In the Pipeline

Canada’s energy board approves 
Trans Mountain expansion

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

State and tribal leaders expressed anger and disappointment about a recommendation that Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion should move forward as proposed.

Canada’s National Energy Board delivered its reconsideration report to the federal government last week with an overall recommendation that the Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in the Canadian public interest and should be approved.

The $9.3-billion pipeline expansion would twin the existing 1,150-kilometer pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby, built in 1953, and nearly triple capacity. Tanker traffic from the Burnaby terminal on the Burrard Inlet is estimated to increase from 60 tankers a year to more than 400.

The NEB recommended the project be approved subject to 16 new conditions, in addition to the 156 conditions it had proposed in its previous recommendation. The report starts the clock on a 90-day period for the federal government to decide whether the project should proceed.

The announcement is part of a reconsideration process ordered by Canada’s Federal Court of Appeal, which in August 2018 quashed the original permits for the project for failing to adequately assess the oil tanker traffic impacts on the endangered southern resident killer whales and required the federal government to redo its consultations with First Nations.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee expressed disappointment with the decision and directed the state’s Department of Ecology to submit concerns about the pipeline’s impact to shared international waters.

“The Canadian Energy Board’s own analysis found that this pipeline would be detrimental to the survival of the southern resident orcas, increase greenhouse gas emissions, and worsen global climate change,” Inslee said in a statement. “Yet they still recommended that the expansion move forward. This is deeply irresponsible. While they may think this is in Canada’s best interests, this is not in the best interests of the people of Washington or of the world.

“We have a good working relationship with Canada and the province of British Columbia, where we recently reiterated our support for shifting our region to a clean energy economy,” Inslee said. “Now is the time to protect our orcas and combat climate change, not invest in long-term fossil fuel infrastructure that would increase our emissions.”

Lummi Nation joined tribal leaders in British Columbia to condemn the decision. Tribal leaders testified to the NEB in November that increased tanker traffic resulting from the pipeline would have devastating impacts on the southern resident killer whale population—as well as on salmon runs, treaty rights, sacred sites, and traditional lifeways.

“The killer whales of the Salish Sea and the Indigenous Coast Salish cultures have a common bond,” Lummi Chairman Jay Julius said. “Our connection to the killer whale is personal, is relational, and goes back countless generations. Our name for them, qwe ‘lhol mechen, means our relations below the waves.”

“Our people and the killer whales, we all depend on salmon. We need to protect the salmon’s homeland as our own homeland,” said Raynell Morris of Lummi Nation’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office.

Lummi Nation is calling for a moratorium on any and all new or increased shipping activity on the Salish Sea until a transboundary, interjurisdictional cumulative impact assessment of shipping traffic and associated development has been conducted.

Canada’s federal government decided to purchase and nationalize the pipeline, essentially guaranteeing the National Energy Board would approve the plan.

Testament to that perceived national interest, Canada’s government may have overpaid for the Trans Mountain pipeline project by as much as $1 billion, Ottawa’s parliamentary budget officer estimates—and there’s a risk its value could decline further if there are any other delays in the construction timeline.

“Today’s recommendation is the direct result of the Prime Minister’s Office telling the NEB and federal bureaucrats to ‘get to yes’ on this project,” aid Tzeporah Berman, international program director at, said. ”Federal officials have stated on multiple occasions ‘this pipeline will be built’—despite ongoing consultations with First Nations. Scientific evidence filed with the NEB clearly shows that there is not enough data to ensure the safety of the marine environment—especially the salmon and the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales—and that the NEB failed to address the climate impacts of this project. The Trans Mountain Pipeline is not in the public interest and will never be built.”

The NEB refused’s motion to consider the upstream and downstream climate emissions of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.  In December 2018, the environmental interest group filed a motion stating that the NEB should conduct an assessment of the project’s full climate impacts similar to the NEB’s assessment on the Energy East Pipeline, and that there is a lack of scientific understanding about what happens during a spill of diluted bitumen in a saltwater marine environment—and whether a spill of this heavy, sinking oil could be adequately cleaned up.

The decision whether to approve or deny the pipeline now goes to the Cabinet of Canada, which is overseen by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The cabinet has 90 days to decide to approve or deny the pipeline, but officials signaled over the weekend that the 90-day deadline will likely be extended. The federal government’s consultation with First Nations is ongoing, and could last for several months.

“This review process has been a disaster the whole way through. If Trudeau and his federal cabinet rush their decision, they will undoubtedly end up back at square one—fighting with First Nations in the courts and squaring off against protesters in the streets,” Berman said.

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