Last month, over two dozen clean-tech executives and investors in renewable-energy, penned a letter to B.C. NDP Premier John Horgan, asking him to reconsider B.C.'s opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline.

One of them is named Denis Connor and he is first chaiman of General Fusion and former CEO of QuestAir Technologies.

He told National Observer that, in his opinion, the Trans Mountain expansion may be necessary to move Canada's climate policy in the right direction long-term.

Long-term climate gains

"It's going to be hard to deal with the climate issue," Connor said. "We’ve got to capitalize on the progress we make (under the Liberal government). But we want to be sure we don’t move backwards ... by giving an opening to people like the Conservative party in Alberta and Ontario and federally to walk away from the climate deal that was made."

The Trans Mountain expansion has sparked strong opposition in parts of B.C., in part because it would bring a seven-fold increase in oil tankers traffic along the Burrard Inlet. While proponents say the project will boost jobs and tax revenue, its critics argue it would push Canada's climate goals out of reach. Since March, over 170 people, including federal MPs Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, have been arrested on Burnaby Mountain while protesting the project.

Federal Green Party MP Elizabeth May arrested by Burnaby RCMP while protesting the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in Burnaby on March 23. Photo by Protect the Inlet Media.

Connor said he agrees with environmentalists that Canada must transition off fossil fuels. But, in his view, if an oil pipeline must be built somewhere, it's better to have it in a province with carbon pricing.

"Is the world going to have a gradual move away from fossil fuels? Yes. Is not having this pipeline built going to mean that that 800,000 barrels per day are not going to be produced somewhere else? No," he said. "It simply means that it’s going to be picked up by some other country that has access to the ocean and probably no carbon pricing.”

“[Climate advocates] want to have the climate challenge met, and that’s what we’re all about," he said. "But we see it as a much longer-term and more difficult process.”

"What progress" ?

But Monika Marcovici, executive director of Board of Change, a Vancouver-based network of businesses pursuing sustainability and profit, said a policy of approving pipeline projects undermines the climate policies promised by the Liberal government.

"What progress do we really have?" she asked. "There is no way that Canada will be able to meet the climate targets that were set by Paris agreement if this project is built...We just cannot be continuing to build fossil fuel infrastructure in a climate change world."

Board of Change executive director Monika Marcovici. Photo provided by Monika Marcovici

Critics have also highlighted the fact that federal Liberal government and Ottawa is currently in talks with Alberta to exempt many oilsands projects from federal review, with in situ (using steam to extract bitumen from underground) oil sands projects to be exempted from a list of projects that must be reviewed under the Impact Assessment Act.

Marcovici said building oil pipelines while claiming to meet climate targets "does not stand up to either economic nor common sense scrutiny."

"It makes no sense to continue to invest in a sunset economy," she said, referencing a talk by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in Vancouver at the GLOBE Series conference in which he suggested the fossil fuel infrastructure will soon cease to be profitable.

A long-term solution?

Connor suggested that businesses should focus energy on developing solutions that lower carbon, using climate technologies under development today.

“I’m involved with companies that are doing exactly that. One of them is capturing CO2 from the air and intends to combine that with renewable energy to produce replacement fuels. Exactly the same as gasoline and diesel, except its recycled CO2s instead of rather than fossil CO2s.”

Connor said he believes the Trans Mountain will go through, but that it will be accompanied by advancements in clean technology to reduce emissions.

“By 2030, Canada and the oil in that pipeline has got to have a much lower carbon intensity, and that will in part be achieved by things like carbon capturing. By the 2020s, I believe we'll see a pretty complete transition to electric passenger vehicles and small trucks.”

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Of course Mr. Connor's primary interest is promotion of his business first and foremost. Unfortunately such a viewpoint colours his perspective, and completely obscures the obvious conflict here! NOWHERE does it say that the tar muck in Alberta MUST be extracted. NOWHERE does it say that other countries will step in and put their fossil fuel products on the market and gain the profit that Alberta might be enjoying. On the contrary, other countries are outpacing Canada in their efforts to get OFF fossil fuels. Mr. Connor believes that solutions exist in the long term. Hasn't he heard the scientists say: "WE DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS!!!"?

Still going on about carbon capture? After all the failures, and much evidence that it is too expensive, and unreliable to serve as anything other than a PR ploy.....a way of saying to concerned citizens:

"Don't fret these high CO2 intensity industries; we're working on a silver bullet to remove the CO2"

But likely that is all we can expect by a 'clean tech' expert who is working on the nuclear fusion end of all the plans conflated together as 'Clean Tech'. Solar is clean tech...relatively speaking. Nuclear fusion is a theoretical research project that without much result as so far consumed as much money as it would take to solarize the Arctic!!!

I might be exaggerating a bit about the Arctic, but one has to think big when responding to a scheme that thinks someday a truckload of fusionable material could run the planet. And yes....that was the pipedream floated at a Calgary renewable energy seminar a few years ago...and yes again.

The rubs ate it up.

This article is nonsense. It is just one more rationalization for doing nothing. "clean tech" is actually dirty tech. It dates back to the Harper regime where they wanted to put a more acceptable face on dirty pollution. Everybody is dancing to the tune of big oil.....

Shame on you National Observer

Thanks for your feedback, Cynthia, and for taking time to comment. Was there something about the article that sparked this?

Thank you for publishing this report. It is worthwhile to read and consider these transparently flimsy arguments in favour of this pipeline expansion. It is clear to me, from the National Observer reporting on this issue over the past weeks, that the pipeline expansion is based on a thoroughly discredited financial assessment that has been quoted and repeated too many times. It is now a political football being used by politicians to impress their constituents with their decisiveness and steadfast support of the Canadian economy and "JOBS". The notion that this pipeline expansion is necessary for a Carbon tax program is nonsense. Its just another example of a Prime Minister who doesn't have the backbone to use his authority to do what the people elected him to do. I can't help wondering what Pierre would have done.

We know what Pierre wanted to do: nationalize the petroleum industry. If only we had had the vision to agree with him then, we could be in a much better situation today.

A convoluted, illogical argument that does not account for the total emission of GHG from production to consumption and does not concern itself with the dangerous rise of “ppm” in the atmosphere!

How does sending bitumen to China accomplish anything? If we must (which we don't) extract tar sands, refine it in Alberta and ship a cleaner product to Canadians. That would create more jobs than sending it to China.

I thoroughly enjoyed the earlier comments, particularly Don McVee's phrase "transparently flimsy arguments". I focus on one statement in the article.

Mr. Connor says "Is not having this pipeline built going to mean that that 800,000 barrels per day are not going to be produced somewhere else? No." This statement offends me in three ways. First, the "if we don't someone else will" argument reflects an utter absence of ethics, as can be seen from its past uses in the climate change policy of Stephen Harper's government and the Nuremburg war crimes trials. Second, tar sands oil has one of the dirtiest footprints of oil on the planet so even if someone else produces the 800,000 it will probably have a lower footprint than tar sands production. But ultimately the fight against climate change comes down to leaving as much fossil fuel in the ground as possible, so all of the green solutions of Mr. Connor's businesses will not have a beneficial climate impact if this statement is true because he has failed to perform the sine qua non of fighting climate change.