The Canadian federal government’s move to purchase the Trans Mountain oil sands pipeline project from Texas based Kinder Morgan is financially and environmentally dubious. With the decision to pour billions of tax dollars into purchasing the pipeline and building the expansion, Trans Mountain should now be renamed Taxpayer Mountain. There is high probability this will end up as a case of buyer’s remorse on a grand scale.
Kinder Morgan, a company born from Enron, one of the most infamous enterprises in the history of the corporate sector, looks to have taken the Canadian government to school. With their artificial “line in the oil sands” deadline and subsequent manufactured crisis, Kinder Morgan “really played this like pros,” as Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May described. And these “pros” certainly proved to be adept at hustling governments and taxpayers.
A June 1st Vancouver Sun editorial pointed out that Kinder Morgan Canada’s assets were valued at $3.7 billion in 2017, and as economist Robyn Allan tweeted in response to the Trans Mountain sale announcement, Ottawa has chosen to pay a significant premium of $4.5 billion to predominantly US investors for an aging 65 year-old pipeline. Notably, the $4.5 billion acquisition cost does not include the additional staggering amount of money still required to build the pipeline expansion, which by various estimates will bring the total cost of the taxpayer funded bailout to somewhere between $10 – $15 billion or more. Nor does the purchase price reflect the annual operations and maintenance costs, which the Sun editorial noted as being over $200 million last year.
By having accepted a fatally flawed National Energy Board recommendation to approve Trans Mountain, Ottawa triggered the predicament they continue to try to pin on the BC government. Tweet This!
Pro-pipeline guesstimates of the jobs that would be created by the Trans Mountain expansion appear to be hyper-inflated at best. The Parkland Institute’s Ricardo Acuna states “The claim of 15,000 jobs during the construction phase of the pipeline appears to be a phantom number with no real evidence or credibility behind it” and that the post-construction 37,000 jobs projection comes from a questionable Conference Board of Canada report, “plus another 3,000 jobs that Kinder Morgan seems to have invented for good measure.” As energy analyst David Hughes notes, “Permanent jobs upon completion of construction would tally 40 in Alberta and 50 in B.C., according to Kinder Morgan’s application to the National Energy Board.”
The federal government’s invoking of the national interest is transparently self-serving, as they attempt to evade responsibility for creating this debacle in the first place. By having accepted a fatally flawed National Energy Board recommendation to approve Trans Mountain, Ottawa triggered the predicament they continue to try to pin on the BC government.
Regardless of who owns Trans Mountain, the question remains as to whether the approval of the pipeline expansion was even lawful. It is Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s contention in ongoing litigation that it was not, and that both the NEB and federal cabinet violated the Species at Risk Act. Ultimately, the NEB made an eleventh hour decision to arbitrarily truncate the Trans Mountain project at tidewater, excluding impacts to the marine environment, including endangered Southern Resident killer whales, from the environmental assessment.
Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Dominic LeBlanc and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna recently announced that Southern Resident killer whales face “imminent threats” to their survival and recovery. One of the primary factors causing the Southern Residents to be imminently threatened is the noise and disturbance produced by vessel traffic in the Salish Sea.
Trans Mountain’s tanker route transects critical habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the Southern Residents. Killer whales produce and listen to sounds in order to establish and maintain critical life functions: to navigate and communicate, find and select mates, and locate and capture prey (especially Chinook salmon). The existing level of noise in the Salish Sea has already degraded critical habitat and reduced the feeding efficiency of these whales. The Trans Mountain expansion will further increase noise levels, creating further reductions in their feeding.
Regardless of who owns Trans Mountain, the question remains as to whether the approval of the pipeline expansion was even lawful. Tweet This!
In January of this year, Ecojustice — on behalf of Raincoast, David Suzuki Foundation, Georgia Strait Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, and World Wildlife Fund Canada — petitioned the Ministers for emergency protection for the whales under the federal Species at Risk Act. The aforementioned imminent threat announcement by the federal government is a response to that petition. The announcement, in our opinion, also means that the Ministers are now legally obligated to recommend the federal Cabinet issue emergency protections for Southern Resident killer whales.
So how is the federal government going to reconcile the conflict of interest they now find themselves in as owners and operators of a project that substantially amplifies the likelihood of extinction for a unique and endangered group of killer whales as a result of the noise generated by said project’s increase in tanker traffic?
[A version of this article previously ran in the Vancouver Sun.]