TransMountain Half Measures

Last week, Natural Resources Minister Sohi announced that the much maligned National Energy Board will be tasked with resolving a perceived deficiency in the TransMountain pipeline assessment process. Its job is to determine the impact of increased tanker traffic on coastal ecosystems, particularly the dwindling population of the southern resident killer whale. 

The Minister made the announcement from the other end of the country on a Friday, hoping perhaps to make very few waves. He said that a second plan for more consultation with Indigenous communities will be dealt with soon.  The rumour mill has it that the Liberals are trying to find a judge to take on the task.

Meanwhile the saber rattling from some of the BC First Nations continues, which in turn is pushed back by others Indigenous groups who see benefits to the pipeline.

The second-guessing of the BC Court of Appeal’s decision continues too:

  • How is it that the Court chose to stall the project of “national importance” over two issues that they themselves say could be expeditiously resolved? There were other options many believe that could have allowed the project to move forward while the issues were managed
  • TMX tankers would represent an increase of 720 ship movements in a Strait that sees 23,000 ship movements a year while Vancouver and Seattle ports are engaged in major expansions. Thus increased ship movements posed by the TMX will barely be significant.
  • Others wonder if the Court was living on an asteroid where the loss of $40 million per day ($15 billion annually)  to the Canadian economy and a black eye for Canada’s investment climate are inconsequential.

But soon another shoe will drop, announcing the Indigenous consultation plan.

Once all of this is complete, the feds best case scenario is this:

We have “accommodated” the Indigenous groups with:

  • A stake in the pipeline ownership.
  • Solutions to local irritants that the NEB overlooked.
  • A bigger role and paychecks for Indigenous groups to monitor the pipeline.

We have re-assessed the marine shipping risk:

  • The court will be provided with the details of the $1.5 billion plan for marine safety off the west coast.
  • The operational safety measures already planned will be presented to the court
  • The routing for all marine traffic will be tweaked to sail a bit further from the endangered orcas.
  • The case will be made that the small increase in traffic (4%) caused by tankers isn’t by itself life threatening to orcas or catastrophic to the West Coast economy.

Assuming the BC Court approves the project the next steps in the battle will unfold:

  1. An appeal will be launched by some Indigenous and environmental groups to the Supreme Court.
  2. Construction will get underway – but not on the BC mainland.
  3. Protests and civil disobedience along with fund-raising publicity stunts will start once the weather warms up.
  4. The federal election will take place in the fall. The Liberal seats in Alberta will vanish and the battle for the lower mainland seats will be brutal.

In the midst of this:

  1. The Alberta’s energy industry continues to produce over 3.8 million barrels per day.
  2. Teck Resources begins the regulatory process for a new mega oilsands mine.
  3. Resistance to the new anti-industry environmental review agency is building.
  4. The US government approved TransCanada’s latest environmental review;  construction to start in 2019.
  5. USDPartners expands its crude by rail loading terminal at Hardisty to 225,000 barrels per day.
  6. In June, a record 361,000 barrel per day were shipped by rai.
  7. Transport Canada piled on more regulations, announcing that older style tanker cars must be phased out much faster than originally required.
  8. The Alberta Teachers’ Association invites Tzepora Berman, the radical anti-pipeline protester to speak at a meeting. Her extravagant claims about the oilsands are billed as a “truth-telling exercise”.