The Trans Mountain expansion is turning out to be quite the poker game. Unfortunately, the chips are wild cards and we don’t know quite what the costs will be. I’m referring of course to Kinder Morgan’s Masters-interlude announcement to suspend all non-essential spending on the Trans Mountain expansion. Canada has seen some interprovincial spats before, but should the pipeline indeed be killed off, we’re going to see a new high-water mark.
The project has turned into a remarkable lightning rod, with the fate of the world seeming to rest on its shoulders. It’s turned into a cause celebre with even the mighty Naomi Klein picking up a protest sign. You know things are bad when the closest thing to a Canadian dementor shows up on site (surely you know, but in case not, they’re from Harry Potter’s world: “they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you.”)
Ironically, the environmental impact either way will be negligible. BC residents are concerned about two things with respect to the pipeline: increased risks of a spill, and increased risks of a tanker incident. BC residents have also been subject to a massive and rich environmental campaign to make climate change a key decision point, as Klein herself interjected: “This project is totally incompatible with taking climate change seriously.”
Klein’s comments are, as usual, incompatible with any vision other than her hatred of, well, almost everything. We can therefore not only dismiss them, but offer these for consideration:
• The Trans Mountain expansion would increase the number of oil shipments per month from approximately 5 to 34; however, Transport Canada counts almost 1,700 marine shipments per month in Canada – the TM expansion in other words adds nothing to the national count (this from a pro environmental website)
• If the TM expansion occurred, the amount of oil being exported on the west coast would approximate the amount of US oil that currently goes through Canadian waters on the west coast
• Climate change – killing of the TM expansion will have zero impact on climate change, because global consumption continues to climb by more than one million b/d every year, and that oil will be produced, and most likely from a country with worse environmental standards than Canada
The killing of the TM expansion then will be nothing more than a symbolic victory, although there no doubt will be jubilation at the many dozens of enviro-group headquarters that have been working so hard. But the climate won’t be any better off for it, and marine safety won’t change much at all. Iff the pipeline is built, Canada’s marine oil tanker traffic will increase by some 2 percent, and a brand-new pipeline will be in operation, one that will be under a watchful eye like no other.
These numbers are not secrets that have been unearthed, or slanted in favour of industry, or part of some plan. They’re just numbers based on activity, and in the case of a new pipeline, a reflection that current pipeline operating standards are very good indeed. The BC citizens at the heart of the debate (48 percent of whom, according to a recent poll, actually support the pipeline – 4 percent more than said they oppose it) have been absolutely drowned in rhetoric, falsehoods and climate fear-mongering to the point that many no doubt wonder what is the right thing to do.
While they’re deciding though, they should bear in mind that the non-symbolic repercussions will be possibly staggering. That is not an exaggeration. There will be incredible pressure in Alberta to shut off not just oil shipments to BC, but refined product shipments as well, which would leave the lower mainland in a considerable pickle. A more unlikely and difficult (but highly popular) move would be to shut in natural gas that currently moves from northeast BC into Alberta, which ironically has been driving prices down materially since it can’t access international markets on the BC coast because LNG terminals are blocked too.
If protesters allow this infinitesimal risk – a risk that is acceptable to every other jurisdiction in the world, allowing the safe movement of 50 million barrels per day – to halt the pipeline, the rest of Canada will duly take note. It will be seen as siding with big money international climate businesses who’ve tampered mightily with Canada’s right to economic and environmental self-determination, and will be seen as a huge step away from any sense of interprovincial cooperation. I have no idea what that means, and I find it very discouraging to think that we will find out.
A fair number of British Columbians have legitimate concerns about the project. There is still time to take back the discussion and work with Kinder Morgan to help gain comfort that, for what is a normal industrial process everywhere in the world, every conceivable safety precaution will be taken. There is still time to think through the climate change messages that have been pounded into your ears about the TM expansion’s impacts, none of which are true.
But time is running out, and if the professional protesters win, look out below. This will not end pretty.