Most Canadians weren’t surprised to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approve the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline this week.
Yet Trudeau’s announcement was so thoroughly cut through with political spin and misinformation some have described it as “Orwellian.”
So where did the Prime Minister rank highest on the spin-master index?
Here are our top five myth and misinformation moments from Trudeau’s Kinder Morgan announcement.
Kinder Morgan Pipeline Approval Based on ‘Science’
Concerns about scientific integrity have plagued the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline since the project first came under review.
The pipeline review, conducted by the National Energy Board, refused to consider the upstream climate and environmental impacts of the project, meaning vital scientific information about the impacts of oilsands development on air, water, at risk species and human health were excluded from consideration. The province of B.C. quietly accepted the NEB’s assessment of the project, despite noted deficiencies in its analysis of cumulative impacts, emissions and oil spill impacts.
To the frustration of participants, the NEB also excluded oral cross-examination from the proceedings, meaning Kinder Morgan avoided answering many difficult questions about the project’s environmental impacts.
In fact, a group of 27 climate experts, including economists, scientists and political and social scientists, were refused intervenor status during the pipeline hearings because they wanted to discuss the project’s impact on Canada’s climate change targets.
In the weeks before Trudeau’s announcement a group of scientists reached out to the PMO to share their findings on the lack of scientific literature regarding the effects of bitumen spills.
“It’s hard to imagine that the federal government decision (to approve new pipelines) could be based on science, just when we’ve found that in many cases, there’s very little science to base those decisions upon,” Wendy Palen, associate professor of biological sciences at Simon Fraser University told the National Observer.
Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline and Tankers ‘Safe’ for B.C. Coast
Because of inadequate or faulty science, it is impossible to substantiate the claim the pipeline and its related increase in tanker traffic is “safe” for the coast.
During the pipeline review process Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans argued Kinder Morgan’s assessment of threats to whale species off the B.C. coast from increased tanker traffic contained “insufficient information and analysis.”
A separate analysis, commissioned by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, found the anticipated increase in tanker traffic gives the local Southern Resident Killer Whale population only a 50 per cent chance of survival. Southern resident killer whales, which use echolocation to hunt their prey, have been overwhelmed by noise pollution in their habitat, a problem that has recently been connected to starvation within the population.
Kinder Morgan also failed to explain the potential impacts of a marine oil spill on fish populations.
Ecojustice, a west coast environmental law firm that acted as an intervenor in the pipeline hearings, pressed Kinder Morgan on this issue and 20 others related to marine science and safety during the pipeline review process.
Kinder Morgan refused to answer, simply claiming the questions raised were “not relevant.”
The recent grounding and sinking of the Nathan E. Stewart tugboat off the coast of central B.C. demonstrated the challenge of marine spill response in B.C.’s unpredictable waters and undercuts the myth of world-class oil spill response.
Following the diesel spill resulting from the Nathan E. Stewart grounding, Trudeau announced a $1.5 billion investment in coastal protection, which will help meet B.C.’s five conditions for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, and followed up with a tanker ban on B.C.’s north coast. Critics have argued the funding amounts to subsidies for oil and gas exporters, who should be required to pay for cleanup of spills in marine habitats.
Kinder Morgan Pipeline a Part of Canada’s Climate Plan
Trudeau announced the approval of the pipeline, saying it was “integral” to meeting Canada’s climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Currently Canada is on track to miss this target by a wide margin. The Climate Action Network estimates that by 2030 Canada will be 91 megatonnes over the line.
Approving this pipeline (which was approved at the same time as the Enbridge Line 3 expansion which will increase the line’s capacity by 525,000 barrels of oil per day) will make it harder for Canada to meet those targets.
Trudeau admitted expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline comes in light of increased oilsands production. The oilsands are Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon pollution.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the approval of the Trans Mountain and Line 3 pipelines is estimated to put an additional 23 to 28 megatonnes of carbon pollution into the atmosphere, the equivalent of adding 58 million cars to the road.
Pipeline Will Help Usher in Clean Energy Transition
Trudeau repeated a familiar talking point when approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline: that approving pipelines will help us move closer to a green energy future.
The basic assumption here is that Canada’s oil and gas sector, hurting from low market prices, needs the boost a new pipeline provides.
Yet prominent energy analysts and economists have disputed the argument that a bitumen export pipeline will be a boon for the Canadian economy, much less fund a clean energy transition.
Jeff Rubin, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and former chief economist of CIBC world markets, told the CBC Canadians have been oversold on the benefits of selling oilsands crude to Asian markets.
“The reality is that Asian markets pay less, not more, for the bitumen that Canada wants to sell than U.S. refineries,” Rubin said.
Asian markets may not be in a position to handle refining oilsands crude, a particularly heavy hydrocarbon that often must undergo a costly coking process to be upgraded to a more useable light hydrocarbon product. Several refineries capable of handling oilsands crude already exist in the U.S., however.
Kinder Morgan argued the pipeline would be a major job creator, yet the company’s figures were called exaggerated in a report by Simon Fraser University and The Goodman Group that found the economic risks from a pipeline rupture were downplayed.
Rubin said some jobs from the pipeline construction are a small benefit, but may not outweigh the burden of building costly fossil fuel infrastructure at a time of global carbon constraints.
“If in fact it’s built, I don’t deny that the construction of a new pipeline will be a short-term job creator,” he said. “But if that ends up being a stranded asset, that’s not going to be an engine of economic growth. That’s an albatross around the economy.”
Pipeline Approval Doesn’t Violate Indigenous Rights
Last month a ministerial panel, convened by the federal government, released its report on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline.
Their conclusion? The pipeline should not be built without serious reassessment of its impact on Canada’s relation with indigenous peoples.
The panel posed this question to Justin Trudeau and his ministers: “how might Cabinet square approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline with its commitment to reconciliation with First Nations and to the UNDRIP principles of ‘free, prior, and informed consent?’”
The panel posed this question because roughly two-thirds of the First Nations directly affected by the pipeline project have not signed letters of support for the project.
Several First Nations have already launched legal actions against the pipeline project and the National Energy Board-led review process they say did not respect constitutionally protected aboriginal rights.
Far from being in line with reconciliation, Trudeau’s approval of the pipeline goes against his promise to repair nation-to-nation relations with Canada’s indigenous peoples.
With files from James Wilt.
Image: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discuss the approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Photo: Prime Minister Photo Gallery