Canadian Energy Regulator approves Trans Mountain's request to keep insurers’ identities secret

Thursday April 29, 2021

Coalition denounces decision, pledges to ramp up pressure on remaining insurers to cut ties with Trans Mountain

“A project which can only be insured secretly has lost its social license to operate.”

Unceded Coast Salish Territories (VANCOUVER, BC) — Today, the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) approved Trans Mountain’s request to hide the names of the companies providing insurance coverage for the existing pipeline project, despite widespread community opposition. Over the last few months, First Nationspoliticiansinsurance experts, and environmental organizations filed public comments calling on the CER to deny the request and ensure transparency around the identity of the pipeline's insurers for Canadian taxpayers and impacted communities. The decision applies for subsequent years as well.

“The Canada Energy Regulator (CER) is expanding Trans Mountain’s culture of secrecy when it should be doing the opposite, especially for a government owned company during a climate crisis,” said Charlene Aleck, spokesperson for Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative. “This is a dangerous precedent for the CER to set and it should be of major concern. By making the certificate of insurance confidential and removing a layer of transparency, the CER has reduced the options for Tsleil Waututh Nation to assert our inherent and constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights and fulfill our sacred obligation to protect and steward our territory.” 

“To make things worse, this CER decision is a continuation of the denial of our inherent and constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights. After all these years of regulatory process, including sharing our own independent assessment, grounded in our Indigenous own laws, the CER continues to undermine our sovereignty. This is not reconciliation,” said Aleck.

Following today’s decision, a broad coalition of Indigenous communities and global environmental groups are planning to ramp up pressure on the insurers that have not yet ruled out supporting Trans Mountain, starting with those that were named on the certificate of insurance in 2020. Those companies include: AIG, Chubb, Energy Insurance Limited, Liberty Mutual, Lloyd’s of London, Marsh, Starr, and Stewart Specialty Risk Underwriting. 

“These insurers can’t hide. Any company that refuses to rule out insuring tar sands extraction and pipeline projects is complicit in Indigenous rights violations,” said Kanahus Manuel, a Secwepemc and Ktunaxa land defender with the Tiny House Warriors. “By not dropping Trans Mountain, insurers are also making a misguided business decision. Our presence and our assertions of Indigenous jurisdiction and territorial authority to our lands represent major risks to the construction and financial liability of the expansion project.”

In the original request from February 22, Trans Mountain alleged that “ongoing targeting and pressure on those insurers to stop insuring the Pipeline are likely to result in material loss to Trans Mountain and its shippers.” It added: “Trans Mountain has already observed increasing reluctance from insurance companies to offer insurance coverage for the Pipeline and to do so at a reasonable price.”

In its argument, Trans Mountain fails to recognize the recent insurance sector-wide shift away from climate-polluting fossil fuel projects, particularly in expensive, energy-intensive, and risky sectors like the oil sands. Eleven insurers, including three companies that insured Trans Mountain as recently as 2020, now have policies in place that restrict coverage of oil sands projects and/or companies.  

“A project which can only be insured secretly has lost its social license to operate. The fact that Trans Mountain is struggling to obtain adequate insurance makes clear that this pipeline system is too risky, and the Canadian government must shut it down and cancel the expansion project,” said Sven Biggs, Canadian Oil and Gas Program Director with Stand.earth.

The government-owned pipeline operator also does not mention the long history of spills of the pipeline, which have polluted culturally-significant sites and drinking water aquifers. 

“The history of fossil fuel pipelines in North America is fraught with spillage and contamination, and Trans Mountain is no different. In fact, this 68 year-old pipeline has spilled at least 85 times, and each year the infrastructure gets increasingly unsafe. As Trans Mountain rushes through expansion construction, the risks to the health and safety of its workers and every community in the pipeline's path are unacceptable. There is no defensible position to insure a project with such a dangerous past that directly threatens community health,” said Mark F. Vossler, MD, President of the Board of Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

A recent study from Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management found that the Trans Mountain expansion project will result in $11.9 billion in losses for the Canadian government, due to the ballooning costs of construction, declining demand for oil, and stronger federal policies to tackle climate change. 

“Despite today’s ruling in favor of secrecy, we will only increase our demands on insurance companies to publicly state that they will cut ties with Trans Mountain and all tar sands projects,” said Elana Sulakshana, Energy Finance Campaigner with Rainforest Action Network. “Hiding the details of Trans Mountain’s insurance certificate will do nothing to address the very real problems this pipeline faces: lack of consent from Indigenous communities, decaying infrastructure, mounting costs, and a massive carbon footprint.”

Regulators are adding their voice to the movement calling on insurers to respect Indigenous rights. At the end of March, the Washington Insurance Commissioner called on insurance companies operating in the state of Washington to ensure that any project that they insure has obtained the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of impacted Indigenous communities. 

"The Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner is taking a bold and unprecedented step by calling on insurance companies to work with Tribes and First Nations to develop policies of Free, Prior and Informed Consent," said Matt Remle (Lakota), co-founder of Mazaska Talks. "The era of settler colonization needs to end. When corporations backed by insurance companies and banks invade Tribal homelands with projects like Trans Mountain, it is no different than the land thefts of old. That ends now."

 

Insure Our Future US is a campaign comprising environmental, consumer protection, Indigenous rights, and grassroots organizations holding the U.S. insurance industry accountable for its role in the climate crisis. 

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Media contacts: 

Charlene Aleck, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust: (604) 679-4734

Eugene Kung, West Coast Environmental Law: (604) 601-2514