By Roger Annis, A Socialist In Canada, April 9, 2018 (updated and with postscripts)
The U.S. multinational Kinder Morgan announced on April 8, 2018 that it is suspending all but non-essential work on its Trans Mountains tar sands pipeline expansion. A news report here on CBC News summarizes the announcement.
Kinder Morgan says it may cancel the project by May 31 if it doesn’t receive an unfettered path to construction. As reported in the Financial Post, Kinder Morgan President and CEO Steve Kean told an April 8 conference call, “We expect to continue investing but it has become clear that this particular investment may become untenable for a private party to undertake.”
The announcement was welcomed by liberal environmentalists as a sign that the pipeline project is in deep trouble. Some four years ago, another proposed tar sands pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific Ocean coast of British Columbia–Enbridge Inc’s ‘Northern Gateway‘–was cancelled due to widespread opposition in BC. But something else is at play this time.
The Kinder Morgan announcement is part of an elaborate public relations ploy by the company and its supporters in the oil industry, the federal government in Ottawa and the provincial governments in Alberta and Saskatchewan to press ahead with the planned expansion of Trans Mountain. Journalists are calling the announcement and related statements by supporting governments a “set piece”.
The pipeline connects Edmonton, Alberta to refineries in Washington State and the port of Vancouver BC. It carries tar sands bitumen, crude oil and refined products. The proposed expansion would triple its capacity to some 890,000 barrels per day, most of that expansion being tar sands bitumen product.
The targets of the announcement and related, threatened measures by governments are the British Columbia government and the anti-pipeline protest movement in the province. The BC government, under pressure from protesters, has announced tame measures to further study certain environmental impacts of the project, specifically the danger of spills from the pipeline or spills from ocean tankers carrying bitumen product to foreign markets. These would likely delay the constructoin schedule. Like the original approval process of the pipeline by the Canadian government and its agencies, further studies in BC would not consider the global warming consequences of expanded tar sands production in Alberta.
According to the Canadian constitution, the federal government holds regulatory power over interprovincial transport. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and its agencies have approved the pipeline expansion. But citizen protests against it in BC are deep and ongoing.
As matters stand, the BC government is preparing a reference to the BC Supreme Court deciding whether it has the constitutional power to undertake its proposed studies. [The preceding sentence was corrected from the orginal.] That court’s decision is the beginning and end of the government’s stand. Environment Minister George Heyman told the BC Legislature last month, “Neither I, the premier nor any member of our government has said that we would use every means available to delay, to deny the pipeline. What we’ve said is that we’ll use every tool in the tool box to defend B.C.’s coast, our economy and our interests.”
The government is otherwise a full participant in fossil fuel extraction expansion in Canada, notably though its promotion of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry, expansion of related natural gas fracking in the northeast of the province, and the decision to proceed with construction of the $10 billion-plus ‘Site C’ hydroelectric dam on the Peace River, also in the northeast. The dam does not have an assured market for its product, but tar sands extraction in Alberta is a key potential market.
Vancouver also happens to be the largest coal-exporting port in North America, much of that delivered by rail from faraway Wyoming and Montana in the United States. Vancovuer serves as a doormat for the coal industry in the western U.S. The industry has been unable to overcome citizen opposition in Washington and Oregon states to expanded coal exports from ocean export terminals in those states.
In response to the protests and BC government action, oil companies have cranked gasoline prices in Vancouver to record highs of $1.53 per liter (app. US$4.75 per gallon). The Alberta government has embargoed the sale of British Columbia wines in the province. The embargo was lifted in late February but a threat by the Alberta government to reinstate it remains in place.
The following additional measures by pipeline proponents are being undertaken:
- Kinder Morgan says it wants the federal government to “take pre-emptive action” against the British Columbia government’s efforts. That means overriding whatever studies the BC government might undertake and it means cracking down harder on anti-pipeline protesters. In recent weeks, nearly 200 people have been arrested at the gates of Kinder Morgan’s export facility in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. They are charged with violating a BC Supreme Court judge’s order granting Kinder Morgan unrestricted access to expansion work on its export terminal in Burnaby.
- Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is urging Ottawa to step up its pressures and actions. “Maybe the government of B.C. feels they can mess with Texas — and who knows, maybe they can. But let me be absolutely clear. They cannot mess with Alberta.” Kinder Morgan is based in Texas.
- Notley is introducing legislation to gain the full and formal support of the Alberta legislature for retaliatory actions. She has reiterated her announcement in March that her government may reduce gasoline supplies to British Columbia (a portion of the current Trans Mountain Pipeline product is gasoline, and it feeds a small refinery in Burnaby). She would like Ottawa to also threaten the BC government (and population) with punitive economic measures.
- Alberta and Ottawa are considering investing directly in the pipeline project in order to strengthen their ‘solidarity’ and legal standing. Notley said on April 8, “Alberta is prepared to be an investor in the pipeline and let me be clear, if we take that step, we will be a significantly more determined investor than B.C. has dealt with up to this point. Never count Alberta out. This pipeline will be built.”
The conservative Globe and Mail national daily has weighed into the fray with an editorial on April 9 calling the pipeline obstacles nothing less than “an economic and constitutional disaster” for Canada. “The federal government cannot let this stand. It must use whatever tools it has, courts included, to re-establish its jurisdiction and get Trans Mountain back on track.”
The editorial plays upon the hypocrisy of the BC government which expresses hesitations about Trans Mountain while proceeding full steam ahead on LNG and Site C.
A recent report has shown that Canada is falling “massively” short of the greenhouse gas emission reduction targets it promised at the world climate summit in Paris in 2015. And a recent audit said that few governments in Canada have any detailed plans to reduce emissions. The audit was conducted by federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand and auditors general in nine provinces. They reported that neither the federal government nor any of the ten provinces have adequately assessed the risks which climate change poses to the country and have no real idea what might be needed to adapt to it.
 The Green Party is a governing partner of the NDP government in BC, holding a balance-of-power three seats together with the NDP’s 41 seats. Like the NDP, the Green Party cites oil spill safety and “protecting BC interests” as the principle concerns with Trans Mountain. It says the province of British Columbia needs to build an ‘economy of the future’ and should therefore turn its back on “sunset” industries such as fossil fuels. In an April 10 interview on CBC Radio One‘s ‘The Early Edition’, BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver citied two examples of an “economy of the future” for the province: expanded mineral mining, and winning the location in Vancouver of a giant distribution center by the slave-labour, consumer goods distributor Amazon.
* The fatal costs of Kinder Morgan, by Crawford Kilian, The Tyee, April 10, 2018 Exporting oil — like exporting fentanyl — is a death sentence for some.
* Canada moving to exempt majority of new oilsands projects from federal assessments, by James Wilt, published on Desmog Canada, April 2, 2018
* Report finds major banks ramped up fossil fuel financing to $115 billion in 2017, press release by Rainforest Action Network, March 28, 2018 Despite 2017 being the costliest year on record for weather disasters, the report reveals that banks increased extreme fossil fuel financing last year, led by a more than doubling in lending to tar sands companies and pipelines.
News and analysis of the global warming emergency:
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* Letter by 40 social and environmental groups in Quebec calling on the federal government to cease support to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, published on April 12, 2018
* Trudeau summons Alberta and BC premiers to Ottawa over Kinder Morgan as Quebec groups enter debate, by Carl Meyer, National Observer, April 12, 2018
[The more fanatical among the journalists and big-business proponents of the Alberta tar sands want the Ottawa government to enact punitive economic measures against the BC government over its attempt to placate environmental protests by using the courts to delay construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion. See the next item in this postscript list.]
* BC NDP switched from election commitment to ‘stop’ Trans Mountain pipeline to post-election promise to ‘defend BC interests’, by Vaughn Palmer, columnist, Vancouver Sun, April 12, 2018
* BC Supreme Court judge says Green Party leader Elizabeth May and other Trans Mountain pipeline protesters should face criminal charges for symbolic protest against civil contempt injunction granted earlier to Kinder Morgan, Canadian Press, April 9 2018