The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been a thorny issue for Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal government. The $7.8-billion pipeline would ferry 890,000 barrels of tar sands crude 1,150-kilometres from Edmonton to a terminal in Burnaby, B.C., near Vancouver, where it would be exported to markets in Asia.
The battle over the Kinder Morgan pipeline is about more than just the dangers of transporting oil by pipe, it is also about bitumen-filled supertankers in ecologically sensitive coastal waters. If it is built the pipeline will increase tanker and barge traffic 700 percent in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. This will expose communities and the marine environment to the risk of an oil spill and imperil marine life including BC’s Orca population.
There is also the issue of the carbon load associated with the pipeline. A recent auditors report reveals that Canada will not achieve its 2020 carbon reduction targets. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the Kinder Morgan and Line 3 pipelines represent an increase of 23 to 28 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent every year. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency estimates that when the pipelines are fully operational they will produce 20 to 26 megatonnes of emissions each year. This will make it even harder for Canada to achieve its carbon targets for 2030.
Citing environmental considerations the newly elected government of British Columbia (B.C.) has vowed to stop the pipeline. Leaders in the province have openly opposed the pipeline. Dozens of municipalities have rejected the pipeline including the mayor of Vancouver. By far the most powerful voice opposing the pipeline comes from BC’s NDP Premier John Horgan.
“Our government made it clear that a seven-fold increase in heavy oil tankers in the Vancouver harbor is not in B.C.’s best interests,” Minister of Environment and Climate Change George Heyman told reporters. “Not for our economy, our environment, or thousands of existing jobs. We will use all available tools to protect our coastal waters and our province’s future.”
Opposition to the pipeline also comes from people across the continent and around the world including people like David Suzuki and Bill McKibben. There have been scores of protests, vigils, and petitions along with thousands of comments to the Kinder Morgan review panel.
Indigenous people are on the frontlines of pipeline protests. First Nations led resistance to the Northern Gateway pipeline and Native Americans are on the frontlines against the Dakota Access pipeline. Indigenous people are also leading the resistance to the Kinder Morgan pipeline. This includes Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and Over 100 First Nations who have signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.
The Kinder Morgan is at odds with the ruling Liberal government’s stated policy priorities of climate leadership and respect for indigenous people. Desmog describes the Canadian government’s approval of the pipeline as the end of reconciliation efforts with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
Nonetheless, under pressure from oil industry lobbyists, Canada’s federal cabinet approved the Kinder Morgan in November 2016. “Today’s decision is an integral part of our plan to uphold the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions while creating jobs and protecting the environment,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference. This is a paradoxical statement and yet another example of Trudeau’s energy policy dualism that tries to wrap its arms around both climate leadership and fossil fuels.
Liberal MP Jim Carr explained his party’s approach by saying, “our goal is finding sweet spot between resource development and environmental responsibility.” However, it is impossible to reconcile fossil fuel pipelines with climate leadership.
In August 2017 the National Energy Board formally green-lighted the building of the Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby BC which would transfer the bitumen from the pipeline to supertankers. In September 2017 the port of Vancouver approved a construction permit for the tanker terminal on Burrard Inlet. However, the momentum has waned as opposition has grown.
The battle lines are drawn with First Nations, communities, climate scientists, environmental groups, politicians, and the hundreds of thousands of people on one side and Justin Trudeau, Alberta’s NDP Premier, Rachel Notley and Big Oil on the other.
The ante was upped on April 9th, 2018 when Texas-based Kinder Morgan announced that it was halting all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain pipeline adding the project will be abandoned if an agreement cannot be reached with the various stakeholders by May 31.
Trudeau is under intense pressure to get the pipeline built. However, widespread protest helped to stop both the Energy East and the Northern Gateway pipelines. The Kinder Morgan looks like it will succumb to the same fate.