1. Connect to students’ prior knowledge about how we use oil and where it comes from.

Set the stage by activating students’ prior understanding about how they use oil in their daily lives. It is important for students to develop an understanding of where the demand for oil comes from, why oil pipelines are necessary, and the environmental and social impacts of extracting and transporting oil via pipelines and tankers. Ask the following questions and support students in constructing responses to these questions through small group or a whole class discussion:

  • What is oil? It is a non-renewable energy source created as the remains of marine plants and animals decay under huge amounts of pressure and heat over millions of years.
  • Why do we need oil? What do we use oil for? Our modern economy largely relies on oil for energy, heat, and electricity, and also fuel for cars and airplanes.
  • Where does oil come from? Crude oil is pumped from the ground.
  • How does it get to us? Once it is extracted, it needs to be transported to refineries to be prepared for us to use. Pipelines can transport oil over land or oil can be shipped via oil tankers over sea. At the refineries, the crude oil is converted to more usable forms (diesel fuel, gasoline, kerosene, for example).

Have students then think about and discuss the process of removing the oil from the ground and getting it to the consumer. Have students think about and discuss the construction of pipelines and refineries, and the transportation of oil over land and sea to get to the consumer. Ask: What are the benefits of building pipelines and refineries? (Think about employment opportunities in addition to the economic benefits to the areas that have the oil sands as well as the consumers who want the oil for their daily lives). What might be some consequences of moving oil through pipelines and oil tankers? (Think about habitat damaged by the pipeline infrastructure itself, oil spills and leaks). Then have students think about and discuss the effects these projects have on the environment, even if everything goes well. Ask: What living things might be affected by decisions to build pipelines or refineries? How are they affected? Have students think about and discuss with partners or in small groups the tensions involved in making difficult decisions. Ask a couple of students to share their thinking with the class. The focus of this discussion is to talk about a few examples and to get students thinking about human impacts on the environment within the context of oil extraction and transportation. 

2. Introduce the Oil Pipeline Letter to Students.

Once students understand the importance of oil to the modern economy along with the environmental and social impacts of extracting oil from the ground and getting it to the consumer, give students the Pipeline Letter to Students handout and ask them to read for understanding. Ask students to write any questions they might have. After reading the letter, have a brief discussion with the class to check for understanding. Ask:

  • What is the reason for building the pipeline? (The purpose is to remove oil from the oil sands in Alberta and distribute it to consumers in Asia who will use it for fuel and energy.) 
  • Who does the pipeline benefit? (It will benefit the Asian consumers who want oil for fuel and energy. It will benefit the oil and gas company, the marine transportation industry, the British Columbian economy, and people who need jobs.) 
  • What would happen to the environment in the area if the pipeline were built? (The primary concern is the potential risks of threatening the biodiversity in both the marine and the terrestrial ecosystems in the coastal areas of British Columbia. With any extraction and transportation of oil, there is the risk of an oil spill or leak. This would be devastating to any ecosystem, and to those that rely on the ecosystem for their livelihoods or food sources. Assuming all goes well and spills and leaks don’t happen, there will still be increased tanker traffic and pollution—noise, air, and in the water channels along the coast).
  • What would happen to the people and other living things in the area if the pipeline were built? (The noise, the pollution, the increased tanker traffic will disturb, relocate, or possibly eliminate marine life. The impacts on the marine organisms will then have a cascading effect on the consumers and other interdependent organisms in the terrestrial ecosystem. For example, if salmon migration patterns are cut off, they won’t flow into the inland rivers where the grey wolf and Kermode bear are looking for them. The indigenous communities, like the Gitga’at or Haisla, may find that their main food sources (shellfish, other fish, salmon, seaweed) are greatly reduced. In addition to food, there are cultural traditions within these communities that will be affected by not having readily available resources, such as salmon and shellfish. On the flipside, some of these communities may benefit from financial incentives to support social programming or employment opportunities that would otherwise not be available.)

3. Have students portray one of the stakeholders introduced in the Pipeline Letter.

Use the letter to identify individuals that will be involved in the decision about the construction of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. Explain that the individuals they identify are called stakeholders. A stakeholder is a person, organization, living organism, or physical environment that is affected by the decision that is made. Some stakeholders, such as people and organizations, have a strong voice in the decision and generally are a part of the decision-making process. Other stakeholders, such as plants, animals, and the physical environment, are silent and do not have a voice in the decision or the process for making a decision. Remind students that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline has a real-world environmental impact and, therefore, many stakeholders will be influenced when decisions are made. Write the list of stakeholders identified on the board (First Nations communities [Gitga’at and Haisla], terrestrial and marine ecosystems, wildlife, oil and gas company, marine transportation industry, commercial fishermen, Asian consumers).

Distribute the Stakeholder Table worksheet, and model how to complete the first row. Explain to students that they will take on the role of one of these stakeholders and will write an early decision statement based on their knowledge and viewpoint of that stakeholder. Divide students into groups of three, and assign each group one of the stakeholders; grouping in odd numbers supports a more productive discussion. Ask students to review the Pipeline Letter to Students to see what they can determine about their stakeholder’s influence in the pipeline decision. Have each group complete the row for their assigned stakeholder in Part 1 of the Stakeholder Table worksheet. After they have discussed this stakeholder thoroughly, have students work as a group to write a decision statement from their stakeholder’s perspective in Part 2 of the Stakeholder Table worksheet. There are no right or wrong answers to the table or the decision statement.

4. Have stakeholder groups share their decision statement.

Ask each group to share its decision statement with the rest of the class. Record the decision statements on the board for all students to see. As groups are sharing, the audience groups can fill out the rest of their Stakeholder Table worksheet.

5. Have students reflect on the level of influence each stakeholder has in the British Columbian oil pipeline decision.


After all groups have presented, have a class discussion about the similarities and differences among the various stakeholder statements. To promote discussion, categorize the stakeholders that are in favor of building the pipeline and the stakeholders that are not in favor of the pipeline. Compare and contrast the reasoning of each of the stakeholder’s groups. Ask the class to share aloud which stakeholder(s) they think has the most influence in the decision-making process. Ask: Which of the stakeholders has the least influence and why? Which stakeholders will be the most affected by the decision to build a pipeline? Is there a relationship between the stakeholders that have the least influence and the ones that are the most affected? (There is no right answer to these questions. Use these questions to support a lively discussion. When appropriate, reference the letter.) Ask students to take notes on the back of the Stakeholder Table worksheet. Ask students to hold onto their notes and Stakeholder Table worksheet. They will use this table and their notes in Activity 3 of this lesson.

6. Have students reflect on the British Columbian oil pipeline decision.

Explain to students that in this activity, they were asked to make a decision from one perspective. Ask: What do you think it would be like if you had to negotiate the multiple perspectives and needs of all stakeholders? Do you think you could come to a decision in which all involved would be happy? If yes, why? What would the process be? Remind students a decision like this is much more complicated than taking one stakeholder’s perspective. An informed natural resource management decision requires an examination of economic, cultural, social, and environmental factors. Have students consider which factors they need to explore further so they can make a more informed decision. Use the following questions to guide their reflections:

  • Did you feel that all stakeholders got a fair voice in the process? Why or why not?
  • How did your group weigh the different consequences when making your decision statement from the perspective of one stakeholder?
  • Did you consider economic, cultural, social and environmental factors of other stakeholders as well? If so, what played into your decision? If not, what factors do you need to explore more so you can make a decision that more fully considers cultural, environmental, and economic consequences to multiple stakeholders?

Informal Assessment

In this activity, students will complete the Stakeholders Table in small groups and participate in discussion. Students will draft a decision statement from one stakeholder’s perspective. Student talk and student work will be used to determine if students are meeting the objectives for this activity.

Extending the Learning

  • Have students write a persuasive paper to argue for or against building the oil pipeline from the point of view of one stakeholder.
  • Have students conduct further research on marine and terrestrial wildlife and construct food webs among the organisms in the coastal British Columbia ecosystems. Have students pay close attention to where marine and terrestrial food webs start overlapping.
  • Have students use different maps to explore the geography of coastal British Columbia, as well as the location of various First Nations communities and the location of the Great Bear Rainforest.
  • Have students research one particular coastal First Nations communities to understand the history of the community and current issues they are facing.

Subjects & Disciplines

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • identify the role that stakeholders play in determining the outcome of building an oil pipeline through British Columbia
  • identify various geographic, political, social, and environmental factors that may influence the decision to build an oil pipeline in British Columbia
  • assess and summarize the impact that a decision about an oil pipeline would have on the stakeholders in British Columbia

Teaching Approach

  • Learning-for-use

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative learning
  • Discussions
  • Reading
  • Role playing
  • Writing

Skills Summary

This activity targets the following skills:

Connections to National Standards, Principles, and Practices

National Geography Standards

  • Standard 11:  The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on Earth's surface
  • Standard 14:  How human actions modify the physical environment
  • Standard 16:  The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

Next Generation Science Standards

What You’ll Need

Materials You Provide

  • Pencils (1 per student)

Required Technology

  • Internet Access: Required
  • Tech Setup: Interactive whiteboard, Presentation software

Physical Space

  • Classroom


Students will need to be in participant structures that allow for whole class discussion as well as small group work. A space that allows students to move freely between these structures is needed.


  • Heterogeneous grouping
  • Large-group instruction

Other Notes

Exposure to the Environmental Decision Making Process could be helpful. For more information about this process, explore the following resources:


Learning to Make Systematic Decisions 

For students who are less familiar with oil extraction and transportation, the following resources provide additional information:

Extracting Oil Sands for the Keystone XL Pipeline

Pipeline Construction

Background Information

Coastal British Columbia is the most biodiverse area of British Columbia, Canada. The rugged coastline and many islands separate populations resulting in species divergence. The isolation of species allows them to adapt to their local environments in both appearance and behavior. Many unique species of mammals, fish, birds, and plants are located exclusively on the coast of British Columbia. The Great Bear Rainforest stretches almost 403 kilometers (250 miles) along the coast and is one of the world’s largest coastal temperate rainforest.


The unique land-sea connection functions as one ecosystem. To protect the rainforest, the sea needs to be healthy. To protect the sea, the rainforest needs to be healthy. When salmon come into the rivers from the sea, they bring vital nutrients with them. The grey wolves and Kermode bears (also called spirit bears) that feed on the salmon bring their carcasses deep into the forest where the nutrients feed the terrestrial ecosystem. Salmon are also important to the culture and economy of the local First Nations communities.


There are several Coastal First Nations communities throughout British Columbia that have a long history with the land and sea. The Gitga’at and Haisla are two such communities. These indigenous cultures have vast traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of the local area. While their TEK has been informed by generations of experience in the environment, and they understand how human activity can affect local ecosystems, some of these communities are so remote and are experiencing such devastating economic and social hardships (e.g. unemployment and alcoholism) that people are willing to accept jobs or financial incentives to support families or social programming for their communities, even though they know the projects could negatively impact their cultural traditions and historic livelihoods.


A Marine Plan Partnership for the North Pacific Coast (MaPP) was collaboratively developed by the Province of British Columbia and 17 First Nations. This ecosystem-based management plan is intended to support sustainable economic development and a healthy marine environment by using both local and traditional knowledge, with the support of scientific knowledge and expertise. For example, the Haida Gwaii plan includes an economic development goal to focus on managing the growth of tourism and shellfish aquaculture, developing new fisheries, and supporting new sustainable technology initiatives. These plans also include high environmental standards for all new developments and activities, which will have implications for projects such as the construction of an oil pipeline.


The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline includes twin pipelines. One would export diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands in Alberta to Kitimat, where the marine terminal will be located. Then super tankers would take it to Asian markets. The other pipeline would import natural gas condensate and move it in the other direction.


The Canadian government accepted Enbridge’s project proposal in 2014—with 209 issues that need to be addressed. These include consultations with First Nations communities; an environmental review assessment; improving oil spill response, prevention, and recovery systems for the coastline and ocean; and addressing the legal requirements regarding treaty and aboriginal rights.

Prior Knowledge

  • Students should have prior knowledge of the importance of oil to the modern economy for energy, heat, electricity, and fuel for cars and airplanes.
  • For this lesson, it would also be helpful for students to know a little about the process of how oil is extracted from the ground, transported to refineries, and prepared for use. The details are not essential, but students need to understand where the demand for oil comes from, why oil pipelines are necessary, and the social and environmental impacts of extracting and transporting oil via pipelines and tankers.

Recommended Prior Activities

  • None



all the different kinds of living organisms within a given area.


result or outcome of an action or situation.


system of production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services.


community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.


capacity to do work.


to pull out.

First Nations

indigenous (Native American) peoples of Canada south of the Arctic.


material that provides power or energy.


characteristic to or of a specific place.


region between the high and low tide of an area.


fossil fuel formed from the remains of marine plants and animals. Also known as petroleum or crude oil.

oil tanker

large ship used for transporting petroleum.


series of pipes used to transport liquids or gases over long distances.


area of tall, mostly evergreen trees and a high amount of rainfall.


industrial installation that purifies a substance, in order to make it more useful.


person or organization that has an interest or investment in a place, situation, or company.