“You have to play the hand you’re dealt.”
It’s an idiom as old as time itself and one Canadians have struggled to understand regarding the oil industry for decades.
With the recent announcement from the Trudeau Government approving the Trans Mountain Pipeline last week, it rings true more now than ever.
The $6.8 billion project will triple the capacity of oil travelling along the pipeline from 300,000 barrels a day to 890,000 by adding 980 kilometres of pipe along the route from near Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. This increase in oil transfers will also increase the number of tankers leaving Vancouver area waters sevenfold from five per month to 34.
Aside from transferring oil, this pipeline will serve as a divisive debate in Canada for years to come. The narrative isn’t really new either. Google any pipeline you want, or the controversial oil/tar sands, and you’ll find articles, videos and opinions either in adamant support of them or stark disapproval of them.
In regards to the new pipeline announcement, more debate will be had. First Nations groups are threatening legal action in the courts hoping to prevent any expansion of pipelines while environmentalists trumpet that increased oil transferring translates to increased chances of a spill with increased carbon emissions. They’re not necessarily wrong either. An additional 590,000 barrels of oil a day that would be added under the expansion translates to between 14 and 17 more megatonnes of carbon per year. This is without even mentioning the concern for whale species along the tanker routes in the Vancouver area; all the while Canada is without a “world class” marine response program in place.
On the other side, you have economists making the point that the new pipeline is a massive win for Canada’s stumbling economy. In a report released in May, the National Energy Board said there would be considerable economic benefits from the pipeline, with Kinder Morgan (the company owning the pipeline) estimating that it would create 15,000 jobs through construction with another 37,000 coming directly or indirectly in the years afterward. The Conference Board of Canada report from 2015 indicates that the government will increase its revenue by $46.7 billion from 2012-2038 with the pipeline, with the economy seeing a boost of $163 million.
This is complimented by the argument that environmental concerns are merely blown out of proportion. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said the NDP’s hard cap on emissions would prevent the increase of emissions that environmental activists claim is on its way. The National Energy Board also found that Metro Vancouver and the surrounding marine areas already support a large amount of vessel traffic that is expected to increase regardless of the Trans Mountain activity being included.
With respect to environmentalist’s and dissenting First Nations opinions, though, what else is this than the government simply playing the hand that they’ve been dealt?
Did the Canadian government or any Canadian personally choose the oil sands to be located where they are? No. But as the country with the third most oil reserves in the world, what were they supposed to do — ignore that?
No, they can’t. Instead, Canada stands as the fifth largest producer of crude oil across the world, with the production of crude oil representing three per cent of the country’s GDP and 14 per cent of its exports. Hundreds of thousands rely on the industry for their livelihood, many living in Western Canada and here in the Columbia Valley. To turn your back on such a prosperous industry would be shameful at best, idiotic at worst.
Of course, that’s not to say that it’s simply “the cost of doing business”, while ignoring environmental concerns and running rampant on oil production. Absolutely not. It’s why the Trudeau government rejected the Northern Gateway project.
But this debate isn’t a black and white distinction. There are a million shades of grey here and Canada is right to explore each and every one of them. That means each time there is a possibility of expansion of pipelines, the country has the right to debate, but intelligently moves forward based on a carefully constructed cost-benefit analysis.
At the end of the day, the Canadian government will likely continue to play their hand, siding with the oil industry. That said, there’s nothing wrong with holding their feet to the fire to ensure they’re following the proper precautions while doing it.
Valley Echo reporter Eric Elliott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.