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What might a coalition government mean for the Trans Mountain pipeline?

There is mounting speculation that a Liberal-NDP coalition government could be the outcome of the federal election on October 19. Given that, what could a coalition government mean for the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline project?

Texas-based Kinder Morgan is proposing to twin the Trans Mountain pipeline from northern Alberta to the British Columbia coast to increase the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels per day. This expansion would mean adding 980 kilometres of new pipeline alongside the existing 60-year-old 1,150 kilometres of pipeline. Once at the Port of Vancouver in Burnaby, the bitumen would be loaded onto export tankers. It is estimated that a tanker could be loaded every day with this expansion.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair says he would not be “ruling out support for the Kinder Morgan project in advance of its assessment by the National Energy Board”, while Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says, “I am, however, very interested in the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline that is making its way through. I certainly hope that we’re going to be able to get that pipeline approved.” It is possible that the Green Party would also play a role in a coalition government should it be formed. Their leader Elizabeth May has stated, “Kinder Morgan wants to nearly triple the capacity of the pipeline. This is an environmental threat not only because consuming all this oil will aggravate climate change, but also because the risks of oil spills are unacceptably high.”

The Council of Canadians is opposing to the Trans Mountain expansion. We have primarily cited climate change impacts (270 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over a 35-year period), the violation of Indigenous rights (twelve First Nations have said that the review process has failed to fulfill the constitutional responsibility to consult First Nations), the risk it poses to waterways, and local opposition (61 per cent of citizens who have an opinion on the proposal say they oppose the project).

A study and a letter have also recently highlighted other concerns we share.

Jobs, taxes and clean-up costs

The Globe and Mail has reported, “Long under attack by environmental groups, the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is now being criticized by some economists. A report released [on November 10] by Simon Fraser University and The Goodman Group Ltd., questions Trans Mountain’s financial projections, arguing that the economic impacts of jobs and taxes have been overvalued, while the costs associated with possible spills have been understated.”

The article adds, “Trans Mountain estimates the $5.4-billion pipeline project will create 36,000 person-years of employment in B.C., but the SFU-Goodman report disputes that and estimates the number at 12,000 person-years. …The report also is critical of Trans Mountain’s estimate that the cost of cleaning up a worst-case oil spill would be $100-million to $300-million. The new study claims a bad spill would actually cost from $1-billion to $5-billion to rectify.” The report notes that Alberta would get about $400 million in taxes and royalties, while British Columbia would get about $40 million per year.

Likelihood of a spill

Concerned Professional Engineers is “a group of Registered Professional Engineers. [They] have extensive experience in the design, operation and maintenance of resource export terminals, design of escort tugs, handling of ships and navigation.”

In a letter to the National Energy Board, they state: “Based on Trans Mountain’s own experts’ estimations … there is a ten percent (10%) probability that a spill of 8.25 million litres or more will occur in a 50 year operating period, even with all the proposed mitigation strategies. This is considerably greater than the mitigated spill risk of 9% for a 5.0 million litres spill estimated for the Northern Gateway project out of Kitimat. The probability of at least one spill in 50 years increases to 19% when spills of any size are considered.”

To put 8.25 million litres in perspective, the Enbridge pipeline that ruptured in Michigan spilled 3.3 million litres into the Kalamazoo River.

Trans Mountain likely to be a key election issue in the Lower Mainland

It is expected that Trans Mountain will be a key election issue in the Lower Mainland, especially in two ridings in Burnaby.

NDP MP Kennedy Stewart currently represents Burnaby Douglas. That riding will be divided into Burnaby South (where Stewart is expected to run) and Burnaby North-Seymour (where Lynne Quarmby will run for the Green Party). Quarmby is an outspoken opponent of Trans Mountain, was named in the $5.6 million lawsuit by Kinder Morgan for obstructing the survey work for the pipeline, and was arrested on Burnaby Mountain during the community resistance against the pipeline in late November. Stewart has also been very critical of the NEB process, helped Burnaby residents register to speak on the pipeline and even released a map of the proposed route that showed the pipeline close to homes, schools and parks.

The Vancouver Observer has also noted, “Due to population growth, B.C. will add six new seats to the province’s 42 in the next House of Commons make-up. …Five of the new seats are in the Lower Mainland, and one is on Vancouver Island.” Trans Mountain could be a prominent issue in all these ridings.

All parties should hear from those opposed to the Kinder Morgan project prior to the federal election.

The alternative is clear. Speaking in support of tar sands pipelines, Industry Minister James Moore (the Conservative MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam) recently commented, “The people of Lac Megantic wished they had pipelines instead of rail. …It’s very dangerous for the Lower Mainland … to have the massive spike in rail transfer of dangerous goods. …The people of Port Coquitlam and Burnaby and New Westminster, with dangerous goods going on those rail lines, should be concerned about that.”

The reality behind this offensive comment is that with another Conservative government the people of the Lower Mainland are more likely to get both pipelines and rail.

Should the pipeline project proceed, it could be operational by late 2017.

Further reading
Expert Engineers Deem Trans Mountain Too Dangerous (December 2014 Tyee article)
Economists question projected value of Trans Mountain’s pipeline (November 2014 Globe and Mail article)
NDP leader Thomas Mulcair throws pipeline-policy punches (July 2014 Vancouver Sun article)