Oil Sands update: Trans Mountain will undergo new NEB Review – but watch out for the new Frontier mine

On September 21, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources announced that the federal government has begun its path forward after the Court of Appeal decision on August 30 which stopped the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  The press release states:    “we have instructed the National Energy Board (NEB) to reconsider its recommendations, taking into account the effects of project-related marine shipping. The NEB will be required to complete a thorough and prompt review and deliver its report within 22 weeks.”… and “…the NEB will provide participant funding so that the views of Indigenous groups are well represented in the Board’s consideration of marine issues.” The National Energy Board website provides official news of the new Order in Council here

A CBC report on September 21 summarizes the government action and reactions:  “Ottawa gives pipeline regulator 22 weeks to review Trans Mountain expansion project” ; in it,  the Minister  promises a further announcement on improved consultations with First Nations (one of the two grounds cited by the Court of Appeal for quashing the project).

Other reactions:

Although her office hasn’t released an official statement, Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley has taken a hard line in media interviews,  as reported by  CBC on Sept 21) :  “We will not tolerate legal game playing,”… “And should it start to appear that game playing is working, we will hold Ottawa’s feet to the fire.”

From federal Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer: “Ottawa needs ‘special representative’ to consult Indigenous groups and save Trans Mountain, says Scheer” (Sept. 24);  From B.C.’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, a press release limited to cautious acknowledgement; and from Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, as quoted in The Straight (Sept. 25) : it would be “a win-win-win” to move the terminal from Burnaby to Delta, thus avoiding concerns about tanker traffic in the sensitive Burrard Inlet (but not addressing any concerns to “keep it in the ground”).

West Coast Environmental Law has written a thorough summary of the August Court of Appeal decision , and suggested questions for the coming review.  Ottawa is also facing a call from Washington State for  improved oil spill protocols for the part of the Trans Mountain pipeline which passes through the Puget Sound, according to the National Observer  (Sept 25).

“Colossal” new oil sands mine:  But as all eyes are on the progress of this Trans Mountain review, another enormous oil sands project is under consideration.  “Hearings begin today into a $20-billion oilsands mine that’s even bigger than the massive Fort Hills”  in The Financial Post (Sept. 24), reporting the on a five-week, joint-review panel regulatory hearing by Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and Alberta Energy Regulator into the development of the Frontier oilsands mine by Teck Resources.   The Narwhal analysis describes the Frontier mine as “ a colossal undertaking that relies on ‘relentless’ growth in world oil demand at a time of global climate precarity”.  Read “One of the largest oilsands mines ever proposed advances to public hearings” from The Narwhal for background and discussion of the potential impact, including the economic arguments, for this new development.

Federal Court of Appeal stops Trans Mountain pipeline in its tracks

killer whales rainforestAn August 30 decision by the Federal Court of Appeal  has quashed the approval of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline expansion, directing that the the consultation with First Nations be re-done before the approval can again be considered.  The Court’s decision was based on two grounds: 1). Failure to adequately consult with First Nations –  characterizing the interaction as more “note-taking” than consultation – and 2) the National Energy Board  did not consider  the environmental impacts of  oil tanker traffic, especially its effect on the Southern Resident Orca Whales .  The Court stated:  “The unjustified exclusion of project-related marine shipping from the definition of the project rendered the board’s report impermissibly flawed”.  The National Observer has summarized the decision thoroughly  here , and maintains an ongoing series on “Kinder Morgan” here .  CBC News produced several stories, including a broad overview, including reactions, in “After Federal Court quashes Trans Mountain, Rachel Notley pulls out of national climate plan” .  A straightforward, briefer summary appeared in the Calgary Herald, “Five things to know about today’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Court Ruling” .

Reaction from environmentalists and First Nations is understandably overjoyed. EcoJustice, one of the main legal players in this consolidated case issued a press release  jointly  with the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and  Living Oceans Society, emphasizing the conservation aspects of the decision. It states: “The past six years have been a hard-fought battle against a project that has come to symbolize some of the defining issues Canadians face at this moment in time: Navigating the ongoing process of reconciliation, mitigating climate change, and protecting the land and water for future generations.”   Climate Action Network states that “This decision from the Federal Court of Appeal affirms the primacy of Indigenous rights and community consent. “  The David Suzuki Foundation press release touches on both aspects of the decision, saying “What is clear is that today’s decision sets a new high-water mark in terms of what it means to achieve true reconciliation, with Indigenous Peoples and nature.”  From The Narwhal,  “The death of Trans Mountain pipeline signals future of Indigenous rights: Chiefs” is a good compilation of First Nations response, to be read along with the Vancouver Sun‘s “B.C. First Nations Divided on Kinder Morgan Ruling”.

Another environmentalist reaction: “‘This pipeline is dead’: Stand.earth applauds federal court decision on Trans Mountain Pipeline”  which states: “Today’s victory is a vindication for everyone who worked to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project — the hundreds of Water Protectors who were arrested in acts of peaceful civil disobedience, the tens of thousands of climate activists who marched against this pipeline, and the millions of Canadians who used their votes to elect candidates committed to creating a better future for Canada and the world.”

What does this mean for Canadian climate policy?  Professor David Tindall of University of British Columbia wrote an Opinion piece which appeared  in The Conversation on August 30, “Trans Mountain ruling: Victory for environmentalists, but a setback for action on climate change”.  He states: “While environmentalists can claim a victory in delaying the construction of a pipeline that would ship a further 500,000 barrels of oil each day to the Pacific Coast, the court ruling also threatens Canada’s plan to deal adequately with its greenhouse gas emissions. ”   A fuller discussion of this dilemma appears in “Trans Mountain pipeline ruling shakes central pillar of Trudeau agenda” (Aug. 31)  in the National Observer, and features in the many arguments for “Why Ottawa should step away from the Trans Mountain pipeline” , in Policy Options in August.  (A follow-up to an August 29 Open Letter to Prime Minister Trudeau on the topic, from 189 Canadian academics).  Finally, “The Global Rightward Shift on Climate Change”  in The Atlantic    (Aug. 28) examines Trudeau’s contradictory policies even before the Court decision,  in light of the recent ouster of Australia’s Prime Minister, partly over energy policies.

The threat to federal climate change policy comes because Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley, in reaction to the Court’s decision,  pulled the province out of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change, blaming the federal government for “the mess we find ourselves in”.  The Premier’s press release issues an ultimatum, stating: “…Alberta, and indeed Canada, can’t transition to a lower carbon economy, …if we can’t provide the jobs and prosperity that comes from getting fair value for our resources….So the time for Canadian niceties is over… First, the federal government must immediately launch an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even more importantly, Ottawa must immediately recall an emergency session of Parliament to assert its authority and fix the NEB process as it relates to this project to make it clear that marine matters have been and will be dealt in a different forum.  Then Ottawa needs to roll up its sleeves and continue its work to protect our coast and improve consultation and accommodation relating to Indigenous peoples in the way they deserve.”

The political context is behind Notley’s response is  reported in “‘Notley’s in a lot of trouble’: Massive political fallout from Trans Mountain court decision” in the Calgary Herald and in the Edmonton Journal (Aug. 31) :  “’It is a crisis’: Alberta premier withdraws support for federal climate plan after Trans Mountain approval quashed” . Other Western politicians are quoted in  “ ‘A hideously expensive white elephant’: Essential quotes on the quashing of the Trans Mountain pipeline approval”  in the Calgary HeraldReaction from British Columbia’s  Premier  was brief, and focused on First Nations rights;  the mayors of Burnaby and Vancouver B.C.  were more enthusiastic (having been part of the applicant group of the case) .

What’s Next?  The Prime Minister reiterated federal resolve to build the pipeline in an interview on August 31, after the decision.  Construction has been stopped indefinitely, but a CBC analysis cautions, “Don’t dig Trans Mountain’s grave just yet” , and UBC Professor George Hoberg has predicted that it will take another 18 months at least for the issue to reach, and be decided, in the Supreme Court of Canada.  And in the meantime, in Canada, the September 8 RISE Global Day of Climate Action will be a day of celebration .

 

Government campaign claims Trans Mountain pipeline is a “bridge to a greener tomorrow” – economists and citizens disagree

keepcanada working

#keepcanaddaworking social media campaign

Now that the government of Canada has bought the Trans Mountain pipeline project from Texas-based Kinder Morgan,  the governments of Alberta and Canada have launched a public relations campaign to “sell” the deal to Canadians.  The  Keep Canada Working television and  social media campaign  promotes the familiar Liberal government message that  “Developing the economy and protecting the environment are two things that can happen side by side – without choosing one over the other”, and argues that “The Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion funds green investments, shifts the transportation of oil away from more carbon intensive methods like rail or truck, and provides a bridge to a greener tomorrow.”   The full “Climate Action” defense is here .

The “Jobs and the Economy” claims are here, including endorsements by politicians and includes a quote from Stephen Hunt, Director of the United Steelworkers District 3: “Members of the United Steelworkers are proud that the pipeline will be using Canadian-made USW-built pipe.”  The other positive job arguments are sourced from an April 2018 Globe and Mail article by the CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the corporate website of  Trans Mountain, which are in turn based on an unnamed  Conference Board of Canada report .

What do other economists say about the benefits of the Trans Mountain pipeline?   In February 2018, the Parkland Institute summarized and critiqued the economic arguments in a still-useful  blog “Let’s share the actual facts about the Trans Mountain Pipeline” , and Canadian economist Robyn Allan has written numerous articles critical of the Trans Mountain project for the National Observer, most recently “Premier Notley’s claimed $15 billion annual benefit from Trans Mountain exposed as false by her own budget”  (June 7 2018). Other more detailed publications since the May 2018 purchase by the government:  “Canada’s Folly: Government Purchase of Trans Mountain Pipeline Risks an Increase in National Budget Deficit by 36%, Ensures a 637% Gain by Kinder Morgan”, published by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, describes the fiscal and financial risks and calls for more public disclosure of those details before the Purchase Agreement is finalized in August.  Similarly,  The view from Taxpayer Mountain  (June 2018) from the West Coast Environmental Law Association links to  the actual Purchase Agreement and reviews Canada’s obligations and risks.  On June 26, Greenpeace USA has published  Tar Sands Tanker Superhighway Threatens Pacific Coast Waters  highlighting the dangers of a potential oil spill on the environment,  and on coastal economies.  At risk: the $60 billion coastal economy of Washington, Oregon and California, which  currently supports over 150,000 jobs in commercial fishing and over 525,000 jobs in coastal tourism, and in the British Columbia Lower Mainland, Greenpeace estimates there are  320,000 workers in industries that rely on a clean coastline.

On the issue of climate change impacts, a widely-cited discussion paper, Confronting Carbon lock-in: Canada’s oil sands (June 2018) from the Stockholm Environment Institute,  concludes that  “The continued expansion of Canada’s oil sands is likely to contribute to carbon lock-in and a long-term oversupply of oil, slowing the world’s transition to a low-carbon future.”  And still valuable reading: David Hughes’ Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (June 2016) from the Corporate Mapping Project  , and from Jeff Rubin,  Evaluating the Need for
Pipelines: A False Narrative for the Canadian Economy  (September 2017).

Tanker Bridge BlockadeDemonstrations continue:   Vancouver housing activist Jean Swanson’s  argues that the billions spent on Kinder Morgan would be better used for social housing, job creation, and renewable energy in  “Why I got arrested protesting the Kinder Morgan pipeline” in The Tyee, July 11.  Twelve Greenpeace activists mounted an “aerial blockade”  for Trans Mountain oil tankers by hanging from a bridge above the water on July 3 and 4.   And on July 11, CBC reported  “Secwepemc First Nation’s ‘Tiny House Warriors’ occupy provincial park in Trans Mountain protest” .  The Tiny House Warrior movement began in 2017, near Kamloops, to block the pipeline by  re-establishing village sites and asserting authority over Secwepemc First Nations unceded Territories.

 

 

Canadian government spends $4.5 billion taxpayers’ dollars to buy Trans Mountain pipeline project and push expansion ahead

justin-trudeauDespite strenuous and prolonged opposition from environmental and Indigenous activists in Canada and internationally, and two days before a deadline imposed by Texas corporation Kinder Morgan, Canada’s Liberal government announced on May 29  that it will  spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing Trans Mountain pipeline and its associated infrastructure, so that a pipeline expansion can proceed under the ownership of a Crown corporation.  The press release is here  ; details of the transaction are here in a Backgrounder  ;  the text of the speech by Finance Minister Bill Morneau is here . Repeating the mantra of the Trudeau government, Morneau claims that the project is in the national interest, will preserve jobs,  will reassure investors and improve the price for Canadian oil by expanding its market  beyond the U.S.  Morneau says the federal government does not plan to be a long-term owner and is in negotiations with interested investors, including Indigenous communities, pension funds (notably the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board)  and the Alberta government.

trans-mountain-pipelineIn fact, the expansion pipeline, if built, would almost triple the amount of dilbit transported from Alberta to the British Columbia coast, from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels a day, and increase tanker traffic off B.C.’s coast from approximately five to 34 tankers a month.  As recently as May 24, an Open Letter coordinated by Oil Change International  and signed by over 200 groups  summed up the situation, stating there is a “….  clear contradiction between Prime Minister Trudeau’s unchecked support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline project and his commitments to Indigenous reconciliation through the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and his obligation to address climate change through the Paris Agreement.”  The letter notes that currently planned Canadian oil production would use up 16% of the world’s carbon budget to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees, or 7% of the budget for 2 degrees.  Canada has less than 0.5% of the world’s population.

Today’s initial reaction to the government’s decision  has called it “astounding”, “shameful”, and an “historic  blunder”.  From the CBC: “Liberals to buy Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5B to ensure expansion is built”   and “ Bill Morneau’s Kinder Morgan surprise comes with huge price tag, lots of political risk: Chris Hall”.  From  The National Observer   “Trudeau government to buy troubled Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion”   ; “BC Will Continue Legal Strategy to Oppose Pipeline After Federal Purchase, Premier Says”  in The Tyee  .  Toronto’s Globe and Mail posted at least 6 items on the decision , including  an Explainer , and Jeff Rubin’s Opinion: “Morneau had better options for Canada’s Energy sector” .

From  Greenpeace Canada: “Federal government volunteers to “captain the Titanic of tar sands oil pipelines” and risks $4.5B of Canadians’ money in the process” ; and  West Coast Environmental Law reaction points out that “There are currently 14 legal challenges before the Federal Court of Appeal, alleging that the government failed in its constitutional duty to consult First Nations about the Trans Mountain project, and that the federal review had other regulatory flaws. Success in just one of those challenges could derail the underlying federal approvals.”

In the Victoria Times Colonist, “Green Party Leader May calls pipeline decision ‘historic blunder’” ; John Horgan, Premier of British Columbia, released an official statement  , and a jubilant Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is profiled in the CBC story, ” ‘Pick up those tools, folks, we have a pipeline to build,’ Alberta premier says  “.  Reaction from B.C. First Nations leaders is compiled in this CBC story.

Social media reaction, as compiled by CBC , is here  .  The Dogwood Initiative has mounted a  “Time for Bill Morneau to go” online petition here ; SumofUs has an online petition  here,  to urge the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board not to invest in Kinder Morgan.   Direct emails can be sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca .   Opposition continues and the story is not over.

Facts, not politics: Parkland Institute report plans for Canada’s transition from fossil fuels

Parkland canadas energy outlook_coverOn May 1, the Parkland Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives co-released the latest report for the Corporate Mapping Project. Canada’s Energy Outlook: Current Realities and Implications for a Carbon-constrained Future is described in the press release as “ a definitive guide to Canada’s current energy realities and their implications for a sustainable future, taking a detailed look at Canadian energy consumption, renewable and non-renewable energy supply, the state of Canada’s resources and revenues, and what it all means for emissions-reduction planning.”

The title of the press release is instructive: “Pipeline feud underscores need for evidence-based energy strategy” – Canada’s Energy Outlook is an attempt to inject facts into the  current emotion-charged debate about the TransMountain pipeline and the role of oil and gas in Canada; in doing so, it counters many of the pro-pipeline claims, including the job creation claims.  For example, Chapter 2, “Non-renewable energy supply, resources and revenue” states:  “Oil and gas jobs are a relatively minor overall component of the Canadian economy: 2.2% of Canada’s workforce was employed in oil, gas and coal production, distribution and construction in 2015. Of these jobs, 52% were involved in construction, most of which were of a temporary nature. In Alberta, 6.3% of jobs were involved in fossil fuel production and distribution, and a further 6.6% in related construction.”

A commentary titled “Politics versus the future: Canada’s Orwellian energy standoff” discusses the pro-pipeline arguments being made by Alberta and the federal government in light of their incompatibility with our emissions reductions targets, but acknowledges the insufficiency of our renewable energy supply as yet.  It concludes: “ Some environmental groups assert that it will be relatively easy to swap out fossil fuels for renewable energy – wind, solar, biomass, biofuels and geothermal energy. That is unlikely given the scale of such a transition. Renewable energy can certainly be scaled up a lot, along with geothermal energy for heating and cooling, but we will likely need fossil fuels for decades to come as we make the transition.”

The report was written by David Hughes, an earth scientist,well-known energy expert, and author of several related  reports, including Can Canada Expand Oil and Gas Production, Build Pipelines and Keep Its Climate Change Commitments? (2016).