The Plastics Pipeline: A Surge of New Production Is on the Way

A world awash in plastic will soon see even more, as a host of new petrochemical plants — their ethane feedstock supplied by the fracking boom — come online. Major oil companies, facing the prospect of reduced demand for their fuels, are ramping up their plastics output.

s public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out.

Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

“In the context of a world trying to shift off of fossil fuels as an energy source, this is where [oil and gas companies] see the growth,” said Steven Feit, a staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, an advocacy group.

And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling.

Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S.

“They’re looking for a way to monetize it,“ Feit said. “You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”

America’s petrochemical hub has historically been the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, with a stretch along the lower Mississippi River dubbed “Cancer Alley” because of the impact of toxic emissions . Producers are expanding their footprint there with a slew of new projects, and proposals for more. They are also seeking to create a new plastics corridor in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where fracking wells are rich in ethane.

Shell is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant — a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for many kinds of plastic — in Monaca, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is expected to produce up 1.6 million tons of plastic annually after it opens in the early 2020s. It’s just the highest profile piece of what the industry hails as a “renaissance in U.S. plastics manufacturing,” whose output goes not only into packaging and single-use items such as cutlery, bottles, and bags, but also longer-lasting uses like construction materials and parts for cars and airplanes.

“That’s why 2020 is so crucial. There are a lot of these facilities that are in the permitting process. We’re pretty close to it all being too late,” said Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics and a former regional director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “If even a quarter of these ethane cracking facilities are built, it’s locking us into a plastic future that is going to be hard to recover from.”

Shell Chemical Appalachia's ethane cracker facility under construction in Monaca, Pennsylvania in April 2019.

Shell Chemical Appalachia’s ethane cracker facility under construction in Monaca, Pennsylvania in April 2019. AP PHOTO/GENE J. PUSKAR

The impact goes beyond the waste problem that is the focus of public concern. Although plastic is often seen as a separate issue from climate change, both its production and afterlife are in fact major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

Global emissions linked to plastic — now just under 900 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually — could by 2030 reach 1.3 billion tons, as much as almost 300 coal-fired power plants, the Center for International Environmental Law found. If output grows as planned, plastic would use up between 10 and 13 percent of the carbon emissions allowable if warming is to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the center reported.

Those emissions come from nearly every stage of plastic’s life. First, there is the energy-intensive nature of oil and gas extraction. Then, ethane cracking requires enormous amounts of power, with a concomitantly large greenhouse gas footprint. The Shell plant has a permit allowing it to emit as much carbon dioxide annually as 480,000 cars.

An estimated 12 percent of all plastic is incinerated, releasing more greenhouse gases, as well as dangerous toxins, including dioxins and heavy metals. Industry is promoting an expansion of incineration in waste-to-electricity plants, which it describes as a source of renewable energy. What’s more, new research suggests plastic in the environment releases greenhouse gases as it degrades — a potentially vast and uncontrollable source of emissions.


The industry argues that plastic delivers many benefits, including environmental ones. It makes cars lighter and therefore more efficient, insulates homes, reduces waste by extending food’s life, and keeps medical supplies sanitary, among many other uses, said Keith Christman, managing director of plastic markets at the American Chemistry Council.

“These things are going to continue to be important applications that protect our health and society going forward,” he said. “The key here is context. If you aren’t going to use plastics, what are you going to use instead?” Alternatives like steel, glass, and aluminum have negative impacts of their own, including carbon footprints that can be greater than plastic’s, he said. And while critics focus on disposable items that seem frivolous, much plastic is put to longer lasting use, he said.

Still, convenience — like consumers’ taste for eating and drinking on the go — is a big driver of plastic use in wealthy nations. And the developing world has become an important new market, too. In parts of Asia, international companies sell single portions of products such as shampoo, soap, and lotion to low-income consumers in individual packets. But while industry points to a lack of waste management infrastructure in poor countries as a cause of the ocean plastic problem, Americans use dozens of times more plastic per capita than Indians, five times more than Indonesians, and nearly three times as much as Chinese.

In addition to its climate impacts, petrochemical production can release airborne toxins such as 1,3-Butadiene, benzene, and toluene, causing cancer and other illnesses. Many plants are in poor areas, often communities of color, although as the fracking connection drives expansion into rural areas, poor white communities will likely be increasingly affected, too.

“I think the public has a misunderstanding of the breadth of plastic impacts, especially regarding human health,” says one activist.

Fires and explosions are another problem. The day before Thanksgiving, a blaze at the Texas Petroleum Chemical plant in Port Neches set off two explosions, forcing 50,000 people to evacuate their homes. A week later, authorities issued another evacuation warning after air monitors detected high levels of carcinogenic 1,3 Butadiene.

It was the state’s fourth major petrochemical fire of 2019. “This is the nature of where we live, and the unfortunate side effect of all this production,” said Yvette Arellano, of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services. “I think the general public has a misunderstanding of the full breadth of plastic impacts, especially regarding human health.”

Still, many welcome the jobs petrochemical facilities bring, particularly in areas hit by the loss of coal and other industry. Pennsylvania granted the Shell plant a tax break valued at $1.6 billion — one of the biggest in state history — and officials in Ohio and West Virginia are wooing firms eager to build more ethane crackersstorage facilities, and pipelines. IHS Markit, a data and analysis company, said the region could produce enough ethane to supply four more cracking plants like Shell’s.

One concern for the industry is the spread of laws aimed at reducing plastic’s proliferation. The European Union is banning single-use plastic items including cutlery, plates, straws, cups, and food containers starting in 2021. Eight U.S. states and a number of cities have outlawed plastic shopping bags, and so have 34 African countries.

“Despite those efforts, the demand for plastic is continuing to grow very rapidly” in both developing nations and richer ones, said Peter Levi, a lead author of the IEA’s 2018 report on petrochemicals’ future. Analysts predict annual demand growth of 4 percent. “The capacity additions are not there for no reason,” Levi said.

Construction of the Russian petrochemical plant ZapSibNefteKhim on the outskirts of Tobolsk in October 2018. ANDREY BORODULIN/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Annual production has already doubled since 2000, growth driven in part by plastic’s low cost and versatility. “It’s a bit of a dream material,” Levi said. “If you think about how much you can put in a plastic bag relative to how much it weighs, it’s remarkable. That means the substitutes for it have to compete at that level.”

In the case of plastic, though, demand doesn’t always come directly from consumers, but from companies in the food, beverage, consumer products, and other sectors who use it to package their goods.

The American Chemistry Council aims for all plastic to be recycled or recovered by 2040, although critics dismiss the goal as unrealistic greenwash. The EU, in addition to its ban on single-use items, will also require that plastic bottles contain 25 percent recycled content by 2025.

An IHS Markit report said recycling’s technical capabilities, logistics, and economics were inadequate to such ambitions. Plastic recycling is technically difficult, and China’s closing of its doors to foreign plastic waste in 2018 laid bare the inadequacy of global recycling systems, leaving many wealthy nations with mountains of waste.

Unless production slows, an analyst says, “they’ll just find something else to wrap in plastic.”

Recycled material is unlikely to contribute more than 10 to 12 percent of future plastic production, said Robin Waters, IHS Markit’s director of plastics analysis and one of the report’s authors. And the kinds of items covered by bans like Europe’s only account for about 5 percent of plastic demand, he said.

The industry’s critics fear the expansion of supply is likely to guarantee additional plastic usage regardless of whether consumers want it. Once new ethane cracking plants are built, producers will want to keep them running to maximize revenue, Feit said.

“So then the next concern is that there will be an innovation in ways to get plastic on the market,” he said. “This is what we’ve seen [in the past] — more and more things come packaged in more and more plastic. There is a whack-a-mole issue.” Unless production slows, he added, “they’ll just find something else to wrap in plastic.”

Beth Gardiner

Beth Gardiner is a journalist and the author of Choked: Life and Breath in the Age of Air Pollution (University of Chicago Press). Her work has appeared in publications including the New York Times, The Guardian, National Geographic and Smithsonian, and she is a former longtime Associated Press reporter. 


Amid oil- and gas-pipeline halts, Dakota Access operator ignores court

Pipelines are having a bad week.

Words projected onto the EPA’s headquarters during a demonstration.

A series of decisions in the last few days has halted or scuttled three high-profile oil- and gas-pipeline projects. The Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines—sources of long-running controversy—both suffered legal setbacks that will require additional environmental impact reviews. Separately, the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline recently won a case before the US Supreme Court, yet it has now been abandoned by the two energy companies behind it.

The Keystone XL pipeline is meant to carry oil produced in Alberta, Canada, southeast to Nebraska, but it has suffered major delays. The Dakota Access pipeline, on the other hand, has been operational for several years, carrying oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois.

Both were subjected to major protests. The Keystone protests focused on the climate impact of facilitating production in Alberta’s oil sands, where extraction is unusually energy intensive. Dakota Access was strongly opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and many others), who feared the consequences of a leak where the pipeline crosses under the Missouri River on the edge of reservation land.

The Obama administration eventually denied approval to Keystone and halted work on Dakota Access while the Army Corps of Engineers reevaluated the proposed route. But immediately after taking office, President Trump pushed both projects forward, fast-tracking some remaining permits.

Those moves have been challenged in court, where tribal and environmental groups have argued that environmental review requirements were not being met. That argument has won out in recent decisions. A US District Court judge ruled in April that the Army Corps of Engineers should not have exempted the Dakota Access pipeline from completing an environmental impact analysis for the river crossing. On Monday, that same judge ruled that the pipeline has to stop operating until the analysis is complete, giving a 30-day deadline to shut it down.

According to a Bloomberg report, however, Energy Transfer (the owner of the pipeline) is refusing that order. Instead, it’s going right ahead with scheduling oil transport with its customers for August. (UPDATE: Energy Transfer released a statement after this story was published denying that they would defy a court order. “Rather, DAPL is seeking appropriate relief from that order through the established legal process,” the statement says.)

The Keystone pipeline also ran into District Court trouble back in April, when a judge decided that a long-standing Army Corps program allowing pipelines and other utility lines to skip many permitting requirements for river crossings is not legal. That lawsuit was focused on Keystone, but the ruling affected projects around the country.


The decision is being appealed, but the Trump administration wanted the US Supreme Court to step in with an emergency ruling to prevent the change from taking effect until that process plays out. On Monday, the Supreme Court left the ruling in place for Keystone, preventing construction work from beginning. But the court did restore the current rules for any other projects.

This case was one of the factors cited by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy Sunday when they announced they had decided to drop the Atlantic Coast pipeline project, which was intended to carry natural gas through West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. They argued that a stay from the Supreme Court “would not ultimately change the judicial venue for appeal nor decrease the uncertainty associated with an eventual ruling.”

It is a surprising decision given that the companies won a Supreme Court case just last month about whether the pipeline could cross the Appalachian Trail. Some environmental groups had sued, arguing that the US Forest Service shouldn’t have granted the permit as the pipeline should not be allowed on National Park land. Obviously, it would be logistically difficult to ever run a pipeline on the East Coast without crossing the nearly 2,200-mile-long trail, and a number of pipelines already do. The Supreme Court decided that the Atlantic Coast pipeline’s permit should stand.

Still, Duke and Dominion said that “ongoing delays and increasing cost uncertainty which threaten the economic viability of the project” pushed the companies to cancel it. Instead, Dominion decided to sell all of its natural gas pipeline and storage assets to “an affiliate” of prominent investor Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc.—a deal valued at $9.7 billion.

The Keystone and Dakota Access projects could ultimately win on appeal or resume after completing new environmental reviews. However, it’s also possible that the government’s position could change after the 2020 general election. But at least in the short-term, these court decisions have once again brought both pipelines to a halt.

Scott K. Johnson | Ars TechnicaSCOTT K. JOHNSONis an educator and recovering hydrogeologist who has been covering the geosciences for Ars since 2011.

B.C. orders Coastal GasLink to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands

After the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en Clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation flagged concerns, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office found Coastal GasLink failed to follow its wetlands management plan

Construction workers monitor a section of narrow road built for the Coastal GasLink pipeline near Houtson, B.C. A red dress, signifying Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, hangs from a tree in the background. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

Coastal GasLink has been forced to stop pipeline construction near protected wetlands after an inspection by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office found the company cleared areas without completing the required surveying and planning.

Coastal GasLink was issued two non-compliance orders in June and now has to complete the surveys before the project can proceed in the affected areas.

The 670-kilometre pipeline is planned to transport fracked gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat, for shipment to markets in Asia.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs served Coastal GasLink with an eviction notice on Jan. 4, starting a chain of events that led to RCMP enforcing a court-ordered injunction to arrest more than 80 protesters in February, including Elders, Chiefs and matriarchs. On June 5, charges against 22 Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters were dropped and many others were never charged.

Unist’ot’en Wet'suwet'en RCMP injunction arrest

A woman is arrested as police enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction at the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, B.C., in February 2020. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

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The Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en Clans brought two wetlands areas of concern to the attention of the Environmental Assessment Office this spring. When inspection officers investigated, they found construction had begun in these areas prior to proper surveying and planning.

The assessment office then inspected the remainder of the pipeline route and found the company’s wetlands management plan had not been followed in any of the wetlands along the route designated “ecologically and socioeconomically important,” according to a news release from the Unist’ot’en Dark House, of Wet’suwet’en Nation, on Monday.

Coastal GasLink produced its own wetlands management plan “and cannot claim ignorance of the requirements laid out within it,” Unist’ot’en Dark House said.

As part of that plan, and under Coastal GasLink’s environmental assessment certificate, the company is required to conduct surveys of these ecologically sensitive areas prior to clearing and develop site-specific plans for mitigating any adverse effects caused by construction or clearing.

B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy declined an interview request but said in a statement that 42 wetlands areas are affected. The Unist’ot’en Dark House release says there are nearly 300 protected wetlands along the pipeline route and Coastal GasLink hasn’t developed site-specific mitigation plans for any of them. It adds that nearly 80 per cent of the pipeline right of way has already been cleared, affecting most of these protected wetlands.

The assessment office issued two non-compliance orders — one on June 16 for not taking measures to limit the damage done to wetlands and the other on June 22 for proceeding with work to clear the sites for construction prior to conducting the required surveys.

The ministry statement says “construction activity to date includes right of way clearing, access road development, and the clearing, grading and development of camps and work areas.”

Coastal GasLink must now cease construction within 30 metres of wetlands areas designated as socioeconomically important until construction preparation surveys are completed and an expert in wetlands conservation, on behalf of the company, has visited each site to identify options for minimizing the harm caused to the area during construction.

The orders are accompanied by another non-compliance order issued on June 16 due to workers’ lack of efforts to mitigate harm to whitebark pine, an endangered species in Canada. Last year, the company faced another order after initiating work prior to notifying trapline owners in the area around Houston.

Wet’suwet’en requested Coastal GasLink’s wetlands management plans to no avail

Jason Slade, technical adviser to Unist’ot’en Dark House, says the Wet’suwet’en have been asking Coastal GasLink for months for site-specific plans regarding clearing and construction in wetlands.

“They have to cross beaver ponds and swamps and such,” he explained. “They must have a plan.”

But Coastal GasLink never gave a definitive answer and only said it was an “iterative process.”

The recent determination by the assessment office “shows Wet’suwet’en leadership that this lack of planning was actually illegal under the Environmental Assessment Act,” said the Unist’ot’en Dark House news release.

Coastal GasLink said it is complying with the stop-work order.

“Environmental protection is a top priority for us,” spokesperson Suzanne Wilton told The Narwhal, adding that work has already begun under the enforcement orders to survey and report on the damage.

“A lot of these places have been seriously damaged,” Slade said. “But do you really think those same guys who did the damage in the first place are going to go back out there and say, ‘Oh, we did a lot of damage,’ or are they going to say, ‘We did a really good job’? ”

Coastal GasLink workers take down an installation of red dresses, hung to signify Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, after RCMP enforced an injunction at the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, B.C., in February 2020. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

Pipeline work to continue but not without bumps

While Coastal GasLink completes its wetlands plans, work continues in other areas where work camps are being built and populated in preparation for laying the pipeline this summer. As of May 31, roughly 77 percent of the route had been cleared and installation had started in Kitimat earlier this month.

Pipeline materials are stored in Houston, but Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, a Gidimt’en spokesperson, says she hasn’t seen much work happening on Gidimt’en or Dark House territory. In Vanderhoof, about two hours away, it’s a different story. Construction on a 900-bed work camp is well underway.

In May, nine Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs signed a memorandum of understanding with the provincial and federal governments to work toward affirming Wet’suwet’en rights and title. But it doesn’t mean the Hereditary Chiefs have changed their stance on Coastal GasLink.

“The MOU is a separate issue,” explains Sleydo’ Molly Wickham. “It has nothing to do with Coastal GasLink.”

As for the pipeline?

“We are still in opposition,” she says emphatically. “People should know that. The eviction order stands. And we’ll enforce that eviction order.”

In a statement, the B.C. Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said the memorandum of understanding is a first step toward resolving “difficult and complicated issues” around Wet’suwet’en rights and title.

“By resolving these issues, we can avoid the kind of conflicts we’ve seen on the land, and work together for the benefit of all people who live in the region,” the statement said.

The ministry acknowledged that “at the time the MOU was reached, all parties at the table recognized that the differences relating to the [Coastal GasLink] project remain. That has not changed.”

RCMP continue to have a presence on Wet’suwet’en territory

As the pipeline project continues, so too does enforcement of Coastal GasLink’s “right of way” on Wet’suwet’en territory.

June 29 Gidimt’en news release shows photos of three RCMP officers — including one armed with an assault rifle — conducting foot patrols at a newly built smokehouse near the Wedzin Kwa on Gidimt’en territory. Photos taken shortly after show Coastal GasLink workers posting a notice on the smokehouse saying it is “within the Coastal GasLink permitted construction footprint” and “must be relocated” prior to work commencing in the area. The images were caught on June 3 by security cameras belonging to the Gidimt’en.

While it’s unclear who made the complaint, Gidimt’en Clan member Jennifer Wickham says it’s clear the “RCMP are acting as security for [Coastal GasLink].”

“It’s shocking and disturbing that they would come out to the yintah [territory] so heavily armed,” she says. “Bringing those types of weapons to a smokehouse is so unnecessary.”

She points out that when the RCMP carried out their arrests earlier this year and in 2019, they were similarly armed “and even then it was unnecessary.”

Coastal GasLink workers smokehouse

Coastal GasLink workers post a notice on a smokehouse on Gidimt’en territory demanding that it be removed because it’s on the company’s “permitted construction footprint.” Photo: Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory / Facebook

RCMP at smokehouse in Gidimt’en territory

RCMP officers circle a newly built smokehouse on Gidimt’en territory following a complaint that it was on a Coastal GasLink “right of way.” Photo: Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory / Facebook

Wet'suwet'en Coastal GasLink January 2019 Barricade

Heavily armed police climb over a barricade to enforce the injunction filed by Coastal GasLink pipeline at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, B.C., in January 2019. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

The smokehouse is poised to be used as the spring salmon runs start. Food fishing is a protected Indigenous Right and has also been declared essential in B.C. during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Wet’suwet’en people must be able to exercise this right without fear of police intimidation or violence,” the Gidimt’en news release reads.

RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Janelle Shoihet says the officers were responding to “a report that a cabin had been built directly on the Coastal GasLink right of way in breach of the current court injunction.”

Shoihet says the decision to arm would have been made by the officer. She says they had recently observed a man armed with a rifle nearby but acknowledges he may have been armed for bear protection. “RCMP officers venturing into the bush are also concerned about bear encounters and a long gun — rifle or carbine — would generally be the weapon of choice should an encounter occur that could result in serious injury.”

The press release highlights Wet’suwet’en concerns over militarized police patrolling Indigenous lands.

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, joined by the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, have repeatedly called upon the RCMP to withdraw from Wet’suwet’en territories, to prohibit the use of force and lethal weapons and to cease the forced evictions of Wet’suwet’en people from our unceded homelands,” the news release reads.

Sleydo’ Molly Wickham says things could get heated again.

“This is a really important time in our history. This isn’t just going to go away. I feel like this is going to be increasingly tense. I don’t think people are willing to be pacified anymore with all of the cumulative injustices that are happening, and they’re coming to a head.”


The NarwhalMatt Simmons is a writer and editor based in Smithers, B.C., unceded Gidimt’en Clan territory, home of the Wet’suwet’en/Witsuwit’en Nation.


BP and Shell Write-Off Billions in Assets, Citing Covid-19 and Climate Change

The moves were seen as a possible turning point as plummeting demand makes big oil companies admit they’re not worth what they used to be.

The global oil and gas industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation and is finally being forced to reckon with a future of dwindling demand for its products, some analysts say. Credit: David McNew/Getty Images

Two of the world’s largest energy companies have sent their strongest signals yet that the coronavirus pandemic may accelerate a global transition away from oil, and that billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel assets could go to waste.

This week, Royal Dutch Shell said it would slash the value of its oil and gas assets by up to $22  billion amid a crash in oil prices. The announcement came two weeks after a similar declaration by BP, saying it would reduce the value of its assets by up to $17.5 billion. Both companies said the accounting moves were a response not only to the coronavirus-driven recession, but also to global efforts to tackle climate change.

Some analysts say the global oil and gas industry is undergoing a fundamental transformation and is finally being forced to reckon with a future of dwindling demand for its products.

“I think we may look back on this as the turning point, the moment the industry finally started to say that real assets with real dollar figures associated with them are likely to be ‘stranded'”—or left undeveloped—”in a decarbonizing world,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, a sustainable business advocacy group that has represented major investors in their engagement with oil companies. “This is a huge turnaround from the industry’s previous stance, which had been that no existing assets were likely to be stranded, that there may be risks in the future, but not in the here and now. That acknowledgment, that the risk is real and it’s here in the present, is a really big deal.”

A growing list of major investors and advocacy groups have been pressing oil companies to better disclose and confront the risk that some of their fossil fuel investments may never be developed or may lose substantial value as the world pivots towards a cleaner energy system in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the industry has resisted. ExxonMobil, for example, maintains that its oil and gas reserves face little risk of being stranded.

BP said in mid-June that it expects governments will accelerate a transition to low-carbon energy in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, and that the two forces together had compelled the company to revise its long-term outlook for oil and gas demand. As a result, BP said, it would need to cut the value of its assets by between $13 billion and $17.5 billion, and that it may never develop some of its prospective projects.

Shell had already lowered its long-term outlook at the end of last year. This week, it released a more pessimistic projection for oil demand over the next few years too. The company also said the cuts to its refining asset values would “support the decarbonization of its energy product mix.” The biggest hit to Shell’s books came in its investments in liquefied natural gas, which the company hopes can still play a growing role in global energy needs. Those assets are now worth up to $9 billion less than Shell had hoped, the company said.

Both companies announced this year they would aim to eliminate or cancel out their direct greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.

Just days after BP’s announcement, Rystad Energy, an industry research and consulting firm, said it was reducing its assessment of the world’s recoverable oil resources in light of the pandemic. The volume of recoverable oil depends not only on what is in the ground but also on the economics of extracting it.

The firm said the pandemic would “expedite peak oil demand,” and that some stores of oil in North American shale, Canadian tar sands and Russian and Norwegian Arctic fields are now likely to go undeveloped, given how expensive they are to extract.

The write-downs—also called impairments—announced by Shell and BP are accounting measures that indicate a particular asset or investment is not worth as much as executives had once thought. For oil companies, a write-down is generally triggered by lower oil prices and a belief that demand will not be as high as the company had previously assumed.

The research and consulting firm Wood Mackenzie said the price crash of recent months has wiped away $1.6 trillion in its valuation of oil and gas producers, and that the impairments are sending an important signal.

“It’s about fundamental change hitting the entire oil and gas sector. Within this write down, Shell is giving us a message about stranded assets, just like BP did a few weeks ago,” said Luke Parker, vice president of corporate analysis, in a research note. “Just a few years ago, few within the oil and gas industry would even countenance ideas of climate risk, peak demand, stranded assets, liquidation business models and so on. Today, companies are building strategies around these ideas.”

The announcements from the European companies are deepening the gulf between them and their American peers, none of which has yet announced an impairment of the same scale tied to the pandemic. That may be due in part to different accounting rules in the United States, but Exxon and other U.S.-based companies also generally have indicated they believe global oil demand is likely to continue to grow for many years, a position that’s drawing scrutiny from a number of large investors such as pension funds. In May, Exxon announced $2.9 billion in write-downs that the company attributed to lower oil prices.

“I think thoughtful companies like BP and Shell see they’re in a race against time and that peak demand for oil and gas is coming. The question is just exactly when does it happen,” said Logan. “There’s a growing sense among some companies and certainly investors that assets they thought were safe are going to end up devalued because Covid came when it did at this point, where demand is approaching a peak.”

Some analysts have said the companies may be using the pandemic and energy transition as an excuse to shift blame away from bad investment decisions in recent years. Shell, for example, spent $53 billion to acquire the natural gas company BG Group in 2016, and many analysts have questioned the move. Some said BP had been overly optimistic about long-term demand long before the pandemic hit.

Pavel Molchanov, an analyst with Raymond James, said the write-downs are no different than those that have come in previous oil busts, and are driven largely by the coronavirus pandemic rather than any looming energy transition. “This is just part of the reality of oil and gas accounting,” he said.

But he added that the pandemic is likely to have a lasting effect on the industry and on oil production. “Companies have been forced to respond to the worst demand shock in modern history by cutting capital spending to the lowest level in possibly 20 years,” he said. “That will result, by definition, in less oil supply for many years to come.”

Andrew Grant, head of oil, gas and mining at the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial think tank, said the write-downs are likely a combination of corporate spin and real change.

“Perhaps it’s partly talking a good game, or making lemonade when life hands you lemons: Faced with a low oil price, they’re at least trying to get some good PR out of it,”  said Grant, a leading researcher on the risk to investors from the energy transition. “But I think it also reflects the direction of travel.”

Grant said we’re likely seeing the beginning of a process he has warned about for years, when companies need to reconcile with a future of less fossil fuel demand by admitting they’re not worth as much as they once were. And, he added, they still have a long way to go.



Do activists have the upper hand against US pipelines?

Activists defending Indigenous and environmental rights in the United States are celebrating three important wins in their long-running fight to stop pipelines funnelling oil and gas through sensitive tribal lands. 

On July 6 a US federal judge ruled the Dakota Access Pipeline be shut down and emptied of oil, pending the outcome of an environmental review. It is a victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Native American and environmental defenders who have sought to block the pipeline since 2016, and who argue that spills from the pipeline would contaminate rivers and groundwater. The pipeline operator is appealing the decision.

That same day, the US Supreme Court upheld an order placing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline on hold for further regulation and an extended permitting process – a blow to US President Donald Trump, who used executive orders to help resurrect the once-abandoned project.

The Dakota Access and Keystone XL rulings came after Duke Energy and Dominion Energy announced the cancellation of plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline between West Virginia and North Carolina. The companies say the high cost of fighting legal action swelled their costs, rendering the project unviable.

As energy firms struggle with depressed revenue amid a global coronavirus pandemic that has throttled demand for oil and gas, anti-pipeline activists seek to maximise their advantage. But they still face challenges, with the Supreme Court allowing other projects such as Jordan Cove and Line 3 to continue under a fast-track permit process.

We will meet three Indigenous and environmental rights voices in the vanguard of efforts to protect their lands from big energy. Join the conversation.


On this episode of The Stream, we are joined by:
Joye Braun, @joyem_braun

Community Organiser, Indigenous Environmental Network

Jacqueline Keeler, @jfkeeler
Diné-Dakota journalist and author


It’s time to defend the indigenous people defending our planet

A protest with a banner reading "Respect indigenous peoples rights: End co2lonialism.

Defend The Defenders. When you first hear this sentence, what do you think? For me, I imagine some sort of superhero series where they come together to defend their city or town from villains. A world where the people come together to protect their defenders, the defenders of their land and homes. I imagine you thought of something like this too.

Well, that’s not too far from the truth. Defend The Defenders is an international campaign started by Fridays For Future Digital, Polluters Out and Extinction Rebellion to shine light on the many indigenous and environmental land defenders. These defenders stand up and fight against the corporations and governments, the villains that are threatening to take away their home, their livelihoods and their rights.

But these defenders are in danger for defending their rights and their land. Some have been killed, many are threatened with unspeakable actions and others have had to flee their homes for protection. Yet they continue to fight for that justice.

This is not a far-off problem; it happens all the time, even in Europe. The Sámi people, for example, inhabit the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola Peninsula in Russia, and have for thousands of years. These countries colonized them and took away their rights to self-determination. Traditionally, they supported themselves through fishing, livestock farming, and hunting, all in harmony with the earth. With the onset of colonization, many Sámi have moved to urban areas and away from their traditional lands, but those still on their lands are uniquely vulnerable to the climate crisis. In Jokkmokk, Sweden, the temperature is already on average 2.0 degrees above pre-industrial levels, heating up the ecosystem the Sámi and their animals rely on. Yet governments decide to marginalize them further by allowing companies to dump their waste and build energy projects on their land, without their consent. In November 2019, for example, the Norwegian government gave mining company Nussir ASA the green light to dump 2 million tonnes of waste from their copper mine into the Repparfjord in Kvalsund, Norway, one of few wild salmon-rivers in Europe. This will severely harm the salmon stocks, the marine life and ecosystems in the area, destroying local reindeer grazing areas integral to the Sámi communities in the area. This is just one of the many projects that threaten the Sámi’s way of life.

The Inuit, which inhabit the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska, are uniquely threatened by Greenland’s insanely fast loss of ice. During the summer of 2019 alone, 600 billion tons of ice were lost, enough to raise global sea levels by 2.2 millimeters in 2 months and expose 12 million more people to coastal flooding around the planet, as well as preventing the Inuit from accessing their homes and traditional hunting grounds. The climate crisis is all too real for them. Even now, the overfishing in the Arctic Ocean has resulted in a massive reduction in the numbers of the Greenland cod which the Inuit rely on for food.

In Russia, only 40 of the 180 indigenous groups are legally recognized. And without the concept of free, prior and informed consent, indigenous people’s lands are being exploited. In Siberia, indigenous people even have to rent what used to be their land before it was colonized from the Russian government while they sell the land out to logging companies. These logging companies burn waste, which all too often has horrible effects like the 2019 Siberian Taiga wildfires, which destroyed 33-90% of the forest the indigenous people rely on.

Since indigenous people and environmental defenders protect and cultivate the land we are on, and have done so for thousands of years, we must recognise this is not just their fight, it is ours. Climate change and environmental destruction is here, all over the world, and the most marginalized people, especially indigenous people, are most affected by it. Like climate change with no borders, there are environmental defenders in all corners of the world. Some unknown, some known, but all fighting for their rightful land and beautiful earth. Therefore, we must Defend the Defenders.



Indigenous Protests Are Blazing a New Trail for How to Beat Big Oil

Native Americans march to the site of a sacred burial ground that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline on September 4, 2016, near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Photo: Robyn Beck / AFP (Getty Images)

Joye Braun was among the first to camp in the plains of North Dakota in defiance of the Dakota Access pipeline back in 2016. She was there to stand in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Indigenous people from around the world eventually arrived to gather in ceremony. Four years later, their prayers have finally been heard.

Earlier this week, a federal judge ruled on the lawsuit that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe launched in 2016 alongside the peaceful protest, ordering the pipeline must cease operations and be emptied of all crude oil by August 5. This is unprecedented; the courts have never shut down an oil pipeline like this.

More importantly, however, the ruling highlights how Indigenous people have changed the conversation—and action—around the climate crisis. Through a two-pronged formula of on-the-ground action and lawsuits, they’ve been able to show the public how the climate crisis is a human rights issue. The public and the courts have heard their calls for justice, and the environmental movement needs to take note and center those voices.

And I repeat: People are listening.

“To me, [the court ruling] means that we as tribal nations are finally being heard,” Braun, who is organizing against the Keystone XL pipeline for the Indigenous Environmental Network, told Earther. “This win is huge.”

Indigenous groups have put in work in the court of public opinion by relying on a strategy of taking direct action, remaining nonviolent, and coming together in prayer. That has helped bolster public support for their opposition to fossil fuel projects. This strategy has appeared to change public perception around these projects and the effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Polling in the past year from Data for Progress shows a majority of Democrats and independents favor not drilling for more oil and gas while older polling from Pew shows a majority of Americans disapprove of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.

But they’ve also used the court of law to take on energy companies and the federal agencies that wrongly side with them. Litigation has become an important avenue for Indigenous people to defend their treaty rights and sovereignty. Indeed, this week was a historical one for pipeline opponents across the U.S. Every pipeline that suffered defeat this week—including the Atlantic Coast and Keystone XL pipelines, as well as Dakota Access—featured Indigenous-led opposition.

“The legal teams are certainly a big part of what we do,” Braun said. “It’s a part of how we’ve had to learn to navigate the non-Native world … Our legal teams have always helped us in every single fight that we’ve had to bring basic rights that most Americans have taken for granted.”

The spate of legal victories and opposition show times are changing for the fossil fuel industry. Its projects don’t carry the same allure they once did. In 2019, a Gallup poll found six in 10 U.S. adults favored policies to reduce fossil fuel consumption over the next two decades. The market is trending in that direction too, especially with the coronavirus driving their value into the dirt.

The efforts to stop the Dakota Access pipeline had plenty to do with that. The public saw the pipeline’s private developer, Energy Transfer, turn water hoses, tear gas, violent dogs, and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters, as well as what those protesters were willing to endure to stop the pipeline.

“[Standing Rock] has been particularly transformative in the way that we think about and talk about these issues,” Jan Hasselman, the lead attorney on the Dakota Access case from Earthjustice, told Earther. “In the DAPL fight, it feels like we reoriented toward more of a framework around justice and a reckoning of the ways in which Indigenous people have been mistreated. Nothing in the DAPL litigation—and very little in the broader conversation—has been focused on climate exactly. It’s really been about the impacts on communities.”

Indigenous organizers showed the world how Energy Transfer was fine placing these impacts on their communities over others. The Dakota Access pipeline was initially planned to run near Bismarck, North Dakota, a city that’s 90% white. Concerns over water contamination there killed that proposal. Despite similar concerns at Standing Rock, the outcry wasn’t enough to convince the company to reroute the pipeline. That’s a textbook example of environmental racism.

The impacts of Dakota Access extend far beyond the tribal nations in the region, though. Advocates were sure to make that clear: Water is life, and the pipeline harms all who rely on the 200 bodies of water it cuts through. Plus, Dakota Access threatens the entire planet by transporting oil that releases greenhouse gases when burned. Oil Change International estimated in 2016 that the pipeline would emit an additional 101 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. The threat was always clear.

For Indigenous leaders, the fight is about more than that, though. It’s about addressing the historical wrongs Indigenous people have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government using the power of environmental laws and treaties. The Dakota Access pipeline fight is about human rights, something the federal government has long denied Indigenous people.

“The failure of the federal government and, in particular, the Corps of Engineers to consider the rights of Indian tribes in the course of infrastructure development is not a new thing, and that has been an ongoing problem that really started with the earliest exploitation of natural resources on the continent and the development of the West,” Joel West Williams, senior staff attorney at the Native American Rights Fund, which has worked on the Dakota Access case, told Earther. “It’s not new, but it’s also not ancient history.”

Energy Transfer, the company behind the pipeline, has already filed an appeal and requested the district court allow the pipeline to operate while the process plays out. The court said nah, but the company is, instead, choosing to disobey the original court ruling to shut down the pipeline outright. Clearly, the battle wages on, but these private companies are going to have a tougher time succeeding with the growing public awareness and legal prowess of tribes.

“The old strategy of jamming these projects in without going through the process correctly and assuming it’s all going to work out is no longer a good strategy,” Hasselman said.

Eryn Wise, the digital director of Seeding Sovereignty, an indigenous-led organization, was at Standing Rock in 2016. This victory has her feeling “apprehensive,” she told Earther since she remembers the joy she felt when the Army Corps of Engineers halted the pipeline’s construction in 2016 only to have Donald Trump reverse that a month later. She remembers the trauma of helicopters flying over camp, bright lights blasting through the night, and the criminalization of peaceful protestors. The closer Indigenous people come to securing their freedom, the harder the powers that be will fight to maintain the status quo.

“In the age of the Anthropocene right now, I don’t think it’s only our Earth that’s dying but also other systems and ways of knowing, these systemic systems of justice, these colonial structures,” Wise told Earther. “When I say the age of the Anthropocene, I’m not only talking about the living Earth dying. I’m talking about all of these other systems decaying and dying, too.”

Indigenous people are fearless, Wise said, and that’s why they’re on the frontlines fighting against polluting invasive fossil fuel infrastructure. Their fearlessness is behind their success and changing how the world sees these projects. If the environmental movement wants to win, it needs to listen to the expertise of the world’s first peoples. When they step out on the street or into court, the world must stand with them.

Yessenia Funes is is a senior staff writer with Earther. She loves all things environmental justice and dreams of writing children’s books.

Democracy Now | Pipelines, politics and the power of indigenous protest

Mní wičhóni. Water is life. Whether in the Lakota language or English, it’s a simple truth.

In North Dakota, “Water is Life” banners flew over the indigenous resistance camps that sprang up in 2016 at the confluence of the Cannonball and Missouri Rivers, opposing construction of DAPL, the Dakota Access Pipeline. Water protectors from more than 200 native tribes across the Americas arrived, along with thousands of their allies. They called DAPL “the black snake,” a 1,168-mile long pipeline designed to carry more than half a million barrels of fracked oil per day from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields through North and South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois, bound for refineries on the Gulf Coast. DAPL’s passage through unceded Lakota territory, underneath the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, threatened the water on which the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe depends, along with 17 million people downriver.

Over Labor Day weekend 2016, we travelled to Standing Rock with our Democracy Now! news colleagues to report on the pipeline resistance. As indigenous water protectors put their bodies on the line, blocking destruction of sacred sites by DAPL bulldozers, we documented DAPL’s private security forces pepper spraying, beating and unleashing attack dogs on the nonviolent protesters. One dog had blood dripping from its nose and mouth, reminiscent of the mastiffs used to attack indigenous peoples in the Americas since the time of Christopher Columbus and the Spanish conquistadors.

Our video went viral, viewed more than 12 million times in just 24 hours. Within days, President Barack Obama, through surrogates at the Army and the Departments of Justice and Interior, ordered construction halted.

A few months and an election later, in January 2017, one of President Donald Trump’s first acts in office was to greenlight the project, allowing the pipeline’s completion — a huge gift to billionaire Trump supporter Kelcy Warren, CEO of Energy Transfer, which owns DAPL. It’s been pumping oil ever since. That is, until a federal judge this week ordered the pipeline shut down and emptied within a month. It was a stunning victory for the tribe. Energy Transfer is appealing the decision.

The ruling hinges on a 1970 law called NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, requiring all major projects seeking federal permits to include a rigorous environmental review with public input. Trump is currently trying to strip NEPA of any meaningful regulatory power.

Trump’s DAPL executive order prompted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to issue a construction permit without a proper, NEPA-mandated Environmental Impact Statement. The tribe sued. After more than three years of litigation, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg agreed, forcing the shutdown until the Army Corps of Engineers performs a complete EIS, which the Corps estimates will take 13 months.

Responding to this week’s court decision, LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, a longtime member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who hosted the first DAPL resistance camp on her property along the Cannonball River, said on Democracy Now!: “I’m still overwhelmed. If people could understand how much I love my home, how much I love my land and my river, it is the greatest thing in the whole world. I know that it’s going to be appealed.” She went on: “There must be justice in this world, and there must be accountability. … We need, as Native people, not to be invisible in our own homelands.”

This was not the only victory this week for pipeline opponents fighting for a sustainable future. Duke and Dominion Energy announced they are scrapping plans to build the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline, slated to carry fracked gas from West Virginia to North Carolina. The companies blamed expensive litigation and the costs of dealing with continued protests for their decision.

“There was an awful lot of opposition to this,” Donna Chavis, senior fossil fuel campaigner for Friends of the Earth and an elder of the indigenous Lumbee Nation in North Carolina, said on Democracy Now!. She described the intersectional organizing that helped defeat the pipeline, “We were working up and down the pipeline in resistance and opposition … crossing the boundaries between race and class, and bringing together the Indigenous and African American communities.”

There are more than 200,000 miles of active petroleum pipelines in the U.S., and ongoing campaigns against pipeline construction projects like the Keystone XL, Enbridge Line 3 in northern Minnesota and the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia. This resistance is led by indigenous, frontline communities with growing solidarity movements joining them.

If we are to avoid catastrophic climate change, we have to leave the oil, gas and coal in the ground. Now is the time to launch a green recovery from the pandemic, investing in renewables, not pipelines. As LaDonna Brave Bull Allard observed, “We’re here for the long journey … it’s about how we live in the future.”


Canada’s largest Indigenous police force has never shot anyone dead

TORONTO — In its 26 years of existence, officers with Canada’s largest Indigenous police force have never shot and killed anyone and no officer has died in the line of duty, despite a grinding lack of resources and an absence of normal accountability mechanisms.

It’s a record of which the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service is proud, especially in light of the recent uproar in North America over police killings and brutality involving Indigenous, Black, and mentally distressed people. It’s a record achieved in communities frequently in social distress, places where hunting rifles and shotguns are ubiquitous.

The key difference from urban, non-Indigenous policing, insiders and observers say, is the relationship building between officers and the people they serve.

“In the past, you might have been the only officer in there,” Roland Morrison, chief of NAPS says from Thunder Bay, Ont. “You would have no radio, you’ve got no backup, so you really effectively have to use your communication and talk to people. You have to develop relationships with the communities in order to have positive policing.”

Inaugurated in 1994, NAPS is responsible for policing more than 38,000 people in 34 communities, many beyond remote, across a vast, largely untamed swath of northern Ontario. Currently the service has 203 officers, about 60 per cent of them Indigenous, Morrison says. Its mandate is culturally responsive policing.

Erick Laming, a criminology PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, says people from First Nation communities — many with an ingrained suspicion of police given the brutal realities of generations of enforced residential school attendance — have a higher level of trust when officers are Indigenous.

In contrast, he said, new RCMP recruits with no such background might find themselves in Nunavut or Yukon confronted with significant language and cultural barriers.

“If you’re from the community, you have those lived experiences. You can relate to people. You just know how to deal with the issues,” says Laming, who is from the Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nation north of Kingston, Ont.

“If you don’t have that history, you can have all the cultural-sensitivity training in the world, you’ll never fully be able to fully integrate into that situation.”

Another example, he said, is the service in Kahnawake, Que., which calls itself the Kahnawake Peacekeepers rather than a police force.

While all officers in Ontario undergo the same basic training, the province’s nine Indigenous police services are fundamentally different from their non-Indigenous counterparts.

For one thing, they are not deemed an essential service, although federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said last month that policing First Nations communities should be. Nor are those in Ontario subject to the provincial Police Services Act, which mandates standards, including for an extensive oversight framework.

Now, the process for filing complaints against members of an Indigenous police force is ad hoc, although NAPS does have a professional standards branch and will on occasion call in Ontario Provincial Police. Officers have been disciplined, charged or even fired for excessive use of force.

Another difference is that Indigenous forces are completely reliant on the vagaries of government program funding — with Ottawa footing 52 per cent of the bill and provinces 48 per cent. The current operations budget for NAPS, for example, is around $37.7 million — more than its peers — with expenses approaching $40 million.

The upshot, particularly in years gone by, has been a dire shortage of officers and even of basic facilities and equipment that urbanites can scarcely imagine. In more than a dozen cases, Indigenous self-administered police services in Canada have simply folded.

Now retired, Terry Armstrong, who spent 22 years with Ontario Provincial Police as well as five years as chief of NAPS, says people would be shocked to find out just how poorly funded First Nations policing has been.

Armstrong recounts how a few years ago, in the Hudson Bay community of Fort Severn, Ont., a NAPS officer found himself dealing with a homicide. Besides having to secure three crime scenes and the body, the lone officer had to arrest the suspect and deal with a separate gun call. Bad weather prevented any forensic or other help flying in until the following day.

One thing he always stressed to newcomers as chief, Armstrong says, is the importance of treating people respectfully.

“Some day, they’re going to be your backup. When stuff goes south, you’re going to need people to support you,” he says. “If you’re going to be a dick … when you need help, they aren’t going to be there for you.”

One frigid afternoon in February 2013, the only on-duty NAPS officer in Kasabonika Lake First Nation in Ontario’s far north detained Lena Anderson, an intoxicated young mother upset over the apprehension of her daughter. The new detachment portable was unheated. The old holding cell was unusable because prisoners could escape through holes in the floor.

The arresting officer left Anderson, 23, in the caged back seat of his Ford 150 police truck for warmth while he went to get help from his off-duty colleague. Alone for 16 minutes, Anderson strangled herself.

The tragedy, combined with a threatened strike over working conditions by NAPS officers, caused an uproar. The situation, says Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler, prompted his Nishnawbe Aski Nation to take a stand. Governments, he said, had to do better or face the far more daunting prospect of doing the policing themselves.

As a result, Fiddler says, a new funding agreement was reached in 2018 that allowed the hiring of 79 new officers over five years and critical infrastructure upgrades to detachments and poor or non-existent communication systems. Most importantly, he said, the deal set in motion pending Ontario legislation that would finally allow First Nations police services to opt in to the Police Services Act, putting in place solid standards and accountability mechanisms.

“That’s something our communities and citizens deserve.” Fiddler says. “If they have an issue with NAPS, there should be a forum for them to pursue their grievance.”

However, giving investigative authority to the province’s Special Investigations Unit or Office of the Independent Police Review Director must come with cultural safety built in, he says.

Stephen Leach, current review director, says his office is not yet involved in the opt-in process.

“My expectation is that once the Community Safety and Policing Act is proclaimed and the opt-in process is further along, then I would be involved in explaining how the public complaints process works, and listening to how it might have to be adapted to meet the needs of First Nations communities,” Leach says.

Stephen Warner, a spokesman for Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, confirmed the government was working on regulations to the new act. Part of the work, he said, was to set clear and consistent standards for policing delivery “informed by, and responsive to, the views of the communities that police are both a part of and serve.”

Toronto-based lawyer Julian Falconer calls the new legislation a game changer. Despite having devoted much of his career to holding police accountable, he says he has no qualms in representing NAPS.

Despite, or perhaps because of, their chronic lack of resources, Falconer says Indigenous police behave much differently from their urban counterparts. He cites the dearth of police killings and racist behaviours that have sown deep mistrust of policing among Indigenous, Black and marginalized groups.

“Mainstream policing has a lot to learn from Indigenous policing,” Falconer said. “The relationship between community and policing is so dramatically different.”


This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 12.

A year after national inquiry, First Nations still looking for action on child welfare crisis

Canada has yet to develop a plan to deal with the humanitarian crisis in foster care where Indigenous children make up 50 per cent of all cases

One year ago, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls found Canada guilty of both historic and ongoing genocide. Federal and provincial laws, policies and practices governing Indigenous child welfare in Canada have created a humanitarian crisis.

But despite the concerns raised by both the United Nations and the Organization of American States, Canada has yet to develop a national action plan to end the genocide. Government officials have barely blinked since this release of the final report.

A “historic” Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to talk about the implementation of legislation on Indigenous child welfare was announced this week by Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde. The document is referred to as a protocol on C-92, An Act Respecting First Nations, Inuit and Metis Children, Youth and Families, but it’s not legally binding. One has to wonder whether there’s any intention at all of addressing this critical part of genocide against Indigenous children and families.

Indigenous children paying the biggest price

Canada’s genocide against Indigenous peoples requires a massive response. But even renewed demands for action have been met with excuses related to the pandemic – another issue which poses a greater risk to Indigenous peoples because of Canada’s historic neglect of First Nations.

Various United Nations officials have called on countries to ensure that the pandemic is not used to ignore issues facing Indigenous peoples, yet this is precisely what’s happening and it’s First Nations children that are paying the biggest price.

Indigenous children make up 7 per cent of the youth population in Canada but represent approximately 50 per cent of those in foster care. In provinces like Manitoba, those numbers jump to an astounding 90 per cent.

Similarly, half of all youth in juvenile corrections in Canada are Indigenous.

In provinces like Saskatchewan, their numbers can be as high as 92 per cent for Indigenous boys and 98 per cent for Indigenous girls.

The former Indigenous Services Minister, Jane Philpott, called the situation a “humanitarian crisis.” Yet, there has been no corresponding response to begin to remedy the situation.

This is especially troubling since the majority of First Nations children behind bars are being incarcerated for reasons associated with poverty, not violent crime. We also know that two-thirds of Indigenous peoples in prisons have at one time or another been affected by the child welfare system.

The National Inquiry already determined that Canada has demonstrated “ample evidence of a genocidal policy [and] a manifest pattern of similar conduct which reflects an intention to destroy Indigenous peoples” physically, biologically and as social units. This humanitarian crisis of First Nations children in foster care is a core part of the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. No Memorandum of Understanding is going to solve that.

MOU’s between Canada and the AFN are neither historic nor unique. They’ve been primarily used in the past as public relations documents meant to make it look like the federal government is taking concrete action to address the many injustices facing First Nations. They contain lots of flowery language about making important changes.

But they have little force in law. Ultimately, they are part of the instruments used to justify more roundtables to engage in dialogue.

The AFN has received millions in funding related to various MOUs over the years. The agreements do little more than entrench the status quo when it comes to politics between Canada and First Nations. They rarely end in concrete commitments – other than committing to meet and talk about possible processes and developing a greater understanding between one another.

In 2016, the AFN signed an MOU with Indigenous Affairs that committed to meeting to developing processes to review the fiscal relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples. In the same year, the AFN signed an MOU with the RCMP to meet twice a year and ensure that the AFN was the primary contact on policing issues.

It’s very clear given recent events that the AFN MOU with the RCMP did little more than prop up the RCMP, while Indigenous peoples continue to suffer racialized violence at the hands of the RCMP.

Canada and the AFN signed another MOU in 2017 intended to establish a “process” to deal with policing and socio-economic conditions in First Nations. Yet, the situation on both fronts has only become worse.

Now, we have Canada-AFN MOU on child welfare that talks about the critical funding that Canada promised would be attached to C-92, but was excluded.

This MOU includes promises of a joint working group, sub-committees on various issues and another fiscal table all designed for discussions to “explore processes” on issues related to the implementation of child welfare legislation.

Funding is not needed for more AFN engagement on this legislation. Federal funding is needed to fully comply with the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal decisions that have ordered Canada to stop discriminating against First Nations children and to compensate them for years of discrimination.

Federal funding is also needed to support the actual First Nations governments with their governing jurisdictions and mandates over child and family matters for their citizens, as well as for education, training, supports and infrastructure to both improve current systems and create new ones.

The AFN does not engage in the management of child welfare nor is it a government with any jurisdiction to make any operative decisions on child welfare governance in First Nations.

While the MOU purports not to limit the autonomy of First Nations, past MOUs between Canada and the AFN seem to do just that.

Instead of working with First Nation governments to respect their rights and provide the funding that is owed for child welfare, Canada continues to dance around the edges.

We need international intervention from OAS and the UN to oversee an Indigenous-led national action plan to urgently transition Canada out of genocide and end the ongoing theft of our children. You can bet MOUs won’t be part of the plan.



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