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Pipeliners Get Permits, Not Permission, for Trans Mountain, Line 3

Mark Klotz/flickr
Mark Klotz/flickr [1]

Mark Klotz/flickr

Ottawa’s “yes” to Texas-based Kinder Morgan’s proposed expansion of its Trans Mountain diluted bitumen pipeline between Edmonton and Vancouver does not mean the expansion will happen, argues Karen Mahon, Canadian national director of Stand.earth, in an opinion piece for the Vancouver Sun.

The federal cabinet yesterday accepted the National Energy Board’s recommendation that it approve the C$6.8-billion proposal to triple the capacity of a decades-old oil pipeline to carry nearly 900,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen for shipment abroad. The government also signed off on Enbridge’s 1,659-kilometre Line 3 [2] pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, after the National Energy Board approved the project with 89 conditions. The government rejected Enbridge’s already-tenuous [3] Northern Gateway project and confirmed a long-awaited ban on tanker traffic along British Columbia’s environmentally sensitive north coast.

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“The project will triple our capacity to get Canadian energy resources to international markets beyond the United States,” Trudeau said [5] yesterday. “We heard clearly from Canadians that they don’t want to see someone trying to make a choice between what’s good for the environment and what’s good for the economy,” he added [6]. “They need to go together.”

Trudeau pointed to Alberta’s emissions cap of 100 megatonnes per year as a measure that Canada is still a climate leader, adding that without new pipeline capacity, more diluted bitumen would be transported out of Alberta in rail tankers.

“That is less economic, and more dangerous for communities, and is higher in terms of greenhouse gas emissions than modern pipelines would be,” he said.

The National Observer responded [7] with a CO2 Scorecard that weighed the 23 megatonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions that Canada stands to save through its accelerated coal phase-out [8] and floor price [9] on carbon against the 275 Mt per year the country will add through the two pipeline approvals and the Petronas liquefied natural gas terminal [10].

The cabinet announcement met widespread anger on British Columbia’s lower mainland, where there is intense opposition [11] to the dramatic increase in tanker traffic and other environmental harms associated with the Trans Mountain expansion. Critics pointed out that diluted bitumen spills are inevitable, and that Trudeau was signing a death warrant for a pod of 80 orca whales off the B.C. coast, in contravention of the federal Species at Risk Act.

Mahon says the fight is just beginning.

“Perhaps Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to realize just how right he was when he famously said ‘governments grant permits, but only communities grant consent,’” Mahon writes. Ottawa may have granted a permit, but “the communities of the Lower Mainland not only refuse to grant consent, they are increasingly and vehemently opposed.”

That means “there will be mass protests. There will be lawsuits. This will become a hotly contested issue in the coming B.C. election. And this pipeline will never be built.”

Reaction across the climate and energy community Tuesday afternoon was immediate and fierce.

“Climate leaders don’t build pipelines,” Oil Change International declared [12] in a release, when “allowing long-lived fossil fuel projects is neither responsible nor sustainable.” The research and campaign organization added that Trudeau “has squandered his credibility on climate change, environmental protection, and Indigenous rights,” and “citizens will hold him accountable to his broken promises and will work even harder to stop these dangerous projects.”

“Kinder Morgan and Line 3 will never see the light of day,” promised the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion [13], speaking for more than 100 First Nations and Tribes across Canada and the United States.

“Rejecting an already dead Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline while approving two new massive tar sands pipelines is a far cry from the climate leadership the world needs,” said Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. “Just as Indigenous peoples are showing unwavering strength down at Standing Rock, our peoples are not afraid and are ready to do what needs to be done to stop the pipelines and protect our water and our next generations.”

Greenpeace Canada climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema warned in a fundraising letter that “if these pipelines are built, tanker traffic on the B.C. coast would increase seven-fold, and the entire Mississippi delta would be threatened. A spill, which could devastate orca and wild salmon populations, is inevitable. A spill that could impact water supplies is a matter of when, not if. A tar sands spill would be almost impossible to clean up. No wonder, then, that more than 100 First Nations and multiple municipalities are unanimously opposed to these dangerous projects.”

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson described [14] the cabinet decision as “a big step backwards for Canada’s environment and economy” and “a missed opportunity for Canada, as there’s never been a better time to aggressively shift to a clean energy future.”

Sierra Club BC charged [15] that Trudeau’s “incoherent climate and energy policy” had turned British Columbia into a “sacrifice zone”, adding that it welcomed the Northern Gateway decision and north coast tanker ban but condemned the pipeline approval in the strongest possible terms.

“The Kinder Morgan pipeline will not be built. Not on our watch,” said Campaigns Director Caitlyn Vernon. “Legal challenges have already been filed, and First Nations, municipalities are vowing to do what it takes,” and “we will not rest until pipelines and tankers are replaced by a truly renewable energy future for B.C. and for Canada.”

In her Vancouver Sun post, Mahon notes that the Harper government approved the Northern Gateway route across central British Columbia to Kitimat more than two years ago, but Enbridge Inc. saw its permit suspended when it failed to begin construction.

“In many ways, the battle over the Kinder Morgan project is reminiscent of the controversy and protests we saw in Clayoquot Sound” a quarter-century ago, she says. “Only this one is in the middle of Vancouver.”

In Clayoquot Sound, “the government of the day issued logging permits catalyzing mass public protests—and those forests are still standing today. There are already seven legal challenges [16] to the pipeline before the courts and more are predicted.”

One likely source of additional litigation, Mahon suggests, is the pipeline’s “direct contravention of the Species at Risk Act.” The NEB—and now the federal cabinet—allowed the project to proceed even as the regulatory agency acknowledged that the associated increase in tanker traffic will “adversely affect [17]” the southern resident Orca pod. If the line is put into service, Mahon notes, “scientists predict this whale population will most likely not survive at all.”

More broadly, she warns, “pipelines have become a flashpoint that cannot be contained. We watched it happen over some simple drilling tests two years ago on Burnaby Mountain, where over 100 people were arrested in one week. These people were grandmothers, academics, priests, students, and First Nations leaders. South of the border, we are watching it happen on a much larger scale with protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline in the U.S. And soon, we will be watching it again here.”

The idea that federal approval of the contested pipeline might not translate into its completion is not new. Last week, Globe and Mail columnist Campbell Clark observed [18] that the Kinder Morgan line was unlikely to be expanded unless the Prime Minister invested his personal political capital to overcome opposition.