On June 18, in a controversial but expected move, the federal cabinet approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would triple the capacity of the existing pipeline, and allow up to 890,000 barrels per day of bitumen to travel from the Alberta oil sands to a marine terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia. The approval was described by The Energy Mix as “the height of cynicism” because the House of Commons had only 24 hours previously approved a government resolution declaring a climate emergency. Although the government put on a positive face by predicting that “shovels will be in the ground” by September, the project still has to satisfy conditions set out by the National Energy Board, including negotiated approval from First Nations. As described in “Why we’ll be talking about the Trans Mountain pipeline for a long while yet” in The Narwhal: “The embattled oilsands pipeline has become a proxy battle, pitting the urgency of the climate crisis against near-term economic concerns”.
A sampling of Reaction and Analysis:
An Angus Reid poll, Shovels in the Ground was released on June 21. It reports that 56% of Canadians agree with the government’s approval of TMX, compared with 24% who disagree. The primary concerns for Canadians, both those who support and oppose the TMX, are the possibility of a tanker spill due to increased traffic in the Burrard Inlet (68%) and the increased burning of fossil fuels from pipeline expansion (66%).
“Canada approves Trans Mountain pipeline expansion for second time” in the National Observer (June 18). This general overview of the decision is part of the ongoing Special Report on Trans Mountain by the National Observer.
“Trans Mountain approval makes mockery of climate emergency declaration” press release from the Council of Canadians.
“Cognitive Dissonance: Canada declares a national climate emergency and approves a pipeline” by Warren Mabee of Queen’s University in The Conversation (June 20).
“Trudeau Declared a Climate Crisis, then Backed Trans Mountain Again” in The Tyee (June 18), which summarizes reactions from British Columbia, and states that B.C. will take its case to the Supreme Court of Canada as it seeks the legal right to regulate the shipment of materials (including oil and gas) within the province.
“Transmountain pipeline approval triggers lawsuits leaves fossils unsatisfied” in The Energy Mix (June 19).
“Business leaders welcome pipeline approval but fear it may not be completed” in The National Observer. The article states: “Mark Scholz, CEO of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, who said in a statement the pipeline approval is “trivial” and will do little to help a suffering western Canadian drilling sector. Approval doesn’t make up for the federal government’s pursuit of Bills C-69 and C-48, bills reviled by the industry to revamp the regulatory system for resource projects and impose an oil tanker ban on the B.C. coast, he said.”
“Minister Morneau in Calgary to talk about the Trans Mountain Expansion project and the future of Canada’s Energy Sector “ (June 19) a press release that lays out the government’s best case for Albertans, and states that: “Every dollar the federal government earns from the project will be invested in Canada’s clean energy transition. The Department of Finance estimates that additional corporate tax revenues could be around $500 million per year once the project is online. These funds and any profits earned from the sale of the pipeline will be invested in the clean energy projects that power our homes, businesses and communities for years to come.”
A substantial analysis from a different viewpoint, Billion Dollar Buyout: How Canadian taxpayers bought a climate-killing pipeline was just published by the Council of Canadians. Written by Gordon Laxer, professor emeritus at the University of Alberta, the report summarizes the long history of the Trans Mountain project, with a special interest in how it fits in to the United States Mexico Canada trade agreement (USMCA) and the energy goal of integrating Canadian oil and natural gas into the U.S. market. Laxer also authored an OpEd in the Toronto Star on June 12, Don’t waste any more money on the Trans Mountain pipeline .
Not all First Nations Oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline: The National Observer summarizes First Nations opposition in “As Trans Mountain gets shovels ready for pipeline, First Nations vow to protect territory” (June 19), which states that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and Squamish Nation will use “all legal tools” available to challenge the TMX approval. The Tsleil-Waututh Nation has commissioned an independent environmental assessment and an economic study which estimates that TMX expansion will cost Canada $11.8 billion, in addition to the environmental costs. It also predicts lower demand than the government has anticipated and unused capacity. The 127-page economic study, Public Interest Evaluation of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is dated June 2019 and was written by Thomas Gunton, a professor at the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University, and by Chris Joseph, a B.C. consultant.
Project Reconciliation is an Indigenous-led coalition which aims to buy part of the pipeline and direct any profits to a Sovereign Wealth and Reconciliation Fund. Their press release on June 18 applauds the government’s TMX decision. A January 2019 article by CBC gives background on the group. The Indian Resource Council is another group, composed of 134 First Nations bands most of whom are also interested in the economic benefits of pipelines. CBC describes their meeting in “More than 100 First Nations could purchase the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline” (Jan. 2019). More recently, in June, the Iron Coalition launched – “an Alberta-based Indigenous-driven organization with the sole purpose of achieving ownership in the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMX).” Iron Coalition leaders are from the Nakota Sioux Nation, the Papaschase First Nation and the Fort McKay Métis, and state that “all profits generated by Iron Coalition will be directed back to each member community to bring lasting economic benefit to Métis and First Nations in Alberta.”