As Trans Mountain report looms, a look at the state of pipelines in Canada

VANCOUVER – The National Energy Board released its long-awaited report Thursday giving conditional approval to Kinder Morgan Canada’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The pipeline is estimated to cost $6.8 billion. The positive recommendation lifts a major hurdle to the expansion, but Trans Mountain, like other pipeline projects in Canada, still has a long way to go before shovels are in the ground.

Here’s an update on the status of four major Canadian pipeline proposals:

Trans Mountain

The Canadian arm of U.S. energy giant Kinder Morgan wants to triple the capacity of its existing Trans Mountain line by adding or reactivating almost 1,200 kilometres of pipe between oilsands near Edmonton and Burnaby, B.C. The expansion would bring capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil a day and increase tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet seven-fold.

With the energy board’s positive recommendation in hand, the federal cabinet is expected to issue its decision on the project by the end of the year. A three-member panel has been appointed to conduct a separate environmental review and report to Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr by November. Carr said the panel will add an extra layer of consultation, especially with indigenous communities.

To go ahead with the project, Kinder Morgan would also have to address 157 environmental, safety and financial conditions placed on it by the energy board, including holding $1.1 billion in liability coverage and detailing its plans to reduce and offset emissions. The board said the project is the first to be required to detail plans for offsetting emissions

The project still faces fierce opposition. North Vancouver’s Tsleil-Waututh Nation has a case before the Federal Court that argues the energy board review was flawed and unlawful. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, on the other hand, has said the project is in the best interests of her province and Canada.

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office is conducting a review that includes First Nations consultation, following a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in January on Northern Gateway that also impacted Trans Mountain.

Northern Gateway

Enbridge’s $7.9-billion Northern Gateway project would bring 525,000 barrels a day of oilsands crude through a 1,177-kilometre pipeline from northeast of Edmonton to Kitimat, B.C., for shipping to international markets. A parallel line would send 193,000 barrels a day of bitumen-thinning diluent in the opposite direction.

The project obtained federal approval in 2014 but has been mired in legal uncertainty ever since. Eight First Nations, four environmental groups and one labour union launched legal actions aimed at overturning the project’s approval. The Federal Court of Appeal heard the cases jointly in October and has yet to release a ruling.

Enbridge and its 31 aboriginal equity partners recently asked the National Energy Board for a three-year extension to the 2016 construction deadline to allow for more consultation. But the First Nations who oppose the project, many of them located on B.C.’s north coast, say extra time won’t sway their position.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has committed to formalizing a ban on tanker traffic on the north coast, which critics say will kill the project. Trudeau has also voiced his opposition to a crude oil pipeline through the Great Bear rainforest, through which Northern Gateway would traverse.

The B.C. Supreme Court found in January the provincial government could not rely solely on the energy board’s review of Northern Gateway. The decision, which also affected Trans Mountain, means B.C. must conduct its own review that includes aboriginal consultation.

Energy East

TransCanada’s Energy East is a 4,500-kilometre pipeline proposed to carry 1.1 million barrels of oil a day from Alberta and Saskatchewan through Quebec and into New Brunswick for overseas shipping. The cost of the pipeline is estimated at $15.7 billion, which doesn’t count the existing pipeline assets that would be converted for use in Energy East.

The proposal is popular in Western Canada but has encountered stiff opposition in Quebec, where politicians, citizens and ecologists have argued the environmental risks outweigh the economic benefits. New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant said he stressed the importance of Energy East to his province’s economy during a recent meeting with Trudeau.

The National Energy Board has announced that consultations with communities along the pipeline route will begin in August and its final report should be completed by March 2018. Ottawa will also be presented with Quebec’s ruling on the pipeline, which is scheduled to come down in June 2018.

Public hearings into the Quebec portion of the project are expected to resume in October after TransCanada agreed to the provincial government’s request to provide more detailed information about the pipeline. A first round of hearings wrapped in March with Quebec residents grilling TransCanada executives on the risks and costs associated with the pipeline.

Keystone XL

TransCanada, the same company behind Energy East, applied for U.S. permission to build its Keystone XL pipeline in 2008. The aim was to expand an existing cross-border pipeline to give crude from the Alberta oilsands a more direct route to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. During a seven-year debate, the project became a focal point for environmental protesters.

After U.S. President Barack Obama rejected Keystone XL in November 2015, TransCanada launched a US$15-billion challenge under the North American Free Trade Agreement, arguing it was treated unfairly. It has also filed a separate federal lawsuit seeking a declaration that Obama overstepped his constitutional power.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley recently visited Washington to rehabilitate the reputation of her province’s oilsands. She met with a White House environmental official and the head of the Center for American Progress, a prominent progressive think tank that opposed Keystone XL, but she told The Canadian Press she wasn’t focused on gaining approval for a future version of the pipeline.

The issue could resurface after the current U.S. presidential election. Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump supports the pipeline, but both Democratic candidates oppose it.