Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion a Mixed Bag of Political and Environmental Concerns: Which Side Are You On?

by Helen L on October 6, 2017 - 11:14pm

When the scope of a project is as big as that of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the point of contention is no longer where the point of compromise lies. Instead, it becomes as cut and dry as any large-scale environmental issue can be, especially in the case of non-renewable resources – it becomes either you support it, or you don’t. Evidently, for the Government of Canada, the reply is a resounding “yes” to the pipeline.

For those unfamiliar with the project, Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is set to twin the original pipeline built in 1953, which would nearly triple the capacity of the system between Strathcona County, Alberta, and Burnaby, BC. (Trans Mountain, 2017). The planned extension would run through vulnerable ecosystems and indigenous lands, raising concerns from numerous stakeholders including freshwater ecologists, local communities, and First Nations. Much like the situation at Standing Rock and other anti-pipeline flashpoints, National Energy Board (NEB) approval and the issuance of an environmental assessment certificate by the BC Environmental Assessment Office did little to quell Canadian concerns, instead intensifying them (Shaw, Hoekstra, & Ip, 2017).

To PM Trudeau, BC Premier Christy Clark, and a whole host of invested oil companies including Husky Energy Inc., Imperial Oil Ltd., MEG Energy Corp., and Athabasca Oil Corporation, the expansion represents new opportunities for economic growth (CBC News, 2017b; Shaw, Hoekstra, & Ip, 2017; Trans Mountain, 2017). To others, the environmental approval appeared like “political posturing”; they fear that national guidelines are too lax, and the Canadian government is not paying enough attention to the potential risks involved (Shaw, Hoekstra, & Ip, 2017).

Is Trudeau a sellout, like so many environmental groups (in this case, the Sierra Club B.C.) suggest? Perhaps. The government has made their stance clear, Trudeau even going so far as to declare that indigenous parties have no power to veto the pipeline plans, since Canada is run on consultation, elections, and above all, law (Financial Post, 2016). Though a classic display of state power, Canada has come a ways since Harper’s government, no longer the same complicit body intent on maximizing natural resource utility – although the conservative formula of using vague appeals and generalizing the potential consequences of large-scope projects is still being applied today (Peyton & Franks, 2015). The public is far less complacent, the connectivity of worldwide media and growing environmental stewardship resulting in a decline in blind acceptance of policy decisions (Winfield, 2016).

The pipeline process thus far has been entirely by the book. However, with the level of opposition the project is facing, and the maintained level of interest by media bodies and community groups, one begins to then question if the book is wrong. The article by Shaw, Hoekstra and Ip (2017) has done a fair job of including nearly every side of the conversation, providing input from NGOs, First Nations, environmental lawyers, and government agencies of all tiers, but even with extensive interviews, the opposition to the pipeline still appears downplayed.  Between the potential hazards to coastal orca populations, unknown impacts of bitumen spills on marine environments, and a growing host of appeals and protests as the battle drags on, even major players such as the credit union Desjardins are starting to reconsider their involvement (CBC News, 2017a; Claxton, 2016; Lavoie, 2016; Lou, 2017; Turner, 2016; Verenca, 2016).

If completed, the pipeline will be operational in 2019. Already on shaky ground, where will Trudeau’s party be by then? What state will our environment be in?

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References and further reading:

CBC News. (2017a). Court of appeal rules against Kinder Morgan, federal government on existing Trans Mountain pipeline. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/court-of-appeal-rules-against-kinder-morgan-federal-government-on-existing-trans-mountain-pipeline-1.4309584

CBC News. (2017b). Trudeau stands by decision on Trans Mountain pipeline despite B.C. result. CBC News. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/trans-mountain-trudeau-tuesday-1.4137305

Financial Post. (2016). Trudeau says First Nations ‘don’t have a veto’ over energy projects. Financial Post. Retrieved from http://business.financialpost.com/news/trudeau-says-first-nations-dont-have-a-veto-over-energy-projects

Lavoie, J. (2016). Review of 9,000 studies finds we know squat about bitumen spills in ocean environments. Desmog Canada. Retrieved from https://www.desmog.ca/2016/12/09/review-9-000-studies-finds-we-know-squat-about-bitumen-spills-ocean-environments

Lou, Ethan. (2017). Desjardins considering withdrawal from Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/desjardins-mulls-withdrawal-from-kinder-morgan-pipeline-expansion/article36239550/

Peyton, J., & Franks, A. (2016). The new nature of things? Canada’s conservative government and the design of the new environmental subject. Antipode, 48(2), 453-473.

Shaw, R., Hoekstra, G., & Ip, S. (2017). All five conditions met for B.C.’s approval of Kinder Morgan pipeline: Christy Clark. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from http://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/b-c-government-grants-environmental-approval-for-kinder-morgan-pipeline?utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_source=Twitter&utm_term=Autofeed#link_time=1484171353

Trans Mountain. (2017). Project Overview. Retrieved from https://www.transmountain.com/project-overview

Turner, N. (2016). Oil tankers could doom Puget Sound’s orcas. Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved from http://www.opb.org/news/article/oil-tankers-from-british-columbia-could-doom-puget-sounds-orcas/

Verenca, T. (2016). City will appeal Kinder Morgan decision. Burnaby Now. Retrieved from http://www.burnabynow.com/news/city-will-appeal-kinder-morgan-decision-1.4734293

Winfield, M. (2015). Implementing Environmental Policy in Canada. In Van Nijnatten (Ed) Canadian Environmental Policy and Politics. Oxford University Press.