Environmental History and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Proposal

Trans Mountain Burnaby Tank Farm. Source: By Derek K. Miller on Flickr

Trans Mountain Burnaby Tank Farm. Source: By Derek K. Miller on Flickr

The National Energy Board is currently considering a proposal to triple the capacity of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to 890,000 barrels per day (bpd). On Wednesday, May 27, 2015, the City of Vancouver published a series of expert reports on the pipeline expansion proposal and the Mayor, Gregor Robertson, announced that the evidence in these reports has led him to the following conclusion: “My mind is clearly made up. I think this is a bad deal for Vancouver.”

I wrote one of the fourteen expert reports. I was asked to provide expert evidence and analysis on the history of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. In particular, my report, “Historical Background Report: Trans Mountain Pipeline, 1947-2013,” addressed the following matters:

An overview of the original purpose of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and the regulatory approvals and parliamentary oversight that existed at the time, providing a context for the development and construction of the original pipeline
A quantitative history of oil spills or other incidents relating to the existing Trans Mountain Pipeline
An overview of the evolution of pipeline regulation and reporting requirements applicable to the Trans Mountain Pipeline during its lifetime
An overview of the operation of the Trans Mountain pipeline
Analysis of the relationship between the pipeline operator and environmental concerns

I am pleased to be able to now share this report with the public. Readers can download a PDF copy of the report here. I think the findings in this report are important and necessary for assessing the risks associated with the transportation of large volumes of liquid hydrocarbon products and other hazardous materials. The report also makes a significant contribution to our understanding of Canadian energy history and the role of long-distance oil pipelines in facilitating a revolution in Canadian energy consumption patterns that took place after the end of the Second World War.

Here are some of the highlights from my report:

The original purpose of the pipeline was to create markets (both domestic and foreign) for newly discovered crude oil resources in Alberta following the discoveries at Leduc in 1947
The original pipeline approval process did not involve public consultation nor did it involve environmental assessment
From 1965 to 1975, US exports constituted a majority of total throughput of the pipeline
In 1972, the Trans Mountain pipeline reached its historic peak capacity of 381,871 barrels per day
Between 1961 and 2013, Trans Mountain reported 81 liquid hydrocarbon spill incidents to the NEB, an average annual rate of 1.53
Between 1961 and 2013, Trans Mountain reported the “uncontained spillage” of approximately 5,799,700 litres of liquid hydrocarbons
From 1961 to 1992, 0.001% of the total throughput of liquid hydrocarbons spilled from the Trans Mountain pipeline and its facilities; this constituted a total spill volume of 4,743,900 litres of liquid hydrocarbons released into the environment

Next week, I will present some of these findings and my research on the Interprovincial Pipeline at the annual meeting of the Canadian Historical Association at University of Ottawa. I hope some readers will be able to attend that presentation on Tuesday, June 2, 2015 at 1:30pm.

In the end, I was glad to have been asked to provide expert evidence and analysis as an environmental historian. It makes me wonder what other areas of environmental history research could be integrated into policy development and public debate.

— Sean Kheraj, Canadian History and Environment

Journée d’études. “Learning from the past – NGOs at the crossroads”. Oxford. 18 juin 2015

Cette journée d’études organisée par Nathalie Berny s’intéresse aux évolutions récentes des ONG environnementales dans le monde.

Consulter le programme complet

Elle se déroulera le 18 juin 2015 à Oxford.


Upcoming Past Global Changes (PAGES) Meetings and Panels

<Upcoming PAGES climate-related meetings and panels.  For more, see the latest newsletter, or visit the PAGES website> ► Upcoming deadlines to attend PAGES-endorsed meetings Antarctica2k 2015 meeting 3-4 September 2015, Venice, Italy Registration deadline: 31 May 2015 http://www.pages-igbp.org/calendar/2014/127-pages/1471-antarctica2k-2015-meeting 1st Ocean2k workshop 6-8 October 2015, Barcelona, Spain To register submit a proposal contact organizers. Proposals can […]

— Climate History Network

Message about upcoming climate history meetings at the ICHG and ESEH

— Climate History Network

The Fruitful Arctic

The Path of Supremacy from Vilhjamur Stefansson, The Northward Course of Empire (1922)

The Path of Supremacy from Vilhjamur Stefansson, The Northward Course of Empire (1922)

In 1922, the Arctic explorer and ethnographer Vilhjalmur Stefansson published his book The Northward Course of Empire in which he argued that the North had been greatly misunderstood and could become a seat of great civilisation. After all, he argued, civilization had been moving further and further north into the colder regions over human history.

The North, rather than being a barren wasteland devoid of vegetation, was a green space. The trick, Stefansson argued, was to turn the vegetation to productive use:

The realization kept gradually growing on me that one of the chief problems of the world, and particularly one of the chief problems of Canada and Siberia, is to begin to make use of all the vast quantities of grass that go to waste in the North every year. The obvious thing is to find some domestic animal that will eat the grass. Then when the animal is big and fat it should be butchered and shipped where the food is needed. (48)

Stefansson believed cattle and sheep were not the answer to this problem because of the problem of feeding and sheltering them during the winter. Traditional crop plants could also not withstand the frosts. Instead he decided that the solution to this waste was the widespread domestication of reindeer and muskox in the North.

Stefansson began actively promoting the animals after World War I. With his encouragement, the Canadian Department of the Interior set up a royal commission in 1919 to study the possibilities and they issued their final report in 1922. The report comes out more in favour of reindeer than muskox because of prior work domesticating reindeer, but it also encouraged further investigation of industrial possibilities for muskox domestication.

Hand-colored lantern slide. Stefansson Mss. 226, Dartmouth College. http://libarchive.dartmouth.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/stem226/id/476/rec/3

Hand-colored lantern slide showing a muskox herd in Canada. Stefansson Mss. 226, Dartmouth College.

Stefansson may have first become acquainted with muskoxen (which he called ovibos based on the Latin name because he disliked the ‘musk’ and ‘ox’ connotations of the regular name) during his time in the Mackenzie Delta of Canada in 1906-1907. The presence of a hand-colored lantern slide of a muskox herd dated 1906 in his collection at Dartmouth College makes this likely. Stefansson had eaten plenty of muskox on his various Arctic expeditions and offered the opinion that “not one person in ten could even when on his guard tell an ovibos steak from a beefsteak” (The Friendly Arctic, 585). He also noted that muskox wool (qiviut) was high quality, although it was difficult to collect and spin because it was mixed with longer hairs. In his descriptions of muskox in The Freindly Arctic (1921) and The Northward Course of Empire (1922), he claimed that the animals do not roam in search of pasture, seldom attack, and seldom flee. All in all, the muskox was the perfect animal to make the North productive:

When we sum up the qualities of ovibos, we see that here is an animal unbelievably suited to the requirements of domestication–unbelievably because we are so habituated to thinking of cow and the sheep as the ideal domestic animals that the possibility of a better one strikes us as an absurdity. We have milk richer than that of cows and similar in flavor, and more abundant than that of certain milk animas that are now used, such as sheep and reindeer; wool probably equal in quality and perhaps greater in quantity than that of domestic sheep; two or three times as much meat to the animal as with sheep, and the flavor and other qualities those of beef. When you add to this that the animal does not roam in search of pasture, that the bulls are less dangerous than the bulls of domestic cattle because they are not inclined to charge, and that they defend themselves so successfully again packs of wolves that the wolves understand the situation and do not even try to attack, it appears that they combine practically every virtue of the cow and the sheep and excel them at several points. (The Friendly Arctic, 587)

With a pitch like that, it’s a wonder everyone didn’t run out and buy a muskox! Although Stefansson may sound like he is overselling his product, others would adopt very similar language in touting the muskox as Svalbard’s future meat supply in the late 1920 and the next knitting industry of northern Norway in the 1960s. Even in 1946, Stefansson was still promoting muskox as a domestic animal, this time saying that it was “the most promising animal for New England” in an article in Harper’s Magazine. Stefansson’s vision was directly transmitted to John Teal Jr., who started an experimental farm in Vermont in 1954 to raise muskoxen and later moved his operation to Alaska.

The vision of turning the ‘unused’ land of the North into a fruitful Arctic was powerful. It encouraged both domestication and reintroduction projects of muskoxen in Norway, Alaska, and Canada over the course of the 20th century. The land of snow and ice would be a land of meat and wool.

— Dolly Jørgensen, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna

Call for Papers: Consuming the World: Eating and Drinking in Culture, History, and Environment

Deadline: 15 July 2015

— Rachel Carson Centre LMU - News and Events

Journée de terrain dans l’Audomarois. Groupe d’Histoire des Zones Humides. 19 juin 2015

Le Groupe d’Histoire des Zones Humides organise une journée de terrain à la découverte du marais de Saint-Omer en lien avec  le Parc naturel régional des Caps et Marais d’Opale. Celle-ci se déroulera le 19 juin 2015 à Saint-Omer.

Des conférences seront associées à des visites de terrain. Consulter le programme complet


CfA: EURIAS Fellowship Programme 2016-2017

The European Institutes for Advanced Study (EURIAS) Fellowship Programme is an international researcher mobility programme offering 10-month residencies in one of the 16 participating Institutes: Berlin, Bologna, Budapest, Cambridge, Delmenhorst, Edinburgh, Freiburg, Helsinki, Jerusalem, Lyon, Marseille, Paris, Uppsala, Vienna, Wassenaar, Zürich. The Institutes for Advanced Study support the focused, self-directed work of outstanding researchers.

Deadline for applications is 5 June 2015, 12 pm (noon) GMT.

Full details are available in the call for applications below.

— European Society for Environmental History

Mapping Infant Mortality Rates in London and West Ham

The maps below show the changing geography of infant morality from 1880 through to 1910. The maps include the London and West Ham, which remained independent throughout this time period. Infant mortality rates increased across London during the final decade of the nineteenth century and were particularly deadly during the final years of the century. As the last map in the series (1906-10) and the chart below both clearly show, infant mortality rates improved significantly during the first decades of the twentieth century. I’m working on the final revisions of a chapter that explores the relationship between environmental conditions in West Ham and the unhealthy 1890s along with the vast improvements in the decades that followed and figured it would be interesting to share these colour maps and the interactive chart online.

Click to view slideshow.

Most of the data comes from the Vision of Britain website, which also provided the boundary layers. The data for West Ham comes from the Annual Reports of the Medical Officer of Health.


[1] Charles Sanders, “Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1923” (West Ham: Public Health Committee, 1923), 40; Graham Mooney, “Did London Pass the ‘Sanitary Test’? Seasonal Infant Mortality in London, 1870-1914,” Journal of Historical Geography 20, no. 2 (April 1994): 161, doi:10.1006/jhge.1994.1013.

“This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth”

— Jim Clifford

Workshop Report: Climate and Society in Byzantine and Ottoman Anatolia, 300-1900CE

Workshop Report: Climate and Society in Byzantine and Ottoman Anatolia, 300-1900CE Towards understanding the impact of climate on complex societies of the pre-industrial era, 1-3 May 2015 Building on the 2013 meeting Climate in Byzantine Anatolia, Prof. John Haldon of Princeton University convened a group of some two dozen researchers in history, archaeology, environmental modeling, […]

— Climate History Network