Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved two major pipeline projects, ensuring that crude oil from Alberta will make it to the Pacific coast and, eventually, to Chinese markets.
Trudeau has green-lit the Trans Mountain and Line 3 pipeline projects, while rejecting the Northern Gateway project.
The projects would still need regulatory approval, but they clear a major hurdle after months of speculation and mounting opposition from Indigenous communities and local politicians in British Columbia. The government is also introducing a ban on oil tankers along B.C.’s north coast.
“We will do what it takes, legally, to stop it”
Flanked by five of his ministers, including Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, Trudeau claimed he approved projects that met “the highest environmental standards.”
“Canadians know that strong action on the environment is good for the economy,” Trudeau told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon press conference in Ottawa. “We have made this decision because it is safe for B.C. and it is right for Canada.”
The approvals will mean that Canada will increase its oil transportation capacity by more than 1.1 million barrels per day, compared with a 2015 daily average of 4 million barrels. That’s good news for Canada’s struggling oil industry, beset by low oil prices and a lack of transportation infrastructure. Trudeau also said it will mean Canada’s oil industry can look to other energy markets, beyond just the United States.
Enbridge’s Line 3 project aims to improve a 1967 pipeline that sends oil from Hardisty, Alberta through Saskatchewan and Manitoba to the Wisconsin town of Superior.
“We’ll see how much of his political capital he puts behind this.”
Trans Mountain involves tripling the capacity of an existing Kinder Morgan pipeline for moving oil from Hinton, Alberta to the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. The project is subject to 157 conditions on indigenous and environmental issues.
But the criticism, especially regarding Trans Mountain, remains fierce.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson wrote in a statement that he was “profoundly disappointed” with the approval of the project, which he says will increase tanker traffic off the B.C. coast. He warned earlier this month that “you’ll see protests like you’ve never seen before” if it was approved, a sentiment echoed by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, in North Vancouver. Rueben George, head of the First Nation’s Sacred Trust anti-pipeline campaign, vowed on Monday “we will do what it takes, legally, to stop it.”
“Today’s announcement may as well have said that Canada is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement,” environmentalist group 350.org added in a statement. “Justin Trudeau has broken his promises for real climate leadership, and broken his promise to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples.”
“Today’s announcement may as well have said that Canada is pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.”
Other Indigenous groups chose to celebrate the death of Northern Gateway, which would have sent oil from Bruderheim, Alberta to the B.C. north coast town of Kitimat, and liquefied natural gas in the opposite direction. Trudeau said it put too much at risk, including Great Bear Rainforest, which is “a jewel of Canada’s west coast”
“This is a final victory for the Gitga’at, our allies and all Canadians,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation in a press release, published after the announcement. “We look forward to putting Enbridge behind us and sitting down with government to begin implementing an oil tanker ban on the North Coast of BC.”
Industry voices also sang the government’s praises.
Trudeau’s move comes amid a stagnant Canadian economy, battered by an ongoing commodity slump and a low dollar that has failed to boost the country’s once-mighty manufacturing sector.
“There’s an international demand for Canadian oil, and this pipeline is an important part of getting our product to market,” said Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, in a press release. “This will greatly benefit the energy sector, the Albertan economy and, ultimately the Canadian economy.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear whether the axed Keystone XL pipeline will now be revived, and Trudeau refused to say whether he’ll raise it with his American counterparts. Following years of heated protests and political showdowns, outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama cancelled the project, clearing a major headache for Trudeau shortly after his election. But President-elect Donald Trump has mulled supporting the TransCanada pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast.
Trudeau said no country would leave billions of barrels of oil in the ground, and maintained he was acting responsibly with his pipeline approvals while helping people in oil-producing provinces “who have suffered a great deal.”
Acknowledging his many critics, Trudeau said he’ll continue consulting with Canadians, while moving ahead with Tuesday’s announced plans. “We’ll listen to their worries and we’ll do everything we can to respond to those worries,” Trudeau said, in order “to manage this transition to a low-carbon economy.”
“The Liberals should not have approved this project under a system they themselves admit isn’t credible.”
He also credited the climate plan crafted by Alberta premier Rachel Notley, who welcomed the prime minister’s decision and told reporters that Canada doesn’t have to choose between the environment and the economy.
McKenna echoed Trudeau, but put the Canada’s pipeline dilemma in starker terms: “If they don’t go by pipelines, they’re going by rail.”
Trudeau said his Liberal government will also introduce a bill next spring that would put a moratorium on oil tankers along British Columbia’s north coast, spanning Alaska to the north tip of Vancouver Island.
He stressed Tuesday’s announcement was “a whole-of-government decision” that involved many ministers, who now face a mix of reactions in their ridings.
Politically, Trudeau caught flack from both sides.
Conservative Party Interim Leader Rona Ambrose said she sees “very little prospect” that the Trans Mountain line will ever actually get built, suggesting that the approval was largely hollow. “We’ll see how much of his political capital he puts behind this,” Ambrose told reporters on Tuesday evening.
“There’s an international demand for Canadian oil, and this pipeline is an important part of getting our product to market.”
The Conservative leader added that Trudeau should have approved the Northern Gateway line, while also stumping for the Keystone XL line.
New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair blasted the decision, saying the consultations and reviews done for Trans Mountain were inadequate.
“The Liberals should not have approved this project under a system they themselves admit isn’t credible,” Mulcair said in a statement. “They should have brought in a new review process to address environmental concerns, allow for full public participation, and look at project impacts on value-added jobs. That’s the only way to arrive at social license.”