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From Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claims that Canada needs the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to reach new oil markets in Asia (they’re mythical!) to his statement that there will be “shovels in the ground” this summer (the pipeline route isn’t approved!), here are the claims worthy of debunking from Trudeau’s pipeline approval speech.
“We see [the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion] as critically important in ensuring that we have access to international markets.”
Some economists have questioned Trudeau’s claims that expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline would help Canada reach new oil markets in Asia, instead of simply expanding into existing U.S. markets in California and Washington. Canada already has the ability to ship oilsands crude to Asia via the existing pipeline.
At the same time, the world is swimming in lighter crude oil that’s easier to refine.
According to a 2018 Greenpeace report, over the last five years, two-thirds of tankers loaded with crude oil from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline went to California. And a spur of the existing Trans Mountain pipeline — called the Puget Sound Pipeline — splits into two destinations in Washington state, supplying U.S. refineries.
But U.S. opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline is heating up, with legislation on oil spill prevention and oil spill cleanup regulations for heavy crude oil either already on the books in Washington, or proposed in California. In Washington, a group of mayors, city and county council members, and state senators sent a letter to the state environment department expressing their concerns over heavy oil spills from the Trans Mountain pipeline. In California, community opposition is growing for a refinery expansion proposal that would allow one refinery to be able to process oilsands, which could lead to a tenfold increase in the amount of oilsands processed in the Bay Area.
“Every dollar the federal government earns from this project will be invested in Canada's clean energy transition.”
Forget about one cent from the pipeline going to fund any clean energy projects, unless the federal government can find a buyer to take on this risky project.
If the federal government does find a buyer, there’s also this minor detail: the federal government paid too much to buy the pipeline in the first place, to the tune of $1 billion. Canada isn’t in a strong selling position, and it is unlikely to turn any sort of profit on the sale of the pipeline. No profit = no clean energy funds here!
Sure, Trudeau did say that once the project is up and running, the pipeline’s tax revenue could be about $500M dollars per year. But there’s one part of that claim worth reiterating: once the project is up and running. With Indigenous groups pledging legal appeals and environmental activist saying they’ll stand with Indigenous leaders and concerned citizens to do whatever it takes to stop the pipeline, a finished and flowing pipeline certainly isn’t happening any time soon. (We’re going with never.)
“The company plans to have shovels in the ground this construction season.”
The last time we checked in with the National Energy Board, only two of seven segments of the Trans Mountain pipeline route were fully approved. Over a quarter of the new pipeline route has not been approved. And 25 hearings have yet to take place — including for the Fraser River crossing, Burnaby Mountain tunnel, and areas where schools, homes and municipal water supplies are at risk. As of the latest public update from the province of British Columbia, 658 permits are still being reviewed and 243 have not even been applied for.
Add to that the requests from groups including the Coldwater Indian Band and Chiliwack School Board — who have asked that the pipeline be rerouted away from their drinking water source and elementary and middle school playgrounds, respectively — and “shovels in the ground” is starting to look looking less like actual construction and more like a staged photo op.
“Part of our climate plan is having an absolute cap on oilsands emissions from Alberta.”
At one point in his speech, Trudeau seemed to imply that building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion wouldn’t increase climate emissions, thanks to the 100 megaton cap for oilsands emissions in Alberta. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna reiterated that sentiment, saying “It was extremely important that this project fit within our national climate plan, as the Prime Minister made clear it had to fit within the 100 megaton cap for oilsands emissions in Alberta.”
Guess what? Although legislation ws adopted, regulations for Alberta’s emissions cap were never enacted. Since those regulations do not exist, there’s nothing to stop the Trans Mountain expansion project from drastically increasing climate emissions in Canada. Add to that the fact that new Alberta Premier Jason Kenney ran on a campaign pledge to tear up Alberta’s climate leadership plan, and then tell us whether Trudeau and McKenna’s statements have any teeth.
The fact is, the oil and gas industry is the largest and fastest growing source of emissions in Canada. Oilsands producers higher emissions per barrel than other sources of oil. Expanding the Trans Mountain pipeline will undeniably contribute to Canada’s emissions growth. With Canada’s pledge to reduce emissions by 40 per cent in line with the Paris Climate Agreement, there’s simply no way we can build the Trans Mountain pipeline and ever hope to meet our climate goals.
“We need to grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time.”
Nice work, Trudeau...finally, a statement that most people agree with! But there’s a key disagreement in how we get there. Growing the economy and protecting the environment by buying a pipeline? That’s not the path to a clean energy future many Canadians want or need.
The real way to grow Canada’s economy and protect the environment is through movements like the Pact for a Green New Deal. The premise of that proposal: We need to find a way to move away from the oil and gas industry as a fundamental part of our economy, but we can’t leave behind the people who are dependent on that industry for their livelihoods.
Where should we start? Recognizing there is no future in the oil and gas industry. But until industry releases its stranglehold on Canadian federal politics, everyday Canadians are stuck reconciling the cognitive dissonance of our leaders declaring a climate emergency one day and approving a pipeline the next.
“I know some people are disappointed by this decision. I understand your disappointment and I know that for some, your concerns are very tangible.”
Disappointed? DISAPPOINTED? People are outraged. And their very “concerns” over the pipeline causing irrevocable harm to the Salish Sea and the communities that rely upon it are much more than concerns. They are pleas for the future, which are apparently recognized as “tangible” and then promptly ignored.
There’s a reason the Trans Mountain pipeline is opposed by the Province of British Columbia; multiple cities including Vancouver, Burnaby, and Victoria; environmental organizations including Stand.earth, Greenpeace Canada, Sierra Club BC, Equiterre and Environmental Defence; politicians like ex-Liberal ministers David Anderson, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott; the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs; First Nations including Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, and the Coldwater Indian Band, the Neskonlith Indian Band; and U.S. tribes including Lummi Nation, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, and Suquamish Tribe. More than 26,000 people have pledged to do “whatever it takes” to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline, and around 230 people have already been arrested for protesting the project.
Sven Biggs is Climate & Energy Campaigner for Stand.earth
Editor's note: This opinion piece was updated at 5:03 ET on June 27, 2019 to remove incorrect statements that refineries in Asia were not equipped to process bitumen from the oilsands. It was also updated to clarify that Alberta never formally introduced regulations to enact its oilsands emissions cap. It was updated again at 9:51 p.m. ET to remove references to the Puget Sound pipeline supplying four refineries in Washington state and clarifies that the pipeline ships to two destinations. An incorrect reference to Crown corporations not paying income tax was also removed.