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Who’s Insuring the Trans Mountain Pipeline?

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Who’s Insuring the Trans Mountain Pipeline?
Climate campaigners and Indigenous peoples across Canada have spent the past several years protesting the Trans Mountain pipeline. Mark Klotz / Flickr / cc

By Elana Sulakshana

Rainforest Action Network recently uncovered a document that lists the 11 companies that are currently insuring the controversial Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline in Canada. These global insurance giants are providing more than USD$500 million in coverage for the massive risks of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, and they're also lined up to cover the expansion project.


The existing Trans Mountain pipeline is a major environmental and public health hazard with a long history of disastrous spills. Earlier this month, 50,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a pump station located above an aquifer that supplies the Sumas First Nation with drinking water.

The Trans Mountain Expansion Project would multiply these risks tremendously. Though it is officially called an "expansion," this is no minor renovation. The Canadian government, which owns Trans Mountain, is attempting to build a parallel pipeline that would ship more than 890,000 barrels per year of highly-polluting tar sands crude oil to the coast of British Columbia.

For more than a decade, the expansion of Trans Mountain has been delayed in the face of powerful, Indigenous-led resistance on the ground and in the courts. It has not secured the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of Indigenous communities that are directly in the pipeline's route. Right now, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, and Coldwater Indian Band are actively engaged in legal challenges on the project, and land defenders are asserting their rights and title along the route.

Furthermore, pushing forward this project flies in the face of Canada's commitment to cut emissions in line with the Paris Agreement. To keep global warming under 1.5ºC, we must stop expanding tar sands — and all fossil fuels — and instead invest in a just transition to phase out existing operations.

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the government and corporations are doubling down on their destructive plans to build new fossil fuel projects. Bulldozers that are laying the initial pipe on Trans Mountain have not quieted, even though this construction poses major risks to Indigenous and rural communities in its path, as well as workers that are housed together in close quarters. In Alberta, viral outbreaks have been linked to man camps at tar sands extraction sites, and yet the province's energy minister proclaimed that now is a great time to construct a pipeline, due to social distancing protocols that limit public protest.

The risks of these pipelines are so great that under federal law, the current pipeline and its expansion are not able to transport any oil without insurance. So if we can stop the flow of insurance money, we can stop the flow of oil.

We're ramping up the pressure on the insurance companies that are providing critical financial support.

Who’s insuring the pipeline? (2019-2020)

Here's the list of insurance companies that are providing coverage from August 2019 through August 2020:

  1. Zurich (Switzerland)
  2. Lloyd's (UK)
  3. Liberty Mutual (US)
  4. Chubb (US)
  5. AIG (US)
  6. WR Berkley (US)
  7. Starr (US)
  8. Stewart Specialty Risk Underwriting (Canada)
  9. Energy Insurance Mutual (US)
  10. Temple Insurance (Germany), a Canadian member of the Munich Re group
  11. HDI (Germany), which is owned by Talanx / Hannover Re

These insurance policies are being arranged by the biggest insurance broker in the world: Marsh. Fun fact: Marsh is also currently under fire for facilitating insurance for the Adani Carmicheal coal mine in Australia.

Trans Mountain's insurance policy is up at the end of August, so we are urgently calling on these companies to:

  • Publicly commit to not renew their insurance policy for Trans Mountain for 2020-21;
  • Moving forward, rule out insurance for all tar sands extraction and transport projects and companies;
  • Adopt a policy to ensure that projects and companies they insure have obtained the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent of impacted communities.

We've made some progress. In late June, Talanx indicated that it already dropped the pipeline, and Munich Re signaled that it will not renew its policy. These two German insurers recently adopted policies restricting tar sands business.

A global coalition of environmental NGOs, First Nations, and insurance campaigners is demanding that the rest of Trans Mountain's insurers follow suit and stop being complicit in the violation of Indigenous rights, spread of COVID-19, and the desecration of sacred waterways and the global climate.

Elana Sulakshana leads Rainforest Action Network's campaign pressuring the U.S. insurance industry to stop making the climate crisis worse. She has been active in the climate justice movement for the last eight years, most recently organizing for just and equitable climate policy in Washington State, fighting fracking in the U.K., and campaigning for universities to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in communities.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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