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Comment: Five myths about the Trans Mountain pipeline

Watching Kinder Morgan’s ads promoting its Trans Mountain pipeline are comforting: new jobs with no risk. Who could be opposed? But, as with many ads, the message distorts reality.

Watching Kinder Morgan’s ads promoting its Trans Mountain pipeline are comforting: new jobs with no risk. Who could be opposed?

But, as with many ads, the message distorts reality. What are the myths and the facts?

The first myth is that Trans Mountain is essential to meet the needs of the Canadian oil industry. This myth is dispelled by a study we just completed that shows that with the downturn in the oil market, the recent approval of Keystone XL by the U.S. and the approval of Enbridge Line 3, there are viable alternatives to Trans Mountain that can achieve the same economic benefits with fewer environmental risks.

The fact is we no longer need Trans Mountain, and if we did build it along with the other proposed pipelines, we could end up creating over $25 billion of unused pipeline space that would impose a large cost on oil companies, consumers and the Canadian taxpayer.

The second myth is that Trans Mountain poses little environmental risk and has a perfect safety record. The fact is that Trans Mountain has recorded 81 spills over its operating life, with several major spills in the past five years.

Trans Mountain’s own studies show that the new pipeline will have a 99.9 per cent chance of pipeline spills and 77 per cent of marine terminal spills. Tanker-spill risk estimates range from 16 per cent to 98 per cent. Regardless of which estimates are correct, the risk of a devastating tanker spill is significant. Perhaps this is why Trans Mountain refuses to accept full liability for marine spills, despite its claims that they are unlikely to occur.

The third myth is that the project will generate significant economic gains to B.C. The project will create short-term construction jobs and about 313 permanent direct jobs in B.C., which is a positive. But the job gain is small compared with the 72,000 new jobs created in B.C. in 2016 and could be more than offset by the risk of job losses resulting from oil spills. Vancouver, for example, estimates between 3,000 and 13,000 person-years of employment could be lost due to a spill.

Another less well-known cost of the project is that it will increase gasoline prices for B.C. consumers. The reason is that the tolls Trans Mountain currently charges for shipping gasoline and oil to B.C. consumers on its existing pipeline will more than double to help cover the costs of the second pipeline. This could cost B.C. consumers an extra $100 million per year.

The fourth myth is that we can build all these pipelines and expand oil production while still meeting our climate-change targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2030. The fact is that Canada does not have a plan showing how the proposed expansion is consistent with our targets and it is far from clear whether it is possible to do.

The final myth is that Trans Mountain went through rigorous evaluation by the National Energy Board. The fact is that only one in 10 of the participants in the process thought the NEB review would protect the public interest, and only 10 per cent of Canadians have confidence in the NEB. The prime minister said the process was flawed, and the federal government’s own panel concluded that the NEB process failed to answer six key questions that needed to be addressed before Trans Mountain was approved.

Some people might support building Trans Mountain and some might be opposed. Regardless, all of us need accurate information to make a reasonable decision. Unfortunately, Kinder Morgan’s ads do not tell us the real costs of the project.

In the end, there is no good answer to the question of why we would build a pipeline that imposes high risks to B.C. when there are alternatives that achieve the same benefits with no risk to B.C.


Thomas Gunton is director of the resource and environmental planning program at Simon Fraser University and is a former deputy minister of environment for B.C.