Big companies bulldozing their opponents is usually a metaphor, but a bold move by an Indigenous group could make this a literal requirement for getting the Kinder Morgan pipeline built.

Raven Ess and Anushka Azadi working with Secwepemc community members on September 6, 2017 to build a tiny house in the path of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline. Photo credit: Mike Hudema.

Kinder Morgan is the largest energy infrastructure company on the continent. It operates enough oil and gas pipelines that stacked end-to-end they could encircle the Earth three times. Their proposed new Trans Mountain Expansion tar sands oil pipeline would transport some of the dirtiest oil on the planet from the Canadian tar sands across the iconic Rocky Mountains to the Vancouver coast.

So, a grassroots group of Secwepemc Nation members in British Columbia is building a series of tiny houses along the route where Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline crosses their traditional territory. Even as this massive pipeline threatens spills that could pollute the land and poison the rivers, lakes and drinking water, these “Tiny House Warriors” are building something that symbolizes home, hope and community in the face of the destruction. In time, solar panels will be installed on some among the ten, to model that solutions are possible, right here, right now.

The tiny houses are both a physical manifestation of the community’s opposition to the pipeline and a message to the Trudeau government that the pipeline does not have Secwepemc consent, a right protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (you can read the full Secwepemc Declaration against Kinder Morgan here).

Tiny House Warriors. Photo credit: Mike Hudema.

These tiny houses create a dilemma for the banks that are financing the pipeline: are they prepared to put their money behind Kinder Morgan’s very real bulldozers even though this would take a metaphorical wrecking ball to the banks’ public commitments on climate change and Indigenous rights?

Greenpeace wrote to TD bank and JP Morgan Chase, two of the main financiers of the Kinder Morgan’s new pipeline, about this dilemma. We have yet to receive a response to our letters, but the Tiny House Warriors will be harder to ignore.

Tell TD Bank to stop funding tar sands pipelines

It’s not as if the banks have lacked warnings about the risks this pipeline carries — including from Kinder Morgan itself. Toronto Dominion’s public statements express confidence about getting the project built, but the legal document prepared for selling shares in the company’s new Canadian subsidiary included 17 pages detailing various risks that could result in the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and other major expansion projects being “inhibited, delayed or stopped altogether.” These risks (emphasis added) include:

  • Negative public opinion or reputational issues of the Company, the Business and/or Kinder Morgan could have an adverse effect on the Business and/or the significant projects being undertaken in the Business, including the Trans Mountain Expansion Project;
  • The failure by the Business to resolve issues relating to Aboriginal rights and title and the Crown’s duty to consult could have a material adverse effect on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project and/or the Business;
  • Changes in government, loss of government support, public opposition and the concerns of special interest groups and non-governmental organizations may expose the Business to higher costs, delays or even project cancellations;
  • The Business is subject to significant operational risks, including those relating to the breakdown or failure of equipment, pipelines and facilities; releases and spills; operational disruptions or service interruptions; and catastrophic events (including storms and rising sea levels potentially resulting from climate change).

After Greenpeace challenged the initial risk assessment provided to prospective shareholders for the creationof KinderMorgan Canadaearlierthis year, Kinder Morgan added a section that acknowledged that if the world makes significant progress towards achieving the goals of the Paris climate agreement, then the demand for oil would drop to an extent that “could negatively impact the prospects of new contracts for transportation or terminalling, renewals of existing contracts or the ability of the Business’ customers and shippers to honour their contractual commitments.”

In other words, the success of this project is premised on the world failing to avoid dangerous levels of global warming.

Some banks are starting to understand these risks. Dutch bank ING has said they won’t finance tar sands projects or pipelines, and the Quebec-based credit union Desjardins has announced a moratorium on new oil pipeline financing while they assess how to align their lending practices with the low-carbon world their members want them to help create (though it should be noted Desjardins is still financing Kinder Morgan’s pipeline, and Greenpeace is calling on them to stop).

Building solar-powered houses on a pipeline route is a good place to start creating a better future. It’s time for banks like TD, JP Morgan Chase, and Barclays to get on the right side of history by following the lead of the Tiny House Warriors.