Walking a tight line between standing up for the environment and supporting the floundering energy sector, the Trudeau Liberals have given Enbridge the go-ahead to take the next steps with their proposed Line 3 project.
Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, meanwhile, has been rejected by Ottawa.
Line 3 moves ahead
Though Tuesday’s announcement represents a big step for Line 3, it’ll still be a while before oil – and money – starts flowing.
Provided everything goes smoothly, the pipeline is looking at three years of construction. But there’s a chance the road from Alberta to completion will have a few bumps.
“Getting approval doesn’t mean the process is over,” said Trevor McLeod, director of the Centre for Natural Resources at the Canada West Foundation. “We can expect a whole lot of protests and litigation.”
The pipeline, which would run east toward Wisconsin, has already invited a lot of criticism from both sides of the border.
And if Northern Gateway’s experience over the past few years is any indication, this apparent significant step for Line 3 might not actually bring the pipeline any closer to existing.
Critics in the United States have already launched legal battles over the project, which will replace and double the capacity of an aging and existing conduit.
Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada recently said he expects the opposition to spread north and grow louder in Canada with the approval of Line 3.
Once (or if) the shovels break ground, though, billions of dollars in private capital will begin flowing into the economy, McLeod said Tuesday.
When construction might begin remains a bit of a moving target.
“I don’t think litigation will slow down the process too much,” McLeod said, noting the most likely course would be for a critic of the pipeline to seek an injunction.
“The courts have a pretty high standard for injunctions.”
What happens next
“Approval is just the beginning, it’s not the end,” Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose said Tuesday, before the announcements were made. “The prime minister must approve (pipelines) and then champion them until the end.”
Demanding Trudeau “do what it takes” to get pipelines built could mean stickhandling the projects through a long list of court dates in order to quickly begin construction.
The other project on the government’s decision docket, the TransMountain pipeline expansion, is also now set to move ahead.
That expansion will significantly increase the capacity of the pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C., to 890,000 barrels per day from the current 300,000.
Trudeau and his cabinet had until Dec. 19 to announce their intention to either kill the project or green-light it, and they chose to wrap it in with the other pipelines on Tuesday.
Trans Mountain approved
Trudeau also gave the go-ahead for Kinder Morgan to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries crude from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.
“As long as Kinder Morgan respects the stringent conditions put forward by the National Energy Board, this project will get built — because it’s in the national interest of Canadians, because we need to get our resources to market in safe, responsible ways,” Trudeau said at a news conference Tuesday in Ottawa.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi tweeted his delight at the decision, saying it would help “get better access for Canadian energy.”
Adam Legge, CEO of the Calgary Chamber, says federal sanctioning of the Trans Mountain expansion and the Line 3 replacement sends a signal that Canada is open for investment.
“This project was approved under a flawed and biased Harper-era regulatory process that shut out local voices and ignored climate change and First Nations concerns.”
Environmental group Friends of the Earth said the decision would have a detrimental and far-reaching impact on the region.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has decided to value short-term profits over the long-term health of the Pacific Northwest’s people, climate and orcas,” program director Marcie Keever said in a statement.
Northern Gateway dies
One needs only to look at the Northern Gateway’s history to see it wasn’t exactly a sure bet for approval.
The previous government, in 2014, approved the pipeline intended to help move Canadian oil to Asian markets. They imposed 209 conditions, with 113 having to be met before construction could even begin.
Beyond that, the Federal Court had a handful of applications on its hands, as the project’s opponents sought ways to either delay the project or have it completely scrapped.
One of those challenges ultimately found the federal government had failed to adequately consult with First Nation communities, and brought us to where we are today – with the now-Liberal government deciding to reject the project.
The ultimate fate of Northern Gateway hung on the Liberals’ campaign-time promise to ban crude oil tanker traffic along B.C.’s north coast.
A ban would prevent hundreds of tankers each year from carrying diluted bitumen extracted from Alberta’s oil sands and piped up to northern B.C. from being shipped for export overseas.
Trudeau has taken several steps in addressing climate concerns since last year, namely announcing a national push for carbon pricing and a plan to phase out coal-fired power by 2030.
That first announcement was met with significant push-back from a number of provinces, including Alberta, where Premier Rachel Notley said her NDP wouldn’t support Ottawa climate change plan without serious progress on pipelines.
- Line 3 will run 1,700 kilometres beginning in Alberta and heading east to Wisconsin. The conduit will take three years to build and, once completed, haul 760,000 barrels every day of light, medium and heavy crude.
- Northern Gateway, now rejected, would have run 1,200 kilometres beginning in Alberta and heading west to a deep-water port in Kitimat, B.C. The pipeline would have taken three years to build and, once completed, would have transported 525,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen.
- “This project is not in the best interest” of local indigenous communities and other along the route, said Trudeau on Tuesday.
- The Kinder Morgan expansion will significantly increase the capacity of the pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. to 890,000 barrels per day from the current 300,000.