The blockade in Westover, now enjoying its fifth day, has been a stunning success. The surprise appearance of dozens upon dozens of protesters at Enbridge’s construction site Thursday morning managed to take the company by surprise, and as of this moment, demonstrators control the site and have dug in for a prolonged stay. At least 30 tents now line the long driveway and people are continuing to arrive from as far away as Toronto and Ottawa.

Within moments of the successful seizure, a website and twitter account went live and press releases began flooding out to media outlets. Adam Carter of CBC Hamilton was on the scene shortly and tweeted live updates throughout the morning. By the afternoon, even Enbridge was tweeting to #SwampLine9. Soon others began to arrive, including more reporters and representatives of Six Nations. In terms of (official) confrontation, there’s been very little – demonstrators pledged to fight for the workers pay, if necessary, and promised not to touch the equipment, most of which is locked inside a fenced enclosure. Regular “safety inspections” and a small, full-time (rotating) presence of watchful employees have been allowed, though campers have now blocked further deliveries of fuel for the all-night floodlights. In return, campers have been allowed access to the on-site bathroom trailer, at least for the moment. If that fails, campers have brought along a composting toilet, built fresh for the occasion. Police have maintained a small presence nearby, but have so far refused to act without a court injunction. The little ‘trouble’ campers have experienced (all peaceful, thankfully), I’m told, has come from angry drivers and residents, which is pretty much par for the course in an action like this.

Since the occupation began, they’ve been joined by a steady stream of friends, activists and neighbours. Events have been held, such as the support demo last Friday on public lands across the street last and a “Swampfest” concert yesterday, featuring local acts such as Lee Reed and Mother Tareka. When I visited yesterday, spirits were still high, if a little more tired and heat-striken than when I left Thursday, with many more tents and plenty of new tarp-and-cable-spool construction.

This tiny strip of barren land, amidst the rolling hills, fields, swamp and forest of Westover, has now come to represent a national debate over energy infrastructure. Given similar opposition to proposals for new westward or southbound pipelines (Northern Gateway and Keystone XL), a tri-partisan consensus formed around an eastbound route which would quietly re-purpose existing pipelines to get Tar Sands oil to terminals in Maine. Harper’s government, so intent on turning Canada into a mid-east style petro-state, has exempted the plan from environmental assessments and taken a hard line on critics. Since even Hamilton’s council has proven powerless to intervene, many had assumed this was a ‘done deal’, but they hadn’t factored in the millions of people who live along its path.

The Westover Terminal was an obvious choice for occupation. Appearing on continental pipeline network maps, it’s the meeting point of Line 9a (Sarnia-Westover) and 9b (Westover-Montreal), the two stages of the overall reversal. It also lies amidst the Beverly Swamp, the most significant watershed in the western Hamilton, feeding both the Spencer Creek and Cootes Paradise. A spill here (the vast majority of pipelines spill at terminals) or anywhere along the nearby pipes would put the entire area at risk ecologically, as well as the many farms and residents who are dependent on wells for water.

The danger this poses to Hamilton shouldn’t be hard for most long-time residents to grasp. Not only have we long suffered with the stigma (and reality) of being a “dirty” and “polluted” city, but we’re already home to Canada’s worst freshwater tar contamination – Randle Reef. After decades of bickering and inaction, the cost of remediating this sixty-hectare patch of coal-tar near (former) Stelco’s docks now stands at around $140 million (taxpayer) dollars. Along the Spencer Creek itself, a July, 2007 fire at the Biedermann pesticide plant in Dundas spilled an estimated million litres of (still unknown) chemicals into the creek, which then flowed into Cootes Paradise. Along their route they killed an estimated 6000 fish in the creek and 5-15 million in and around Grindstone Marsh. In both of these cases, the corporations escaped any kind of prosecution, leaving us to suffer the consequences and shoulder the cost of cleanup.

Whatever Enbridge wants to claim, the oil industry’s recent record isn’t comforting. Just over a week ago a leak was discovered from Imperial Oil’s eqipment in Sarnia, not far from Enbridge’s facilities there. Around the same time, a Plains Midwestern pipeline ruptured near Manning, Alberta, spilling a few thousand barrels of natural gas condensate. A couple of weeks before that, Apache Canada spilled almost ten million litres of contaminated wastewater near Zama, Alberta. In the past few days, catastrophic floods have brought more ruptures, one in a Turner Valley gas pipeline, leaking deadly “sour gas” from a submerged section of pipe and a widespread shutdown of Enbridge’s own lines after another spill south of Fort McMurray.

Alberta’s floods illustrate the double-edged danger of these gigaprojects. Their infrastructure is not (and cannot be) built to withstand the unprecedented and cataclysmic weather which it creates. Only a few days ago much of Ft. McMurray was besieged by flood-waters – if they’d moved much further north into the oil patch and breached the massive “tailings ponds”, the resulting dump of industrial waste into the MacKenzie-Athabasca River Delta could easily have turned much of northern Canada into a dead zone. Even without such a disaster, though, there’s enough carbon buried in the sands of northern Alberta to bring about “catastrophic” global warming without any help from America or China. That means more droughts, floods and super-storms, with all the decimated crop yields and underwater cities that entails.

Line 9 is not just a symbol. This thirty-inch pipe and the export capacity it represents is crucial to Tar Sands expansion plans, and to the new Canada Haprper is busy creating. Aside from the potential disaster it represents to every community along its path, this pipeline will spur new toxic development from Alberta to Asia. In literal, physical terms, it will further entrench our economic dependence on petrochemicals, even as global efforts to break the addiction are finally underway.

If we want to stop this, now’s the time. Once a project like this goes online, it becomes infinitely harder to stop, and that’s scheduled to happen later this summer. There will soon be no more construction sites or NEB hearings, just a hundred million barrels flowing through our ground each year. This is our chance to say “no”, and we may not get another one like it for years or decades. Whether or not this blockade survives, these brave land defenders have raised the bar for everybody from Sarnia to Montreal. If it is evicted, others will try elsewhere, and only one needs to successfully stop construction, at any point in it’s 1000+ kilometres, to bring the entire project to a halt.

If you want to support Swamp Line 9, there’s many ways you can help. As with any blockade, they’re constantly in need of people to maintain a presence on the site. Whether you can stay for ten minutes or bring a tent and stick around for a while, it’ll be appreciated. There’s also a need for supplies (see official list), rides to and from the site (especially accessible vehicles) and help spreading the word on and off-line. For those elsewhere, there’s been a call-out for solidarity actions tomorrow (Tuesday June 25th), encouraging everybody to grab some signs and head to their nearest Enbridge facility. As for direct actions elsewhere along the line, such as blockades of roads and other construction sites, they’re more than welcome. This was never meant to be a ‘last stand’ – it’s only the beginning.

SwampLine9.tumblr.com – Official Homepage
#swampline9 on twitter
https://www.facebook.com/SwampLine9 – Official Facebook Page
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