Huge Battle Over Building the Largest Pipeline in North America—and We Have World's First 'Anti-Pipeline' Beer

North America's biggest oil pipeline project has a frothy new resistance.

The TransCanada pipeline (called Energy East) is intended to transport oil from the tar sands in Alberta to St. John in New Brunswick, a route of 6,400km across Canada. Once built, 1.1 million barrels of oil are intended to flow through it every day.

In the province of Quebec alone, the pipeline goes over more than 860 different rivers and at one point, goes underneath the St Lawrence River, which is 2km wide. It passes through First Nations peoples’ land. If built, it would be the biggest such project ever built in North America. TransCanada, as you might imagine, claims it would be “100% safe,” but as you might imagine, no one believes that.

Here's a video that tells you more about the project:

From a climate perspective, the pipeline would be a disaster. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was elected saying he would act on climate change, and who turned up at COP21 in Paris in December 2015 saying “How can we help?” said initially he would only accept one pipeline. He has already accepted three.

Part of the pipeline is intended to pass through the French-speaking state of Quebec, an independent-minded place, and although it is still only at the planning stage, already in Quebec it has encountered a very unusual form of resistance: Beer.

In Quebec, there is a big movement to stop the pipeline. There have already been two demonstrations, with over 25,000 people on each. At the moment the pipeline is on hold, but the story of the citizen movement that has arisen in opposition to it is fascinating. A while ago in Canada there was a massive student riot about tuition fees that lasted many months. One of their leaders, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, wrote a book about the experience, which won a $25,000 prize from the government.

He declined to accept it, and instead contacted the citizens behind Coule Pas Chez Nous, a campaigning organization that had mobilized to oppose the pipeline. Coule Pas Chez Nous means something like “Don’t Spill in My Home"—as in my backyard, my country, my environment. He said, “I’d like to give this to you, but let’s see if we can ask the population to double it." He went on a mainstream TV program to tell his story, and in one week, had raised more than $400,000 from more than 12,000 donors.

TransCanada is trying to push the pipeline through, but didn’t even translate its application into French, something it has to do by Canadian law. Students, unions, First Nations peoples and many more have come together to resist the pipeline. Marie-Eve Leclerc, one of the citizens involved in Coule Pas Chez Nous, gave a talk about the story of the resistance movement and afterwards drank a beer. One the label was a description about how it was designed to raise money for endangered species. This inspired her to produce a beer that opposed the pipeline, exposed the risks to drinking water and brought together many of the craft brewers in the province.

Leclerc spent some time discussing the idea with friends, who all loved it, and then presented the project to the Coule Pas Chez Nous Foundation, which decided to make it happen. It was designed to raise awareness about the pipeline, to show that—unlike the promotions being put out by TransCanada—actually not all businesses were pro-pipeline, and to raise money for the campaign. She went to see a lot of different breweries, which were all very enthusiastic about the idea. 

Coule Pas Chez Nous ("Don't Spill in My Home") is a new brand of beer crafted to support an anti-pipeline movement in Canada.

A “beer for our rivers” was on its way. One of the brewers suggested the tagline “No water, no beer. No beer, no fun,” which would send a powerful and clear message. To our knowledge, it was the first time in the world that breweries came together in opposition to a pipeline.

Map showing the route of the proposed pipeline, as well as the location of the different breweries involved in the campaign.

She went to meet one of the key microbreweries which loved the idea and said “let’s do 12,000 bottles.” That was a fair bit more than Leclerc had been expecting. The first batch of bottles and casks was launched in March, and the entire batch, both in bottles and in casks at bars, sold out in just three weeks. The beer was launched in every one of the breweries that signed up to be part of it, and each launch was so popular that many sold out of beer halfway through the launch event.

The recipe was created collaboratively by five breweries, each of which brewed its own version in different batches. The launch was accompanied by posters, T-shirts and beer mats. Every drink sold made $1 for the foundation. The launch was a huge hit and the story traveled across Canada. By the time of the third brew, 26 breweries across Quebec, mostly along the proposed route of the pipeline, were involved. 

To change from being a campaigning organization to being a beer promotion organization took a lot of work for the foundation. But it was worth the (volunteer) work, as more than $15,000 was raised to keep up the fight.

The second and third batch were sold through stores and bars across Quebec. The foundation sent a slab (12 bottles) to each political party. They even tracked down the offices of TransCanada and paid them an unexpected visit to take them a bottle to enjoy, accompanied by a note saying, “This is a beer for our rivers. We hope you enjoy it.  The citizens don’t want your pipeline, they want clean water.” They met the CEO, who was already aware of their campaign, and who offered them coffee.

Their next project was similarly ingenious. They printed 800,000 stickers showing a duck covered in oil, and distributed them inviting people to put them onto $1 bank bills (emblem on the $1 is a duck). All the breweries involved put them on the notes they give out in change.

For Leclerc, there is something very powerful about a lateral approach like this beer project. “It’s not a project that talks about climate change,” she told me. “It’s about water. And fun. It’s about having a beer for a cause, and it reaches into wider networks. One old man I met—and he was not sensitive to environmental issues—said 'they can’t touch my beer!'—which for me was a great sign that we were doing it right."

I loved the April Fools joke that the foundation did, which said that there were plans to build a beer pipeline across Canada, from Quebec to Alberta. “This needs to be fun,” said Leclerc. “If I am going to dedicate my life to fighting climate change, it might as well be fun."

This article was originally published on RobHopkins.net.

Rob Hopkins is the co-founder of Transition Town Totnes and Transition Network. His latest book is The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience (UIT Cambridge, 2014). He blogs at www.robhopkins.net. Follow him on Twitter @robintransition.