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Silent Rivers of Oil: Environmental Consequences, Regulations, and Resistance on Canadian Oil Pipelines since 1947 is an environmental history research project led by Sean Kheraj from York University. The project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It explores the social and environmental consequences of the development, operation, and regulation of long-distance oil pipelines in Canada. It examines Canada’s postwar oil boom in the decades following the discoveries of substantial deposits of crude oil at Leduc, Alberta when corporations began transporting massive volumes of petroleum across the continent via long-distance pipelines.

The specific objectives of the project are:

  1. To undertake statistical and spatial analysis of all oil pipeline incidents reported to the National Energy Board (NEB) since 1961;
  2. To interrogate the archival collections of the NEB for qualitative insights into the historical regulation of oil pipelines, and evidence of citizen responses;
  3. To expand historical knowledge of the inequitable impacts of pipeline development by investigating the responses of Indigenous people, settler farmers, hunters, and other rural people to the expansion of oil pipelines;
  4. To examine the relationship between Canada’s history of oil development and the history of settler and resource colonialism in the second half of the twentieth century.

Critical historical context is needed to understand the risks associated with oil pipelines. This research will enhance public policy, empower stakeholder communities, and enrich historical scholarship.

Through statistical and spatial analysis of pipeline incident records and qualitative analysis of previously unexamined archival documents, this project will advance knowledge and understanding of the role of pipeline infrastructure in Canada’s transition to a high-energy fossil fuel economy and the inequitable environmental and social impacts of pipeline development on Indigenous and settler communities in rural Canada. It will analyze the records of the NEB, the primary federal regulator of oil and gas pipelines that cross international and interprovincial boundaries, a system that now consists of more than 73,000 kilometres of pipeline. Statistical and geographic analysis of pipeline incident reports will reveal insights into the frequency, volume, causes, and locations of pipeline spills. Qualitative analysis of previously unexamined archival records held at Library and Archives Canada, the NEB Library, and other collections will offer historical insights into the regulation of pipeline corporations, the interactions of operators and regulators, and the responses of affected communities who engaged in hearings and other regulatory processes.