Ottawa may have overpaid for Trans Mountain by up to $1B, parliamentary budget officer says

John Paul Tasker

[The Trudeau government stole this money from us. They stole it from our public services and our hospitals and our schools. They stole it for Kinder Morgan shareholders. All this money to build a pipeline on stolen land in a time of climate crisis. 8:01 AM - 31 Jan 2019]

Jan 31, 2019

Parliamentary Budget Office estimates construction of the expansion project will create nearly 8,000 jobs at its peak

The federal Liberal government may have overpaid for the Trans Mountain pipeline project by up to $1 billion, the parliamentary budget officer estimates — and there's a risk its value could decline further if there are any other delays in the construction timeline.


Even if Ottawa paid too much, however, the value of the project for Canada's oil producers — and in turn for government coffers — is considerable, as it will close a price gap that plagues the oilpatch, the Parliamentary Budget Office said in a report released Thursday.


The report says both the existing pipeline and the proposed expansion project are valued at between $3.6 billion and $4.6 billion, an imprecise range that pegs it at either well below the government's purchase price — $4.5 billion — or right on the money.



The PBO said Ottawa was the only known entity that made a bid for the pipeline and its planned expansion, so it's possible the federal government could have negotiated a more favourable price.

"If it was a car, we would say they paid sticker price, they didn't negotiate very much, they didn't get that many deals or manufacturers rebates — quite the opposite," Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux told reporters Thursday morning at a press briefing.

"It's a very risky project to have bought something that nobody else in the private sector wanted to acquire. There are lots of retirement or pension plans that like to buy infrastructure of that nature that generate streams of revenues."


But the PBO's valuations are further complicated by the fact that it doesn't know just how much multiple pipeline terminals and the Puget Sound Pipeline — other assets Ottawa acquired as part of the transaction with the former project proponent, Kinder Morgan — are actually worth.

Those related assets are not included in the figure the PBO generated. Officials said Thursday that if the expansion is not built, the value of these properties would be negligible.


Regardless, the PBO warns that any further delays to the project, increases in construction costs or other changes to the project's "risk profile" could devalue the project considerably, while negatively influencing the final price Ottawa could fetch when it eventually attempts to sell it to another entity.


A one-year construction delay would reduce the project's value by $700 million. If there are delays beyond the planned Dec. 31, 2021 completion date, the PBO said it would be fair to conclude at that point that the government overpaid for the asset.


The PBO estimates construction of the expansion project would create nearly 8,000 jobs at its peak.

Impact on GDP

But the true value of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) will come from oil producers selling much more Canadian oil at world prices. Currently, because Canadian producers are forced to sell virtually all of their product to U.S. refineries, Western Canadian Select sells at a discount to West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the gold standard of U.S. oil pricing.


"It is difficult to determine the impact of the TMEP on the price differential between WTI and WCS grades. However, a recent PBO analysis determined that a reduction of $5 US per barrel in this gap would, on average, result in a 0.1 per cent increase in real GDP and a 0.3 per cent increase in nominal GDP," the PBO report says.


"That would translate into a $6 billion annual impact on GDP during the five-year period from 2019 to 2023."

While it's risky for taxpayers, the project "will be a relief for the oil sector in Alberta because it will accelerate the opening of markets for Canadian oil," Giroux said.



If the expansion is not built, the Trans Mountain pipeline would be worth about $2 billion, the PBO estimates.


The government stepped in to buy the pipeline and planned expansion last year after Kinder Morgan halted all essential spending on construction pending the outcome of legal issues.


B.C. Premier John Horgan sought to stop its construction, prompting Ottawa to step in and buy the project to "de-risk" it.


Indigenous groups have said they were not adequately consulted by the federal government before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and cabinet gave the project the green light in 2016.


The Federal Court of Appeal quashed cabinet approvals for the project last August, citing inadequate consultations and environmental assessments — on the very day Kinder Morgan shareholders agreed to sell most of the company's Canadian assets to Ottawa.


The federal government has vowed to build the project despite its legal challenges.