VANCOUVER, B.C.— As expected, the Canadian government has approved — again — the proposed expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. If built, it could see a sevenfold increase in tanker traffic through the Salish Sea.
The Cabinet of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave approval to expand the controversial pipeline, saying Canada has to sell its oil to more customers than just the United States.
During his announcement in Ottawa, Trudeau said 99 percent of Canada’s energy exports go to the United States. As such, it is sold at a deep discount. To get higher prices and find more customers, it has to expand the pipeline from the Alberta oil fields to the Pacific Ocean.
Trudeau says any revenue earned from the expansion will be reinvested into clean energy projects. He estimates this may be upwards of $375 million ($500 million Canadian dollars) a year.
Construction was delayed last year due to a federal court order that called for more meaningful consultations with First Nations, as well as further environmental review. Trudeau says that has been done and will continue.
First Nations in the Vancouver area, where the pipeline from Alberta meets the Pacific Ocean, are steadfast opposed to the project and will most likely challenge it again in court. They are joined in their opposition by Northwest tribes such as Swinomish, Tulalip, Lummi and Suquamish.
This sentiment is not shared in Alberta, where two proposals from First Nations groups are hoping to buy part of the pipeline. Trudeau says his government is open to either selling part, or all, of the pipeline to First Nations, or entering into revenue sharing agreements.
Today’s decision will undoubtedly become an election issue, as Canadians head to the ballot box Oct. 21.
Canada’s National Energy Board also re-recommended the expansion earlier this year, despite recognizing the harm increased oil tanker traffic may cause to the Southern Resident killer whales, as well as the significance of any oil spill and the likely increase of greenhouse gas emissions.
The recent decision is not a surprise, as Trudeau's government bought the pipeline from Houston based Kinder Morgan for $3.4 billion ($4.5 billion Canadian) last year.
Trudeau says there will be shovels in the ground this construction season. Some of the pipes and materials used for the expanded pipeline already have been delivered and stored. Next, Trans Mountain must get construction permits and contract work crews to start the expansion, provided it’s not halted by further legal action or protests.
Another factor, beyond the manmade logistics, will be the onset of winter conditions as there are several mountain ranges, including the Rockies, between the Alberta oil fields and the Pacific Ocean.
Today's news spurred widespread reaction on both sides of the border.
Premier John Horgan is vowing to fight to defend the British Columbia's lands and waters against a spill. Horgan says he spoke to Trudeau before the announcement, and reiterated his concerns about the possibility of a catastrophic spill. Environment Minister George Heyman says tens of thousands of jobs, and billions of dollars in economic activity, are at risk from a spill off B.C.'s coast.
In Washington state, Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement reiterating those concerns, calling the decision "alarming and deeply disappointing."
" The costs to our environment and communities are simply too high," he said in the statement. "This pipeline, if built, will impose significant negative impacts on our coastal communities, increase the risk of oil spills in our shared waters and double down on carbon-intensive fossil fuels at a time when world leaders need to double down on clean energy."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.