Environmental Impact of Oil Extraction
A change in terminology and focus is in store for United Church members interested in the environmental impact on First Nations’ lands and waters of oil extraction in nearby areas.
The 41st General Council has approved an amended proposal calling for a denominational response to the rights of Aboriginal Peoples regarding development projects that affect their lands, waters, traditional territories, and resources.
The proposal, which originated from Toronto Conference, was approved by Council in one of three decision-making bodies known as commissions on August 14, 2012.
The principal amendment adopted by commissioners was to add the scientific names for the extraction process (in-situ) and the type of sands that are saturated with a viscous form of petroleum (bituminous).
Nicole Beaudry from Montreal and Ottawa Conference pointed out that there is a singular term in French (sables bitumineux) versus the two terms that are commonly used in English (oil sands and tar sands). Beaudry suggested there be more consistency in United Church references.
This point was echoed by two commissioners from Alberta and Northwest Conference. Jeffrey Rock noted that “as soon as you say tar sands, you lose people.”
Added fellow Conference commissioner Leigh Sinclair. “I hope we can pick the words that I cannot pronounce yet… Everyone will then read and be clear what we are saying.”
Church actions arising from this proposal will include calling on the Government of Canada and the leaders of political parties to uphold the right of Indigenous peoples in accordance with Article 32 of the United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The proposal noted that Canada has affirmed this UN declaration.
The United Church will also call for independent studies to be commissioned on the cumulative impacts of in situ bituminous sands on health, water, and ecosystems, outlining ways in which they can be addressed.
Commissioners expanded on the proposal’s original action of letter writing to encompass a broader campaign in keeping with 21st century communications technology. For advice on communicating with political leaders, commissioners were aided by the presence of a former politician in their midst.
“Having served a number of years as an elected politician, the best way to reach or to have your message reach the caucuses is for everyone in your charge to write a letter to your local member,” said Art Buck from Maritime Conference.
“The letters that go to the Premier and the Prime Minister are passed on for someone else to handle it. When the [party] caucuses are wound up and upset [and] come into a meeting saying they have received 280 letters on an issue, then [the local member] starts to get worried about their job,” he added.