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As energy giant Kinder Morgan unveiled a revised construction schedule for its troubled Trans Mountain expansion project, a pair of international energy experts paid a visit to the pipeline's terminal with a warning.
“Climate leadership today is going to have to mean saying ‘no’ to the fossil fuel industry and telling the fossil fuel industry that they have to stop expanding," said Stephen Kretzmann, founder of Oil Change International: a U.S.-based advocacy and research organization that studies the costs and impacts of fossil fuel development.
Kretzmann made the comments during an interview with National Observer, accompanied by Hannah McKinnon, a Canadian who is a director of the organization, outside an Indigenous Watch House, that has been built by the Kinder Morgan project's opponents to keep an eye on their enemy.
More than 200 people have been arrested in the area over the past few months as local citizens attempt to block construction from proceeding. Kinder Morgan announced it was abandoning plans to pursue the project on May 29 due to the local opposition. On that date it confirmed it was selling the pipeline assets and the expansion to the federal government for $4.5 billion. The change in ownership is expected to take place in August, but Kinder Morgan is now pursuing the construction since the federal government would provide compensation for its spending when the deal is closed.
If built, the project would triple the capacity of the existing system, allowing it to transport up to 890,000 barrels of heavy oil and other petroleum products from Alberta to the terminal in Burnaby, where it could then be shipped out on supertankers. The project would also result in a seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic on the west coast.
Kretzmann told National Observer that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government's decision to invest public money in the pipeline project doesn't make sense after it pushed to prevent global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius at international climate change negotiations in Paris in 2015.
“If we all are, as we say, #Stillin to Paris, then it’s time to stop allowing the fossil fuel industry to expand," he said. "And it’s particularly time in places like Canada, where there are economic alternatives. It’s a relatively rich country and we know that we can do a lot better. So we’re here to support the Indigenous communities and we’re here to support the people who are here to say no because it’s really time that this begins to change.”
Kretzmann and McKinnon both stressed that no one was talking about shutting down oil and gas development and consumption overnight, but rather to take responsible steps to phase out the industry and create new clean energy jobs as the world moves away from fossil fuels.
"Let’s assume we’re going to get where we say we’re going and work backwards," McKinnon said.
"That means we need to phase out fossil fuels, demand and production, in wealthy countries like Canada sometime in the next 30 years to be generous… This isn’t about turning off the taps tomorrow, this is about a just transition. This is about a conversation that looks at the communities, and the workers and the places that have been dependent on this sector and saying: ‘How do you see yourselves in a clean energy economy?' Let’s get on that track.’ The decline is happening, it has to happen, we all acknowledge it."
As Kretzmann and McKinnon spoke about their concerns, Trans Mountain was releasing its six month construction plan for the pipeline expansion project.
It anticipates that work will begin in Alberta in August and the North Thompson region of B.C. in late September. But the company also noted that it still needs local construction permits and authorization to proceed.
These permits, numbering more than 1,000, must be obtained as part of the company's efforts to respect conditions imposed by the federal government when it approved the project in November 2016.
During each construction location, there will be “measures to protect the environment, such as weed control, relocation of any rare plants, wildlife surveys,” the company said.
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said Tuesday on her Twitter account that this was "good news" for her province and the rest of Canada.
Trans Mountain filed its construction progress report today and there was good news for Albertans and for Canada.— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) July 4, 2018
Work gets underway in Alberta this month.
“We’re excited to be moving forward” - President of Kinder Morgan Canada Limited#ableg #abpoli #KeepCanadaWorking pic.twitter.com/NHv7zNRrIu
“We’re excited to be moving forward in Alberta and the North Thompson, bringing and delivering on our commitments to local, regional and Aboriginal jobs and benefits," said Kinder Morgan Canada president Ian Anderson in a statement.
"We have undertaken thorough, extensive and meaningful consultations with Indigenous Peoples, communities and individuals and remain dedicated to those efforts and relationships as we move forward with construction activities.”
Anderson has been offered a $1.5 million bonus, following the government's deal to purchase the Trans Mountain assets. He will collect this bonus if he remains in his position over the next two years.