Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion: the death of climate action by quid pro quo

The feds may be setting themselves up for the kind of opposition the Dakota Access Pipeline is facing stateside near Standing Rock with approval of Kinder Morgan project



Days after an estimated 5,000 people marched through the streets of Vancouver, candlelight vigils were held in 45 communities across the country, including Toronto, in a national day of protest against Kinder Morgan’s $6.8 billion Trans Mountain pipeline expansion plans.

A group of about 100 gathered on the front lawn of Queen’s Park on Monday, November 21 to remind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he can’t have it both ways – he can’t build pipelines and meet Canada’s climate commitments, like the one the feds just made in Marrakesh to slash Canadian greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. 

Whether the PM is listening is a slipperier proposition.

The federal government has been hinting at an imminent approval of Kinder Morgan – Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr recently reiterated the view expressed by Alberta premier Rachel Notley that a Keystone XL pipeline (favoured by U.S. President-elect Donald Trump) still wouldn’t give the province the same access to Asian export markets as, say, tripling Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline capacity to 895,000 barrels a day.

At the same time, the Libs are assuring British Columbians that they’ve heard their concerns about the risks posed by expansion and the seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic (from the current five to 34 ships per month) carrying oil from Edmonton to Burnaby. Particularly after the botched clean-up of a sunken tugboat’s 110,000 litre diesel spill off BC’s coast earlier this month. Trudeau personally took to the airwaves to announce a $1.5 billion ocean protection plan to protect the coast from oil spills shortly after that. 

Welcome news, no doubt, but for British Columbians all of this political bartering is coming at a considerable environmental cost. Observers say BC premier Christy Clark has been handed federal approvals for the contentious Site C dam and Petronas’s liquefied natural gas terminal to help her “get to yes” on Kinder Morgan. 

Call it death by quid pro quo. 

If playing ball on the feds’ carbon pricing plan and a tar sands emissions cap buys Alberta a new pipeline or two, Trudeau says those pipelines could help pay for Canada’s green energy transition. Speaking of which, the feds have just announced they plan to phase out coal power almost completely by 2030. Mothballing most of our remaining coal plants may mean the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the road, but Oil Change International has pointed out that Kinder Morgan expansion plans would facilitate a major tar sands expansion equivalent to putting as many as 34 million new cars on the road. 

The feds’ own ministerial panel on Trans Mountain – which was assigned to take Alberta and BC’s pulse and mop up the mess in public confidence left by the National Energy Board – questioned whether Canada can square the company’s pipeline expansion plans with its climate commitments, not to mention, its support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which promises “free, prior and informed consent” on resources projects.

As 350.org organizer Amanda Harvey-Sanchez tells the crowd back at Queen’s Park, building Kinder Morgan would mean violating Canada’s promise to respect Indigenous rights, and “if Trudeau approves this pipeline, it will be an act of climate denial because it will be impossible for Canada to meet its climate commitments and build Kinder Morgan.” 

It may be a title our progressively-positioned prime minister would prefer avoiding

Still, Environmental Defence’s Patrick DeRochie says it’s very likely the feds will approve the pipeline in the coming days – a month tops. As UBC political science prof George Hoberg wrote in a research paper on the Kinder Morgan expansion this summer, Trudeau is boxed in: approve Kinder Morgan and risk alienating BC voters or approve the Energy East pipeline and suffer even more political damage in Quebec. Approve neither, and he’ll piss off Alberta. 

Either way, DeRochie says the fight is far from over. If approved, the Kinder Morgan expansion would face an onslaught of legal challenges and could meet the kind of opposition the Dakota Access Pipeline is facing stateside near Standing Rock, where the largest Indigenous resistance in a century has emerged and protesters have been clashing with heavily-armed police for months. 

“There’s massive public opposition… as well as unresolved questions about spills response, Indigenous reconciliation, and social license,” says DeRochie.  

ecoholic@nowtoronto.com | @ecoholicnation

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