High-stakes oil pipeline projects have taken a public lashing lately, whether in a plebiscite in British Columbia, more protests in Washington, D.C., or from a former U.S. president and several Nobel laureates coming out strongly against billion-dollar plans to move the diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to international markets.
The anti-pipeline pressure has been mounting for a while, but observers say that the ramped-up opposition to the Northern Gateway and Keystone XL proposals is no coincidence.
Rather, the turmoil is a result of a confluence of issues ranging from deep-seated environmentalism and concern about climate change to the aggressive tactics of energy companies and governments that want to see the pipes in the ground sooner than later.
Toss in some politics — midterm elections in the U.S. this fall, and anticipation of the federal decision on Enbridge's $5.5-billion Northern Gateway project within a few weeks — and conditions have become ripe for ever more public push-back.
"I certainly don't see any chance of the opposition receding," says Michael Byers, a political science professor at the University of British Columbia who holds a Canada Research Chair in global politics and international law.
On the West Coast, in particular, he says, the roots of protest run deep.
In the psyche
"People in the rest of Canada need to understand the environmental movement was born in British Columbia, and it has a deep history here and is very wide-reaching," says Byers.
"It's almost part of the collective psyche here on the West Coast and that's something that Enbridge clearly did not understand, and that the Harper government at least for its first four or five years did not understand.
"And when you add that to the unextinguished aboriginal rights, and the lack of appropriate consultation that took place, you have almost a perfect storm for opposition to pipelines."
In Kitimat, B.C., the coastal community that would serve as the endpoint of Northern Gateway, and the place where supertankers would fill up with Alberta bitumen, residents recently voted "No" to the project.
The plebiscite isn't binding on anyone, but it sent a signal, and left Enbridge with another reminder it might have done things differently in the early days of the project.
"Something we've certainly learned is that we definitely needed an earlier, stronger presence on the ground," says John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines.
"We have had an office in Kitimat since 2008, but I think the key is you have to be there early and you have to be there often to work with people and build trust and provide information about what we are doing to address the concerns."
Pipeline push-back: What's behind the rising opposition to Canada's big oil pipelines