HIS 2PP3 (2023) — Harrison + Braden

A Modern Day Look


When analyzing the public response to The Pipeline Debate in the 1950s, we noticed that the source of outrage from the public seemed to come from a purely economic or social standpoint. In contrast to modern-day approaches to pipeline protest, what was missing was the environmental and indigenous aspects. When we think about the backlash to pipeline development in a modern social context, the environment is generally the predominant concern. The article "A History of Oil Spills on Long-Distance Pipelines in Canada” by Sean Keraj illustrates why an environmentally oriented concern over the installation of a pipeline is just as warranted as a financial one, if not more. According to Keraj, “Leaks and spills have been endemic on long-distance oil pipelines since the mid-20th century” (1) Kehraj provides important contextualization of the financial aspect of pipeline installation. Despite pipeline companies being multi-billion dollar corporations, they still manufacture their pipelines at the most cost-efficient rate, which can lead to imperfections that create greater complications. Kehraj states that “Oil pipeline spills are an endemic characteristic of complex enviro-technical systems built primarily for economic efficiency rather than environmental protection.”(2) Money seems to be the predominant issue here, as important elements like environmentalism and civil liberty are sacrificed for cost efficiency.  

Specific Issue

The construction of gas and oil pipelines can be incredibly toxic and disruptive to nature. This disruptiveness can extend past nature itself, and affect people who reside near the construction zones. These individuals run into problems like oil leaks spoiling drinking water, as well as the simple invasiveness of having a pipeline constructed directly through the land you reside on against your will. The politics of protesting against environmental interference by oil and gas companies have been well documented throughout history and is highlighted in conflicts like Wet'suwet'en.  The Wet'suwet'en conflict was essentially a conflict that arose from Coastal GasLinks, Pacific Trail and Northern Gateway pipelines’ desire to build through the indigenous territory, which was met with subsequent backlash (3). The main concern over the installation of these pipelines was environmental damage to resources like freshwater rivers. As highlighted in Clayton-Thomas Muller’s Cycle of Destruction: Energy Exploitation on Sacred Native Lands, Native Americans and Canadians have been subjected to violations of human rights and physical land damage at the hands of oil companies (4). As we can see from this example, activists in the twenty-first century have a vastly different rationale for concern over pipelines. Individuals who live in rural areas, primarily on Native lands, are far more adamant about keeping pipelines out for the sake of the environment. This greatly contrasts the Pipeline Debate of 1956, which had an overwhelmingly financial focus.