Justin Trudeau announced the approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline Tuesday, saying the project is integral to meeting Canada’s climate commitments.
“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.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project will twin an existing pipeline running from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. increasing transport capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil per day to 890,000 barrels per day. Trudeau also approved an application to increase capacity of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline from 390,000 to 915,000 barrels per day.
According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, the two pipelines combined represent an increase of 23 to 28 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent released into the atmosphere.
Under the Paris Agreement Canada pledged to reduce emissions 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada’s current policies aren’t expected to meet those targets. According to a recent analysis by Climate Action Network, Canada is expected to miss those targets by 91 megatonnes.
Trans Mountain and Line 3 put Canada at a further disadvantage when it comes to meeting those targets.
“If built, these projects would facilitate huge growth in the tar sands,” Adam Scott, analyst with Oil Change International, said, “increasing total greenhouse gas pollution by as much as [277 megatonnes] of CO2 every year — equivalent to the pollution from 58 million cars on the road.”*
Trudeau acknowledged the Trans Mountain approval was made in light of increased production in the oilsands.
“We know there will be an increase in the production in oilsands in coming years,” Trudeau said, adding Canada’s pipeline network is operating at capacity, meaning more pipelines are necessary.
But Scott says that position isn’t backed up by the facts.
“There is no need for any additional pipeline capacity,” Scott said, pointing to a recent analysis done by Oil Change International.
Other experts, such as independent economist Robyn Allan, have demonstrated the faulty calculations behind the ‘need for new pipelines’ myth.
While the construction of new pipelines will mean more carbon emissions, Trudeau said Alberta’s climate change plan, which caps oilsands emissions at 100 megatonnes is the key to Canada’s climate action.
Alberta has yet to demonstrate how it will fit existing oilsands projects, proposed and approved, into the 100 megatonne cap.
The Trans Mountain pipeline review process excluded consideration of upstream climate impacts of the pipeline. The National Energy Board, Canada’s federal pipeline regulator, argued such concerns fell outside the scope of a federal environmental assessment.
On the election trail Trudeau promised to revamp Canada’s pipeline assessment process and promised to put Trans Mountain through a more robust review if elected. The federal government has since backed down from that promise.
Beyond its climate implications, many argue other unacceptable risks posed by the pipeline to marine animals and indigenous rights were also not adequately considered in the review process.
Marcie Keever, oceans and vessels program director from Friends of the Earth, said Trans Mountain is a major threat to vulnerable species off the coast of southern British Columbia.
“In approving this ecosystem-destroying pipeline, Canada’s leaders have ignored the threats to the Salish Sea, its marine species, and its 8 million people, including 29 Tribes and First Nations,” Keever said.
The pipeline will result in a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, home to a struggling population of resident killer whales. An analysis commissioned by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation found if the pipeline proceeds, southern resident killer whales have a 50-50 chance of becoming locally extinct as a result.
Image: Wilderness Committee
Trudeau said his cabinet weighed the decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline carefully, adding he would not have approved it should it represent a significant threat to coastal ecosystems. His announcement also included a promise to implement a long-awaited oil tanker ban off the north coast of British Columbia and the final dismissal of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline.
Peter McCartney, climate campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, an organization actively involved as an intervenor in the review processes for both Trans Mountain and Northern Gateway, said Trudeau gave mixed messages in his announcement.
“Today’s tanker ban is an acknowledgement that tar sands tankers pose an enormous threat to coastal communities and ecosystems,” McCartney said. “If Justin Trudeau agrees that the Great Bear Rainforest is no place for a pipeline, he can’t possibly think that the Salish Sea is better.”
Approval of the Trans Mountain project is in Canada’s “national interest,” Trudeau said today, saying despite opposition the pipeline “will get built.”
“Canadians know that strong action on the environment is good for the economy. It makes us more competitive by fostering innovation and reducing pollution,” Trudeau said.
“Canadians value clean air and water, beautiful coasts and wilderness and refuse to accept that they must be compromised to create growth. We agree.”
McCartney said, despite the rhetoric, Trudeau has clearly chosen to ignore the wish of British Columbians.
“To ignore the deeply held views of the vast majority of people who live on this coast is outrageous,” he said.
“But frankly this is not their call,” he added.
There are already seven legal challenges launched against Trans Mountain and its review process by local First Nations, environmental groups and municipalities.
This past summer a B.C. court ruled the provincial government failed to uphold its duty to consult with First Nations during the review of the Northern Gateway pipeline. Many anticipate the Trans Mountain pipeline, conducted under a similar review structure, will face similar legal rulings.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, an outspoken opponent of the project, said the pipeline approval is a “big step backwards for Canada’s environment and economy.”
“This project was approved under a flawed and biased Harper-era regulatory process that shut out local voices and ignored climate change and First Nations concerns.”
“I — along with tens of thousands of residents, local First Nations, and other Metro Vancouver cities who told the federal government a resounding ‘no’ to this project — will keep speaking out against this pipeline expansion that doesn’t make sense for our economic or environmental future.”
Sierra Club B.C.’s Caitlyn Vernon said in no uncertain terms that Trudeau has picked a fight with the west coast.
“The Kinder Morgan pipeline will not be built. Not on our watch,” Vernon said.
“Communities across B.C. came together to stop Enbridge’s Northern Gateway. The same will happen to stop Kinder Morgan. Legal challenges have already been filed, and First Nations and municipalities are vowing to do what it takes.”
She added, “We will not rest until pipelines and tankers are replaced by a truly renewable energy future for B.C. and for Canada.”
*Updated: Monday, June 4, 2018 9:37am pst. This article originally stated the combined emissions from the Trans Mountain and Line 3 pipelines would amount to 27 megatonnes. That figure has been corrected to 277 megatonnes.*