Trans Mountain takes yet another hit

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Appeared in the Edmonton Sun, September 25, 2019
Trans Mountain takes yet another hit

According to reports, the B.C. Court of Appeal last week told the Government of British Columbia to reconsider its environmental assessment certificate and conditions issued for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

Why? Because the Federal Court of Appeal, in a case named “Tsleil-Waututh,” identified deficiencies in the National Energy Board assessment of the risks to marine shipping and certain environmental effects of the expansion project.

But there’s every reason to believe the marine environment in Canada is already well-protected.

For one thing, over decades of moving oil-by-tanker, B.C. has never had a tanker spill offshore. Despite this, in 2016 the Trudeau government introduced its Oceans Protection Plan (OPP), a $1.5 billion plan to boost coastal protections over five years. Ottawa has also introduced a five-year $167.4 million “Whales Initiative” and an additional $61.5 million to address threats to the Southern Resident Killer Whale.

The OPP is comprehensive, calling for better information about marine traffic with “real-time awareness of marine traffic in Canadian waters, better communication with coastal and indigenous communities, improved radar capability, improved hydrographic data to enhance navigation, toughened requirements for industry response to incidents” and much more.

The last requirement alone includes a strengthened polluter-pays principle with unlimited compensation, guaranteed touching up to the Canadian Ship-Source Oil Pollution Fund, and guiding those funds efficiently into the hands of first-responders and victims of oil spills. The OPP also creates 24/7 emergency response capability, gives Canada’s Coast Guard authority to take command in marine emergencies, and increases towing capacity by commissioning two new vessels capable of towing large commercial ships including oil tankers.

In addition to all this, the Trans Mountain pipeline was approved not once but twice by Canada’s National Energy Board. (And just yesterday, a Federal Court judge suspended Alberta's “turn-off-the-taps” legislation, granting B.C. a temporary injunction until the courts can decide on its validity.)

As researchers for the Fraser Institute point out, Canada continues to pay a heavy price for the relentless opposition to pipelines. In The Cost of Pipeline Constraints in Canada, 2019, researchers Elmira Aliakbari and Ashley Stedman put some numbers to the losses.

They show, for example, that in November 2018, Canadian heavy crude (WCS) traded at only about 30 per cent of the US West Texas Intermediary (WTI) price, which represented a discount of almost 70 per cent.

And the cost of that discount? The researchers found that in 2018, after accounting for quality differences and transportation costs, the depressed prices for Canadian heavy crude oil resulted in C$20.6 billion in foregone revenues for the Canadian energy industry. This significant loss is equivalent to approximately 1 per cent of Canada’s national GDP.

There has been some reduction in the oil-price discount due to the Notley government’s decision to curtail oil production by some 8.7 per cent, but the curtailment will end at the end of 2020 when Enbridge brings its new Line 3 pipeline online.

Will yet another environmental review cut off opposition to the pipeline? Not on a bet. You can’t convince people, whose minds are already completely shut, with any number of studies and plans. What you can do, is what environmentalists do already—delay projects and subject them to paralysis by analysis.

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