitter this week to repeat the claim, this time in relation to the sabotage allegations, and call on government to share its investigation results. The northern MLA did not respond to The Tyee’s interview request.

The Tyee also reached out to Gidimt’en Camp for comment but did not receive a response. Following last year’s incident at the Coastal GasLink drill site, Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership released a statement saying it does not support violence.  [Tyee]

Read more: Energy, Environment

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