Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project: Answering the internets FAQs

Updated: 4 days ago

In November 2016, Canada approved a $7.4 billion project to expand the existing Trans Mountain pipeline. This follows the National Energy Board‘s decision that it was in the public’s best interest. Some people say it will contribute to the economy, others have environmental and Indigneous concerns. With years of opposition and agreements, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been one of the most followed environmental projects in Canada.

These questions were identified using an online tool called “Answer the Public”. It identifies the internet's most searched question on entered topics.

What is the Trans Mountain pipeline?

The original Trans Mountain pipeline was built, and has been operational since 1953. It is a 1,150 km pipeline between Edmonton Alberta and Burnaby, British Columbia. It carries approximately 300,000 barrels of diluted bitumen (a mixture of petroleum and natural gas) per day.

Who owns the Trans Mountain pipeline?

Trans Mountain Corporation is held accountable to The Canada Development Investment corporation (CDEV). The CDEV was established in 1982 under the Canada Business Corporations Act. CDEV reports to the Parliament of Canada through the Minister of Finance. On August 31 2018, Trans mountain Corporation purchased the bodies that own and operate the Trans Mountain Pipeline system.

Where does the Trans Mountain pipeline go?

The expansion will follow the existing pipeline which runs from Edmonton Alberta, past terminals and refineries along the west coast to Vancouver, British Columbia

Who approved it and when did construction start?

The Government of Canada approved the Trans Mountain Expansion Project on June 18, 2019

When will it be completed?

The expected in service date or date it is expected to start operating is December 2022

Why expand the pipeline?

According to Trans Mountain, the construction projects costs $12.6 billion

Currently Canada sells nearly all its oil to the United States at a discount to the world's price for similar oil products. . Trans Mountain claims Canada's oil will be sold at a better price if more oil is shipped from the Burrard Inlet, British Columbia. Canada will earn approximately $3.7 billion more per year as this project will allow Canada's oil to be delivered to international markets.

Will the pipeline lower gas prices?

This question is highly searched on the internet. The Premier of Alberta, Jason Kenney, suggested that the pipeline expansion means his government can increase transportation of refined products to British Columbia’s lower mainland. This should reduce gas prices for Vancouver residents. But, BC Premier John Horgan has said the expansion will not guarantee lower gas prices.

In 2015, an oil and gas analyst, Muse Stancil, prepared an analysis on behalf of Trans Mountain. This analysis was prepared for hearings before the National Energy Board. It says that “refined product shipments (price) will not increase as a result of the Trans Mountain expansion projects”. Robert Allan, an independent economist and former CEO of the Insurance Corporation of Canada has argued that “the expansion will cause gas prices to go up because the toll rates on the existing pipelines will more than double” (haraap, 2019).

Allan was present during the hearing in 2015. He says that more pipelines does not mean lower prices at the pumps (haraap, 2019). He adds, the prices going up depends on what the cost of the project will be at the end. Even though the expected cost of the project is $7.4 billion, it will probably cost more. To help maintain the pipeline, Trans Mountain charges tolls. In this case, a toll is “the price charged by a pipeline company for transportation and other services”. Tolls also help companies recover capital and pay of debts and investors.

Allan adds that if the pipeline costs $7 billion, it has to be paid back with interest. The current tolls are not high enough to pay for the expansion and will have to be raised in some way. In short, customers will have to pay for it at the pump.

To summarize, although there is a possibility for gas prices to go up, this remains uncertain until the pipeline is operational.

Why is the Trans Mountain pipeline good?

Trans Mountain has listed the benefits this project will bring which include:

  • A safer and more efficient way to move petroleum products on land. 1 pipeline will replace 1400 tankers or 441 rail cars

  • It will bring increased revenue for Canada’s oil producers. This means more contributions to taxes and services. The project will contribute $12.6 billion dollars to Canada’s economy. British Columbia will get $5.7 billion, Alberta will get $19.4 billion and the rest of Canada will share $21.6 billion

  • The project will create new short term and long term jobs and training opportunities

  • So far, the project has hired 9,700 people. As of December 2020, there are approximately 7,300 people working on the project. 1,005 of them identify as Indigenous

  • A $3 million investment to local infrastructure improvements in Clearwater, British Columbia

  • A $1.2 million investment in local education institutions currently signed agreements with Thompson Rivers University, Camosun College and the Coquitlam Foundation for annual awards and scholarships

  • More than $6 million invested in initiatives in the Salish Sea Marine Community

How does the trans mountain pipeline affect Indigenous Communities?

Indigenous people see the construction of this pipeline as an infringement of their land rights. An article published on Maclean’s writes that in August 2018¹, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal put the pipeline on hold just 3 days after the start of its construction. Why? The court rules that the governments ‘Duty to Consult Indigneous people was not adequately performed.

The Duty to Consult represents a requirement of meaningful consultation that takes steps to avoid irreparable harm or to minimize the effects of the infringement of identified rights of Indigenous peoples.

The Supreme Court of Canada decided that Canada did not make an effort to meet the Duty to Consult. “Listening is not meaningful dialogue; the law requires Canada to do more than just receive and just record concerns and complaints” the court writes.

In a blog post by the Indigneous Corporate Training Inc., they write that “When the role of Canada’s representatives is seen in this light, it is of no surprise that a number of concerns raised by Aboriginal groups— in our view, concerns very central to their legitimate interests—were left unconsidered and undiscussed. This fell well short of the conduct necessary to meet the duty to consult”.

The Squamish and Tsleil- Waututh nations, smaller nations and the Coldwater Indian bands from BC have said their concerns on how the project will affect their way of life and the environment were not meaningfully considered. Reuben George is the Chief of the Tsleil-Waluth Nation. He says his nation has “always said we would do what it takes to make sure that we stop this pipeline”.

Trans Mountain on their website has a dedicated webpage which outlines their commitment to indigenous engagement and participation in field studies. However, there are many concerns around the effects on first nations. These include:

  1. The pipeline crosses through and threatens an aquifer that is the leading source of drinking water for over 90% of people living on the Cold water First Nations reserve in british Columbia

  2. The pipeline runs directly under several elementary schools in Burnaby and Chilliwack

  3. If a spill occurs in the Burrard inlet, crude oil and tar sands diluted bitumen will be difficult to clean up. Diluted bitumen has proven to sink when spilled and a major spill could damage wildlife and coastal communities. These also include salmon and area populations.

Trans Mountain has published that during their discussions with Indigenous peoples, they want to provide an opportunity for the people to participate in field studies. They want to understand the people's interests in economic opportunities. These include employment and skills training, contracts and business opportunities. They have also mentioned that their engagement was designed to incorporate the peoples feedback into project execution. Trans Mountain has not made this feedback or shown this incorporation to public records.

In July 2020, many First Nations communities in BC vowed to continue to fight against the pipeline expansion.

Why is the Trans Mountain Pipeline bad for the Environment?

If you search this question, you will find so many results on it. There are many issues surrounding pipelines in general. These may be:

  • Environmental protection issues

  • Social concerns of local residents and indigenous communities

  • Health concerns of projects

  • Economic concerns; expense, current economic dependency, public funds

Oil and gas are often found together physically and pipelines are the lowest cost ways to transport them. The major challenges we have with them are resource exhaustion and climate change. The number one environmental concern is the risk of a major oil spill. An oil spill in the Burrard Inlet and Coquihalla river in BC would devastate salmon, bird and killer whale populations. It will also raise health concerns for the human populations living in the area.

Environment and Climate Change Canada published that “in order to ensure the project does not result in a net increase in emissions, the National Energy Board will require Trans Mountain Corporation to offset the estimated 1 million tonnes of emissions from the project's construction.

The project will release emissions from 2 sources.

  • Land (pipeline and port activities)

  • Marine shipping

Land source emissions are expected to reduce over time due to carbon pricing and methane and vehicle regulations in BC and Alberta. To reduce emission from shipping, the NEB concluded these emissions will be reduced through the use of low carbon fuels and energy efficient technologies.

¹ it is important to note that the dates on Trans Mountains website and the article published by Macleans on the start of the pipeline construction do not match.

Map/ cover image source: The Canadian Business Journal, 2020

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