Trans Mountain: choose your crisis wisely

Bob Landell

FEB. 20, 2019

The main argument against expanding fossil fuel use is catastrophic global warming. If you accept that, then economic and employment counterarguments had better be solid.

Many assumptions used to justify the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion were developed years ago. They’re used in industry and government marketing campaigns<> to tell a story of how environmentalists and British Columbia are trying to block oilsands benefits for all of Canada.

There are a number of oil industry experts who question this story. Reporting on the Trans Mountain expansion should challenge expired assumptions with the following questions:

  1.  If the project is to triple the flow of diluted bitumen (dilbit) to the B.C. coast, and if Alberta’s heavy oil can be sold for more in Asia than in markets in the United States, why isn’t oil going through the pipeline now going largely to Asia?
  2.  Why did one of the largest Canadian oilsands producers (Suncor) see record “funds from operations<>” in the third quarter of last year? Are Suncor, Husky, and Imperial actually benefiting from supplying cheap dilbit to their own refineries?
  3.  Why does Alberta’s Natural Gas Advisory Panel say<> “Alberta and its natural gas producers face a daunting crisis,” which one analyst said was “far worse than it is for oil?” Oil pipelines cannot be blamed.
  4.  Can other pipelines (the Enbridge Line 3 replacement, for instance), and better use of existing pipelines (the elimination of “air barrels<>,” for example) make the Trans Mountain expansion redundant?
  5.  Will foreign markets remain over the life of the pipeline expansion? China is pursuing electric vehicles to reduce its need for foreign oil. The transition to net-zero carbon buildings and cheap renewables are further trends being ignored in the Alberta “energy crisis” narrative. Oilsands production costs and emissions are among the world’s highest. Alberta dilbit is marginally economic with taxpayer subsidies now. Rising global carbon taxes and regulations, and tightening sulphur restrictions on marine fuel, will not help. Asian refineries may prefer better and cheaper oil from closer sources.
  6.  Is the industry effectively bankrupt now because of the cost of future cleanup? The recent Redwater case<>at the Supreme Court finally makes it harder for bankrupt oil companies to avoid environmental cleanup. However, an Alberta Energy Regulator employee estimates the cleanup cost for existing oilsands tailing ponds, pipelines, and abandoned wells at $260-billion<>. The funds currently set aside for cleanup are reported to be less than one per cent of that sum.
  7.  Where is Canada’s Green New Deal to ease Alberta’s growing employment problem? Cleantech investment creates more jobs per dollar than investment in the increasingly automated oilsands. Is spending billions for 90 permanent pipeline jobs smart when those funds could support Canadian electric vehicle and battery plants, building conservation, wind, geothermal, and solar power?

Scientists speak of impending climate catastrophe. Burning oil increases droughts, fires, storms, floods, sea levels, spills, health impacts, biodiversity loss, food costs, and forced immigration.

It’s time to re-evaluate which crises are overblown, and which crises are real.

Victoria, BC