Coastal GasLink Pipeline

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Date published 2021-11-23
Curation date 2021-11-23
Curator Dr. Victoria A. Stuart, Ph.D.
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Summary The Coastal GasLink pipeline is a TC Energy   natural gas   pipeline under construction in British ColumbiaCanada. Its route passes through several First Nations peoples' traditional lands, including some that are unceded. Traditional hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en people withheld their approval on ecological grounds and organized blockades to obstruct construction on traditional lands. Arrests of protesters blocking the project in 2020 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police   sparked widespread protests across Canada in solidarity with the original protests. Protests targeted government offices, ports and rail lines.
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Coastal GasLink Pipeline
coastal_gaslink-pipeline.png   Coastal GasLink pipeline route, central British Columbia.
Wet'suwet'en territory is in the white square.
Name Coastal GasLink pipeline
Country Canada
Province British Columbia  (B.C.)
Starts at Dawson Creek, B.C.
Ends at Kitimat, B.C.
General Information
Type Natural gas
Owner TC Energy
Construction started 2019-2020
Technical Information
Length 670 km (420 mi)


The Coastal GasLink pipeline is a TC Energy natural gas pipeline under construction in British Columbia, Canada. Starting in Dawson Creek, the pipeline's route crosses through the Canadian Rockies and other mountain ranges to Kitimat, where the gas will be exported to Asian customers. Its route passes through several First Nations peoples' traditional lands, including some that are unceded. Controversy around the project has highlighted important divisions within the leadership structure of impacted First Nations: elected band councils established by the 1876 Indian Act support the project, but traditional hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en people withheld their approval on ecological grounds and organized blockades to obstruct construction on traditional lands.

A court injunction against protesters blocking the project in an effort to defend their unceded land was granted twice by the British Columbia Supreme Court, in 2018 and 2019. In 2019 and 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) entered the blocked area and cleared road access for construction, arresting several of the land defenders. The 2020 arrests sparked widespread protests across Canada in solidarity with the original protests. Protests targeted government offices, ports and rail lines. A protest in February 2020 by the Mohawk First Nation people of Tyendinaga in Ontario blocked a critical segment of rail, causing Via Rail to shut down much of its passenger rail network and Canadian National Railway (CNR) to shut down rail freight service in eastern Canada for several weeks.

Coastal GasLink resumed construction after the RCMP cleared Wet'suwet'en from the access road. A conference between the Wet'suwet'en, British Columbia government and Canadian governments was held, leading to a provisional land rights agreement, however the pipeline project is still opposed by the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. The Wet'suwet'en have asked Coastal GasLink to halt construction due to the worldwide pandemic of COVID-19  [COVID-19 pandemic], over concerns about spreading the disease. Construction has largely continued, though several stop-work orders were issued by the provincial government in June 2020 following an environmental assessment.

Project Description

The Coastal GasLink pipeline's route starts near Dawson Creek and runs approximately 670 kilometres (420 mi) south-west to a liquefaction plant near Kitimat, British Columbia. The route passes through the traditional territories of several indigenous peoples, including the Wet'suwet'en. The natural gas transported by the pipeline will be converted into liquefied natural gas by the LNG Canada plant in Kitimat, and then exported to global markets. In particular, the company expects the primary market for the natural gas will be Asian nations planning to convert from coal-fired power plants.

The estimated cost to construct the pipeline is CA$6.6 billion. The project is owned and will be operated by TC Energy. LNG Canada selected TC Energy to design, build, and own the pipeline in 2012. In December 2019, investment management firm Aimco and private equity firm KKR entered into an agreement to buy a 65% equity interest in the project for an estimated CA$600 million. The deal was closed May 25, 2020. As of August 2020, construction of the pipeline is underway.

Opponents and Proponents

The project is opposed by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en, other First Nations peoples, and environmental activists.

Hereditary chiefs claim jurisdiction over and responsibility to protect traditional Wet'suwet'en territory. They state that the jurisdiction of elected band councils, imposed under the Indian Act, is limited to their reserves. They note that 22,000 square kilometres (8,500 sq mi) of Wet'suwet'en territory was never ceded to the Government of Canada. The then colony of British Columbia did not enter into treaties with the Wet'suwet'en people before joining Canada, and the chiefs claim that aboriginal title over the Wet'suwet'en peoples' traditional land has not been extinguished as a consequence. The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed hereditary chiefs' land claims in the 1997 Delgamuukw v British Columbia decision.

Hereditary chief Freda Huson  [local copy  |  see also] is an organizer of the Unist'ot'en Camp  [Unist'ot'en website], a protest camp and indigenous healing center in Northern British Columbia. Freda Huson states that, "Without our land, we aren't who we are. The land is us and we are the land," and also that the energy industry wants to, "take, take, take. And they aren't taking no for an answer."

Others oppose the pipeline on environmental grounds. "When burned, this natural gas (transported through the completed pipeline) is equivalent 585.5 million pounds of CO2 a day ... 13 percent of Canada's daily greenhouse gas emissions in 2017." In 2018, environmental activist Michael Sawyer  [local copy] challenged the approval of the pipeline, filing a formal application to require the federal National Energy Board to do a full review. The National Energy Board ruled that the project fell under the jurisdiction of the province of British Columbia, and its BC Oil and Gas Commission.

Some indigenous organizations support the pipeline. The First Nations Liquefied Natural Gas Alliance objected to British Columbia and United Nations human rights officials who called for a stop to pipeline construction, saying that these officials did not consult indigenous groups supportive of the pipeline before issuing their statements. The First Nations LNG Alliance pointed to opportunities for indigenous contracting and "extensive" consultation with indigenous people. Crystal Smith  [local copy], chief counsellor of the Haisla Nation, which has signed an agreement to allow the pipeline to pass through its traditional land, stated that "First Nations have been left out of resource development for too long ... But we are involved, we have been consulted and we will ensure there are benefits for all First Nations." Victor Jim  [local copy], an elected chief of the Wet'suwet'en, also signed off on the benefits deal. On 2021-02-19, 200 members of the Wet'suwet'en community attended a meeting in Houston, British Columbia organized by the pro-pipeline The North Matters group. Robert Skin, a councillor with the Skin Tyee First Nation, said the project "will look after our children and our children's children." Robert Skin was critical of the protesters: "They want to stand up with their fists in the air, but I say come and listen to us and get the other side of the story before you go out there and stop traffic and stop the railroad." According to Paul ManlyGreen Party of Canada   Member of Parliament for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, British Columbia the elected councils have not "consented" but merely "conceded," to the project, seen as inevitable.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline project and the protests exposed divisions within the Wet'suwet'en and Mohawk First Nations. The hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en opposed the project, while the elected band councils supported it, leading to a call for "a cohesive voice." The railroad blockade by the Mohawks of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in February 2020 was not organized by the band leadership, while the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) external relations committee issued a statement condemning the "RCMP Invasion". The hereditary chiefs travelled to the various Mohawk communities to give thanks for their support but met with a third organization, the Mohawk Nation, a separate form of government comprising the various Mohawk communities in Canada and the United States. Grand Chief Serge Otsi Simon  [local copy  |  see also] of the Kanesatake Mohawk First Nation called on protesters to end the rail blockades as a show of good faith. "Bringing down the blockades doesn't mean that you surrender. It doesn't mean we're going to lay down and let them kick us around. No, it would show compassion. I'm simply pleading with the protesters ... Have you made your point yet? Has the government and industry understood? I think they did." The next day, Serge Otsi Simon disavowed his comments after reserve residents barred him from the band council office. Columnist John Ivison suggested that the situation highlights a need to move on a legislative framework for restructuring authority between the elected councils mandated by the Indian Act and traditional hereditary governments.

Project History


Consultation with local band councils was held as part of the planning and environmental review process between 2012 and 2014. As a result of the 1997 Delgamuukw v British Columbia court case of the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en peoples, comprehensive consultations with hereditary chiefs are also required for major projects in traditional lands. During consultations, the Office of the Wet'suwet'en proposed alternative routes for the pipeline through areas that had already been disturbed by other infrastructure projects. These routes were rejected by Coastal GasLink on August 21, 2014 in a letter that stated that the routes were unsuitable for a pipeline of the proposed diameter, closer to urban communities, and would extend development time by requiring consultation with four additional First Nations. On January 27, Coastal GasLink president David Pfeiffer stated that the current route was the most technically viable and minimized impact to the environment. On February 14, 2020, Coastal GasLink released a 2014 letter in which Coastal GasLink proposed an alternate route called the Morice River North Alternate that would have moved the project three to five kilometres north of the present route, but it went unanswered by the Office of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. According to Coastal GasLink, the company has held over 120 meetings with the hereditary chiefs since 2012 and over 1,300 phone calls and emails, but they have nonetheless been unable to agree on a route for the pipeline.

Approval Process

Approval was given by twenty elected First Nation band councils (including the Wet'suwet'en elected band council) along the proposed route and the Government of British Columbia. As a part of their agreement, TC Energy announced it will be awarding CA$620 million in contract work to northern British Columbia First Nations.

The British Columbia  Environmental Assessment Office approved the pipeline project in 2014. The project submitted an application for permits to construct the pipeline to the BC Oil and Gas Commission in 2014 and was granted all necessary permits by the BC Oil and Gas Commission between 2015 and 2016.


  • Main article: 2020 Canadian pipeline and railway protests
  • See also: Timeline of the 2020 Canadian pipeline and railway protests
  • Protests began with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs that oppose the project (including 8 out of 9 sitting house chiefs) and other land defenders blocking access to the pipeline construction camps in Wet'suwet'en territory. On January 7, 2019, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) conducted a raid and dismantled the blockades after Coastal GasLink was granted an injunction by the British Columbia Supreme Court, arresting several Wet'suwet'en land defenders. On January 10, the Wet'suwet'en and RCMP came to an agreement to allow access. The blockades were subsequently rebuilt. After the RCMP again removed the Wet'suwet'en blockades and arrested Wet'suwet'en land defenders in February 2020, solidarity protests sprang up across Canada. Many were rail blockades, including the blocking of the main Canadian National Railway (CNR) rail line through Eastern Ontario. Passenger rail and freight rail movements were blocked for several weeks, leading to rationing of goods, other goods backlogged and several major ports being shut down.

    Wet'suwet'en protesters blocked the Morice Forest Service Road  [local copy] that provides access to construction of the pipeline project. The first injunction was issued by the British Columbia Supreme Court in December 2018. The RCMP set up a temporary local office on the Morice Forest Service Road to enforce the injunction. This injunction was extended by the British Columbia Supreme Court on December 31, 2019. The extension included an order authorizing the RCMP to enforce the injunction. The hereditary chiefs ordered the eviction of the RCMP and Coastal GasLink personnel.

    The RCMP announced January 30, 2020, that they would stand down while the hereditary chiefs and the province met to discuss and try to come to an agreement. However, all parties issued statements on February 4, 2020 that the talks had broken down. On February 3, the Office of the Wet'suwet'en asked for a judicial review of the environmental approval for the pipeline.

    On February 6, the RCMP began enforcing the injunction, arresting a total of 21 protesters at camps along the route between February 6 and 9. The largest of those camps is Unist'ot'en Camp, directly in the proposed path of the pipeline, established in 2010 as a checkpoint, which has since added a healing centre. The arrests included protest organizers Karla Tait  [local copy  |  see also], Freda Huson  [local copy  |  see also] and Brenda Michell. All were released within two days. The RCMP also detained several reporters and interfered with the freedom of the press  [Journalism: Safety of Journalists]. Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip stated that "we are in absolute outrage and a state of painful anguish as we witness the Wet'suwet'en people having their title and rights brutally trampled on and their right to self-determination denied."

    On February 11, 2020, the RCMP announced that the road to the construction site was cleared and TC Energy announced that work would resume the following Monday. On February 21, 2020, the British Columbia  Environmental Assessment Office served notice that Coastal GasLink must halt construction on a segment of the route blocked by hereditary chiefs and enter into talks with the Wet'suwet'en over the following 30 days. After the hereditary chiefs made it a condition for talks with government, the RCMP closed their local office and moved to their detachment in Houston, British Columbia on 2020-02-22.

    Protests sprang up across Canada in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. On 2020-02-11, protesters surrounded the British Columbia Legislature in Victoria, British Columbia, preventing traditional ceremonies around the reading of the Throne Speech by the Lieutenant Governor. Members of the British Columbia Legislature had to have police assistance to enter or used back or side entrances. Protesters assembled outside government offices in Victoria on 2020-02-14, and a representative of the British Columbia government employees union advised its members to treat the protest as a picket line. Other protests took place in NelsonCalgaryReginaWinnipegTorontoOttawaSherbrooke, and Halifax.

    Other First Nations, activists, land defenders and other supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs have targeted railway lines. Near Belleville, Ontario, members of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation began a blockade of the Canadian National Railway rail line just north of Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory on February 6, 2020, causing Via Rail to cancel trains on their Toronto-Montreal and Toronto-Ottawa routes. The line is critical to the Canadian National Railway (CNR) network in Eastern Canada as CNR has no other east-west rail lines through Eastern Ontario.

    Other protests blocking rail lines halted service on Via Rail's Prince Rupert and Prince George lines, running on CNR tracks. Protests on the CNR line west of Winnipeg additionally blocked the only trans-Canada passenger rail route. Protests disrupted GO train lines in the Greater Toronto Area, and Exo's Candiac line in Montreal. Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) rail lines were also disrupted in downtown Toronto and south of Montreal. The Société de chemin de fer de la Gaspésie freight railway between Gaspé and Matapedia was blockaded on 2020-02-10 by members of the Listuguj Miꞌgmaq First Nation. The nation-wide blockades led to Via Rail and CNR shutting down most of their service across the country for most of February 2020, with regular service resuming by early March 2020.

    Eventually, talks with government led to a memorandum of understanding over land rights and title between the Canadian government, the British Columbia government, and the nine sitting house chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en. However, the memorandum of understanding did not address the issue of the pipeline, and both construction and opposition by the Wet'suwet'en have continued.

    2021: Continuation of Pipeline Construction

    Construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline continued in 2021 following extension of the environmental certificate, and land defenders continued to obstruct construction with direct action. In September, at least two people were arrested when land defenders constructed several blockades and locked themselves to machinery at a drill site where Coastal GasLink crews were preparing to drill  [local copy] under the Wedzin Kwa River.

    Non-compliance Orders

    To date, Coastal GasLink has been issued several non-compliance orders, causing interruptions to construction work in certain areas along the route. In 2019, they faced an order after initiating work prior to informing trapline hunters near Houston, British Columbia. In spring 2020, Unist'ot'en Camp and Gidimt'en clan members brought the attention of British Columbia's Environmental Assessment Office to the fact that Coastal GasLink had not worked to ensure the preservation of wetlands areas along the pipeline's route. The assessment office found that the company's wetland management plan had not been followed in any of the 42 wetlands areas affected by construction, and issued another non-compliance order on June 16, 2020. A separate order delivered on the same day was issued due to the company's lack of efforts to mitigate harm to endangered Whitebark Pine in the area. A further non-compliance order was issued on June 22, 2020 for proceeding with work to clear the affected wetlands sites without conducting the appropriate environmental assessment surveys. These non-compliance orders have led to a cessation of construction within 30 metres of designated wetlands areas until all appropriate measures have been followed.

    Supreme Court Challenge of Environmental Certificate

    On October 1, 2020, a hearing began in the British Columbia Supreme Court, in which the Office of the Wet'suwet'en requested that the British Columbia Supreme Court reject the Environmental Assessment Office's decision to extend Coastal GasLink's environmental certificate for five years. The company had filed for a one-time extension of their previous five-year certificate in April 2019. Lawyers for the Office of the Wet'suwet'en cited the lack of meaningful accounting for the final report on Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG) - published in June 2019 - as well as the pipeline company's long history of non-compliance with the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office's own conditions and standards. The British Columbia  Environmental Assessment Office's position was that there was no basis for judiciary review of their decision.

    In April 2021, the British Columbia Supreme Court ruled that all concerns raised by the Office of Wet'suwet'en were unfounded, and the court approved the extension of Coastal GasLink's environmental certificate.

    Additional Reading

  • [📌 pinned article] [, 2020-03-04] Groups linked to oil companies funded Facebook ads denouncing the rail blockades.  As the anti-pipeline protests intensified, so did spending on online ads that had millions of views.

  • [, 2022-02-17] Millions in damage after attack on Coastal GasLink work site, RCMP say.

  • [, 2022-01-13] Still No Penalties for Coastal GasLink Environmental Violations.  Sediment and erosion control issues continued along the pipeline route for at least a year, according to BC's watchdog.

  • [, 2021-12-06] Coastal GasLink failed to fix nearly 2 dozen environmental violations along pipeline route, B.C. officials say.  Pipeline project failed to fix ongoing problems identified a year ago that could harm waterways.

  • [, 2021-11-26] 'We are not here to get killed': Wet'suwet'en solidarity actions met with armed police response.  RCMP tear down Gitxsan rail blockade in New Hazelton, B.C., while people across Canada organize in support of land defenders.  |  RCMP are maintaining an around-the-clock presence as members of the Gitxsan Nation rally in support of the neighbouring Wet'suwet'en land defenders.

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