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Trans Mountain pipeline project is good politics, bad policy: Senator Galvez
OPINION
Trans Mountain pipeline project is good politics, bad policy: Senator Galvez
May 7, 2018
image Rosa Galvez
Rosa Galvez
ISG - (Quebec - Bedford)

Is it clear why Canadians—and even Albertans—should support the Trans Mountain pipeline project?

I’m not so sure.

The Senate is debating public bill S-245, the Trans Mountain Pipeline Project Act. It was drafted by my colleague, Senator Doug Black, and it seeks to declare that the Trans Mountain project is for the general advantage of Canada.

I raised a number of issues during my speech at second reading last week.

In my view, the Trans Mountain project is flawed for three main reasons: the underestimation of environmental issues, the overestimation of economic benefits and insufficient consultation with Indigenous peoples.

The Kinder Morgan pipe is 60 years old. It definitely requires replacement. However, the project would triple pipeline capacity to 890,000 barrels per day and increase tanker traffic by nearly 700% in Vancouver’s harbour, which is adjacent to hundreds of kilometers of beaches, islands and coastal wilderness.

Moreover, the pipeline would carry diluted bitumen, which is substantially different than other crude oils, requiring modifications to regulations for spill response plans and environmental clean-up.

While proponents of pipelines may claim they are 99.9% safe, the existing Trans Mountain pipeline has spilled around 5.5 million litres in 82 incidents over its lifetime. Can British Columbians be blamed for wanting to protect their coastal waters?

We should not be swayed by appeals to economic benefits either.

Divestment from fossil fuel is an increasing concern for oil sand businesses. Norway’s trillion-dollar sovereign wealth fund is poised to fully divest of fossil fuel holdings, possibly battering Canadian oil and gas equity shares valued at US$2.86-billion. This move could impact 61 Canadian oil and gas equities including Suncor, TransCanada, Enbridge, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., Encana, Cenovus and Imperial Oil.

Meanwhile, international oil sands producers including ConocoPhillips Co., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Statoil ASA have sold stakes totaling nearly $30-billion. Europe’s biggest bank, HSBC, recently announced that it will no longer finance oil sands projects.

The Alberta economy is growing, but not due to oil. Sectors including agriculture and agri-food, renewable energy, tourism, and real estate are responsible for this growth. Clearly, a diversified economy is a good thing for Alberta. The broad base of growth is crucial to long-term economic stability—even petroleum companies are divesting.

The International Energy Agency found that the United States could become a net exporter of oil and the world’s dominant oil and gas producer in the coming decades. Canada does not have the refining capacity for oil sands. Can landlocked unconventional oil sands from Alberta, which need special refining conditions, compete with conventional crudes from the U.S. which are easier to refine?

Some First Nations have raised legal challenges regarding the pipeline project. The route infringes on their traditional territory.

As my colleague Senator Murray Sinclair said, Indigenous support for the pipeline may have been misrepresented. At a time when we are supposed to be seeking reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, it seems counterproductive to send heavy equipment onto their land without their consent.

It would also be history repeating itself—in a recent ruling, the Federal Court of Appeal found that the government did not act in the best interests of the Coldwater Indian Band when it failed to modernize the 1952 ruling that allowed the original Trans Mountain pipeline to be built on the reserve. Can we blame Indigenous peoples for demanding thorough consultations and fair conditions for consent?

Bill S-245 has now been sent to the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications. I find this perplexing when the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources has the study of pipelines in its mandate. Arguably our legal and constitutional affairs, and Aboriginal peoples committees should also evaluate the bill.

Given that petroleum companies are divesting, the probability of the U.S. becoming a net exporter of oil, Canada’s lack of oil sands refining capacity, the shift of potential buyers in Asia toward renewable energy, the foreign-ownership of refineries and pipeline companies in Canada, and the fact that the diversification of the Alberta economy is on track—is the desire to press ahead with this pipeline project good policy?

Or is it just good politics.

Senator Rosa Galvez, Ph.D., P.Eng., represents the Bedford division of Quebec. She is one of Canada’s leading experts on pollution control and she chairs the Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

This article appeared in the April 30, 2018 edition of The Hill Times.