OTTAWA, Ontario, Canada, June 18, 2019 (ENS) – Canada’s federal cabinet has approved the twinning of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline that will carry diluted bitumen from the oil sands near Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, British Columbia, over the objections of Indigenous First Nations peoples and environmentalists.
The Canadian government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline for C$4.5 billion last year after regulatory and political wrangling led U.S.-based energy company Kinder Morgan to abandon the expansion project.
The Parliamentary Budget Office projects that moving forward with the expansion will cost Canadian taxpayers an additional C$9.3 billion if it is completed by December 31, 2021.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the controversial decision on Tuesday afternoon, just one day after his Liberal government declared that climate change is a national emergency. But the Prime Minister sees no contradiction in the two actions.
“My friends,” Trudeau said today, “we are a government that cares deeply about the environment. And we care just as deeply about the economic success of Canadians. Contrary to what some politicians will tell you, that isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to invest in tomorrow while making sure people can feed their families today. The Trans Mountain expansion does just that.”
The pipeline expansion will add nearly 600,000 barrels per day of export capacity to western Canadian oil producers, but the expanded capacity would mean at least a seven-fold increase in the number of oil tankers coming and going through busy, narrow waterways and through Burrard Inlet, which is surrounded by the Vancouver metropolitan area.
The original Trans Mountain Pipeline was built in 1953 and continues to operate. The expansion is a twinning of this existing 1,150-kilometre pipeline with capacity nearly tripling from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 barrels a day. Roughly 980 kilometers of new pipeline must be built for the expansion project.
Three new berths will be built at Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, allowing the number of tankers loaded at the terminal to increase to an estimated 34 tankers per month from four a month today.
The project is vigorously opposed by many British Columbians, including several First Nations tribes, who contend that the development would take place on their “unceded territory.”
Immediately after Trudeau’s announcement, Indigenous people with the group Protect the Inlet called an emergency rally and march in Vancouver to send “a loud message” back to Ottawa. The message, “This pipeline will never be built.”
Will George, a leader of Protect the Inlet, which is acting to protect the Burrard Inlet bordering the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, declared, “This pipeline will not be built.”
One of their concerns is that an oil spill would be disastrous for these marine waters. The City of Vancouver, in its submission to the National Energy Board, tabled a report showing the risk of a marine oil spill in the 50-year life of the Trans Mountain expansion project is between 16 and 67 percent.
The Government of Canada owns the existing pipeline and has said it will finance the twice-delayed expansion project. The government plans to sell the pipeline to new owners. At least two Indigenous groups have indicated interest in purchasing a stake in the pipeline.
“The project has the potential to create thousands of solid middle-class jobs for Canadians,” Prime Minister Trudeau said today in a video news conference.
During construction, the equivalent of 15,000 people will be working on the pipeline expansion. Once built, the expansion is expected to create what Trans Mountain calls, “…the equivalent of 37,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs per year during operations.”
Trudeau said today that Trans Mountain has promised to “have shovels in the ground this summer.”
The expansion project will be built under the TransMountain Corporation, a Crown corporation that must now secure the permits needed for construction. All existing permits were quashed when the Federal Court of Appeal issued an injunction last August halting the project because the government had not adequately consulted each of six First Nations that had challenged the project’s approval.
The court ruled that it is not enough to just speak to or listen to Indigenous communities, the government must respond to and engage with them to reach a state of informed consent.
Following the Appeal Court ruling, the government restarted consultations with 117 Indigenous stakeholders and today authorized the expansion project to proceed.
Ian Anderson, president and CEO of Trans Mountain Corporation, said, “Today’s announcement confirms the value of this project to Canada’s economic future. It is also a vote of confidence in the ability of a project of this magnitude to succeed. This is a major milestone, not only for us but more importantly for the shippers, communities, workers, local businesses and Indigenous peoples who have been involved in the development of the Project and are waiting to share in its success.”
“We have worked hard to establish and build upon our existing relationships with Indigenous peoples along our pipeline and marine corridors,” said Anderson. “Together, we’ve explored and, in many cases, settled on agreements that provide new opportunities and prosperity, in addition to ensuring the project design and planning incorporates appropriate measures to protect Indigenous interests in the lands and waters.”
The project is subject to 156 conditions that are enforced by the National Energy Board to mitigate risks, respect the rights of those directly affected and operate safely.
Among the permits still needed are: approvals from the National Energy Board to authorize construction, authorizations under the Fisheries Act, permits under the Species at Risk Act, approval under the Indian Act, authorization under the Canadian Transportation Act, and approval and licensing under the Explosives Act.
“It’s likely there will be challenges,” officials acknowledged during a technical briefing on the decision on Tuesday.
The nonprofit Sierra Club BC said in a statement today, “Further legal challenges are inevitable.”
“Saying yes to the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project is saying yes to more record-breaking wildfire destruction, droughts, rising sea levels and acidifying oceans. We are in a climate emergency. We must act like we are,” said Sierra Club BC. “We say yes to keeping rivers wild and full of salmon for food and ecosystems. We say yes to clean water. We say yes to a truly sustainable economy. We say yes to honouring Indigenous governance.”
“We will not stop standing up for wild salmon and clean water by opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project,” said the Sierra Club BC. “We will not stop working to avert climate breakdown and ecological collapse, and the economic collapse that will follow. We will not stop fighting for a livable future for our young people. Expanding fossil fuel infrastructure is a violent act towards current and future generations. It has to stop. Now.”
During the government news conference, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said the expansion project will create additional government revenue that will be positive for the clean energy transition.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told journalists at the news conference that Canada is transitioning to a low-carbon economy and it is “extremely important” to the Trudeau Government that Canada meet its Paris Agreement climate goals.
“All the profits from this will go to fund the transition to clean energy,” said McKenna. “We have spent up to $50 billion on the clean energy transition. We’re investing in clean technologies and clean solutions.”
The Trudeau Government is committed to spending the proceeds it earns from owning the Trans Mountain project on the transition to a clean economy. And any net proceeds from the eventual sale of the project will also be invested in the low-carbon transition, McKenna says.
Among other measures, proceeds could be used to fund public transit, housing, and green infrastructure projects across the country; advance the development of cutting-edge clean technology; make electricity more reliable and affordable; and invest in the future of transportation, for generations to come.
Canada is warming at twice the global average rate and at three times the rate, in the north, according to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change. The Government of Canada fought for an ambitious Paris Agreement and is working to reduce emissions through a comprehensive national climate plan developed with the provinces, territories, and Indigenous Peoples.
The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change includes 50 concrete measures to reduce emissions, build resilience to a changing climate, and support clean economic growth.
The Government of Canada has put a price on pollution. It is regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector; reducing carbon pollution from vehicles and buildings; and making historic, multibillion-dollar investments in public transit, green infrastructure, and clean-technology solutions. As a result, the country is on track to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement commitment, says McKenna, an assertion with which Sierra Club BC disagrees.
The potential carbon pollution from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is already accounted for in Canada’s national emissions projections and covered by Alberta’s legislated cap on oil sands emissions.
The project and any growth in oil and gas production associated with the project are not likely to increase emissions above Alberta’s 100 million tonnes legislated cap on annual oil sands emissions, says McKenna. Alberta’s emissions cap was instrumental in the Government of Canada’s decision to approve the project.
To ensure the project does not result in a net increase in emissions, the National Energy Board will require Trans Mountain Corporation to offset the estimated one million tonnes of emissions from the project’s construction.
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