B.C. Environment Minister George Heyman will soon decide the fate of Enbridge’s Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project — and possibly his government. First approved in 2014, the 48-inch pipeline would carry fracked gas across a complex patchwork of sovereign territories to a new LNG terminal on the coast.

Last week, Heyman’s ministry closed consultation with First Nations, giving some Indigenous groups just days to comment on Enbridge’s 98-page application. The company is seeking an emergency override of provincial law to prevent expiry of its project certificate.

At the same time, TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline is becoming a costly boondoggle (more on that below). Polls show public opinion turning against oil and gas expansion. Voters are tired of companies like Enbridge making record profits — then demanding subsidies and special treatment from government.

B.C.’s NDP government is already struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions amid a flurry of new fossil fuel projects. Approving another mega pipeline would only deepen that contradiction, with an election coming next year.

Instead, the smart move is to divert support for oil and gas to renewable energy, housing and climate-proof infrastructure.

Enbridge tries to rewind the clock

The Westcoast Connector pipeline was first proposed by Spectra Energy back in 2012. It was rubber-stamped under B.C. premier Christy Clark, an enthusiastic booster of LNG.

Enbridge bought Spectra in 2017, becoming the largest pipeline company on the continent. The certificate for the Westcoast Connector came with the deal. But Enbridge had other priorities — and the company had just been stung by the failure of its Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tanker project in the same part of the world. So the Westcoast Connector pipeline sat on the shelf.

Under B.C.’s environmental assessment law, project certificates are valid for five years. If a company fails to start construction, it can apply for one, five-year extension — then the certificate expires. If that happened, Enbridge would have to start over with a new project review. That’s what the company is now trying to avoid.

Enbridge’s Westcoast Connector Gas Transmission Project could become the subject of another heated debate about pipelines, writes Kai Nagata. #BC #LNG #SkeenaWatershed

B.C. has new climate targets and legislation on Indigenous rights. Ecosystems have changed, leaving 2012 data out of date. If Enbridge applied today to build the biggest pipeline ever proposed in B.C. — after all the painful controversy over Coastal GasLink — it’s not clear the project would be approved.

The ‘emergency’ of Indigenous rights

Instead, Enbridge wants its old certificate extended to 2029. Under the law, the only way the environment minister can do this is in the case of “an emergency or other comparable circumstance.” Enbridge lobbyists say two emergencies derailed the project so badly, they need five extra years.

First is COVID-19, which triggered a provincial state of emergency for 15 months. But most of that time, the pipeline lay forgotten. Then Russia invaded Ukraine, spiking global gas prices. That’s the real reason the company is trying to revive this dormant project.

More troubling is Enbridge’s second reason, which is the 2021 court victory by Blueberry River First Nations, known as the Yahey decision. This was a long-delayed bit of justice for Indigenous rights violations that had gone on for decades. Treaty 8 nations had their way of life undercut by relentless fracking, clear-cutting, mining and hydro development.

Enbridge says a temporary pause on new oil and gas projects in Blueberry territory after the court decision created another “emergency.” But Indigenous rights existed long before the Westcoast Connector project and in fact, before British Columbia. If a judge’s recognition of these rights created an emergency for Enbridge, then its business model is seriously flawed.

Coastal GasLink a cautionary tale

The biggest reason not to approve Enbridge’s latest megaproject lies right next door. TC Energy is already $8 billion over budget, with the hardest parts of the route yet to build. Contractors rushing to save money have done serious damage to salmon and steelhead habitat. Paltry fines from regulators have failed to rein the company in.

TC Energy’s tunnel under Wedzin Kwa, the sacred river at the heart of Wet’suwet’en territory, appears to have stalled. Drilling was supposed to be finished last year; the company’s latest construction update says only that it plans to keep trying. Other sensitive watercourse crossings are threatened by the approach of spring breakup, when machines get stuck in the mud.

This summer, Coastal GasLink will return to Icy Pass, where its planned route through the Coast Mountains lies buried by avalanches. Nobody in the world has ever tried to put such a large-diameter pipeline up grades this steep. There’s a reason for that, as TC Energy investors are finding out.

Taxpayers have spent tens of millions on militarized police raids to clear a path for Coastal GasLink. And billions on subsidies for fracking wells and terminal construction at either end of the pipeline. If costs go up any further, TC Energy may have to operate its pipeline at a loss. My guess is the company will soon demand a multibillion-dollar government bailout.

Enbridge’s Westcoast Connector is the same story all over again, with even worse impacts for the climate. Environment Minister George Heyman should follow his own law — and let the project certificate expire.

Kai Nagata is the communications director for Dogwood, a B.C. non-profit dedicated to climate justice, Indigenous rights and democratic reform.

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Thank you for this opinion piece. I wondered what had happened to the West Coast Connector project. It certainly should NOT be approved. I sure hope Heyman and the NDP will do the right thing this time and turn it down. With TMX and Coastal Gas Link pipelines, our province has already committed itself to infrastructure that will make reducing our GHG emissions almost impossible. It's frustrating when we are facing such a critical emergency with Climate Change.

I hope so too, but I have my doubts. The NDP have been crappy on this issue. Much better governance in general than the Liberals (BC Liberals being a weird Lib/Con amalgam), but on the environment and climate change they keep on disappointing.

We need a lot more people convinced that the green emerging technologies are a better bet....governments don't move until the people do, and unfortunately, too many of us baby boomers spend our excess cash on vacations abroad.......rather than on solar or EV purchases. As for the working class........they still seem to feel indebted to Fossil Fools to feed their children.

Heyman is my MLA. I was happy to vote for him when the NDP were first elected because they campaigned against TMX. Since then ... LNG and Site C happened.

Who to vote for next year is a problem if the NDP approve this carbon conduit. Voting Green will split the vote and we risk elevating Kevin Falcon into the big chair. Last time I sat out an election because the NDP faltered in policy the neocons ,/ neolibs ruled for 15 years.

Not a happy place to be. :-(

We need proportional representation; it would solve this dilemma.


Indeed. But the NDP blew that policy last time around with a highly flawed, partisan process. David Eby led the effort. The Liberals (nee conservatives) had an excellent process with a non-partisan Citizen's Assembly. The referendum that followed a year of consultation garnered a majority 58% in favour of changing to the Single Transferable Vote system recommended by the Assembly. The flaw in the effort was entirely political when premier Gordon Campbell set the bar at 60%.

In essence, a party can be elected under first-past-the-post with less than 40% of the vote and go on to do great damage while steamrolling over parliamentary process. But proportionality requires 60%. How is that anything but unfair?

Maybe. And maybe it would make it worse.......a lot of fringe parties...all with the one big solution....arguing endlessly over trifles. The devolution of the Conservative party may well be a harbinger of the craziness waiting in the wings.......

During the collapse of one economy........and the emergence of another, all kinds of nutbars can emerge..