Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau once again approved the controversial proposal to expand the Trans Mountain crude oil pipeline along the western border despite criticism from Indigenous and environmental groups.
If the government gets its way, contruction of the nearly 1,000km pipeline expansion will resume this year, Trudeau said at a news conference Tuesday. An anonymous senior government official said Ottawa expected legal challenges to the approval.
Many Indigenous groups view the pipeline as a threat to their lands. According to environmentalists, the project raises concerns by enabling increased expansion of the carbon-heavy oil sands. One Indigenous British Colombian activist group, the Tiny House Warriors, vowed to prohibit further pipeline construction on their territory.
“The Trudeau government does not have the right to put a pipeline through unceded Secwepemc land,” spokeswoman Kanahus Manuel said.
The Liberal government already approved the expansion in 2016, but that decision was overturned last year by a court that ruled the government had not adequately consulted Indigenous groups. The Canadian government later bought the 66-year-old pipeline from Kinder Morgan Canada in 2018 with a price tag of US$3.4 billion to ensure the expansion would happen. The US$5.5 billion project would triple Trans Mountain’s capacity to carry 890,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s oil sands to British Columbia’s Pacific coast, and supposedly alleviate congestion along the existing line.
Trudeau, who faces a tough fight in a national election scheduled for October, has been under pressure from both western Canadian politicians who accuse him of doing too little for the oil industry and environmental groups that see the oil sands as a highly polluting source of crude production.
“This isn’t an either/or proposition. It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow while making sure people can feed their families today,” Trudeau said, adding he knew some people would be disappointed with his decision. Trudeau said the government would make accommodations to Indigenous concerns about the pipeline, including measures to protect killer whale and fish habitats in British Columbia. The government’s latest approval can be appealed through the courts. Trans Mountain also requires various permits and route approvals throughout British Columbia where that province’s left-leaning New Democratic Party government opposes the project.
Mike Hurley, mayor of Burnaby near Vancouver where the pipeline ends, said his city was “absolutely against” the expansion.
“It brings too much extra risk into our community and we don’t believe the risk is worth the rewards. There’s a risk of fire, explosion, chemical releases, a natural disaster for our First Nations people who use the inlet so much, and for business,” he said.Trudeau said that every dollar earned from the project would be invested in clean energy. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that Trudeau’s promise of clean energy technology is a “cynical bait-and-switch that would fool no one.”
“If you’re serious about fighting climate change, you invest public funds in renewable energy,” May said. “And there’s no guarantee that this pipeline will ever turn a profit anyway.”
Construction is expected to take two and a half years, investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co told Reuters. Assuming work on the expansion resumes this year, the expanded pipeline could be up and running by early 2022.
“We will measure success not by today’s decision but by the beginning of actual construction and more importantly by the completion of the pipeline,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, a frequent critic of Trudeau. “This is now a test for Canada to demonstrate to the rest of the world we are a safe place in which to invest.”
Eighty percent of the expanded pipeline’s total capacity has already been contracted to companies, including Suncor Energy Inc., Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., and the Exxon-owned, Imperial Oil Ltd, according to a National Energy Board filing.