In August 2018, when the Federal Court of Appeal ruled that the review of the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) fell short and overturned its approval, many of us felt an upsurge of hope. The National Energy Board (NEB) had a do-over - another chance to apply a thorough climate test, spare the Southern Resident Orcas greater existential stress, and protect the coast from the heightened chance of a bitumen spill. Canada also had another opportunity to honestly consult and seek consent from the First Nations who’s lives and lands the TMX impacts.
Despite the federal government’s determination that the pipeline would still proceed, we had a dim hope that clearer science, changed economics and the blaring fact that the urgency to act on climate change is greater than ever before, might lead to a decision that favoured the environment and the pipeline would not be recommended.
This past week, the NEB acknowledged that the TMX would likely “cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale, and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern resident killer whale”1 and that “while a credible worst-case spill from the Project or a Project-related vessel is not likely, if it were to occur, the environmental effects would be significant.”1 They also found GHG emissions from “Project-related marine vessels would result in measurable increases and, taking a precautionary approach, are likely to be significant.”1 They decided that despite these conclusions, “in light of the considerable benefits of the Project and measures to mitigate the effects”, they “can be justified in the circumstances.”1
The “considerable benefits” are pretty much all economic. They include “increased access to diverse markets for Canadian oil; jobs created across Canada; the development of capacity of local and Indigenous individuals, communities, and businesses; direct spending on pipeline materials in Canada; and considerable revenues to various levels of government.”1
It is worth noting that the reconsideration was confined to a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea limit which mean’t that the effects on some at-risk marine mammals and birds may not’ve been fully assessed. It was also conducted under the as yet to be updated NEB review process. Bill C-69, written with the object to modernize the review and regulatory process, just went through its second reading in senate. (At the same time, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the oil lobbies have raised strong objections, like having to consider climate change and social issues will distract from getting resources to market and the proposed process for Indigenous consultation will open up litigation for those who do not consent).
The NEB’s recommendation includes16 new suggestions for the Government of Canada. Among them, is the consideration of cumulative effects on the Salish Sea and oil spill response measures. They recommend ways to offset the risks from the shipping boats on marine species, like slowdowns in certain areas and limits on whale-watching boats. They recommend the reduction of GHGs with things like market incentives for energy-efficient technologies.1b)
All and all though, it seems that jobs outweigh the last 71 Orcas. Factors like spending on materials and projected revenues outweigh the potential lasting damage of spills. Opening up potential markets for our bitumen oil means more to the national interest than keeping global temperatures from warming 1.5° or even 2°C.
Jobs vs. Orcas
Chris Genovail of raincoast.org states that “the additional noise from Kinder Morgan tanker traffic increases the risk of extinction to already imperilled Southern Residents. [The tmx approval] sanctions the probable extinction of Southern Resident killer whales.”2 From the perspective of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, expressed in a Stand.earth press release following the NEB’s announcement, “The thought of killer whales…disappearing off the coast of British Columbia is unthinkable.”3
As for jobs, According to Ian Hussey in a 2018 Tyee article, 30,000 lost oil and gas jobs are basically unrecoverable and the industry employed just 1% of Canada’s workers. Our environmental and clean tech industry employed nearly 100,000 more. This could support a good argument that Canada shift investment from new fossil fuel infrastructure to greener options.
The reconsideration report says that there will be 443 jobs a year for the first 20 years of operation and more during construction.8, Pg.30 Apparently though, as reported by The Sacred Trust and others, just 90 permanent jobs are attributed to the TMX. The Sacred Trust, using information from a report created by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, also asserts that projected job and economic losses, like those to the commercial fishing industry, outweigh economic gains. An oil spill would put the jobs of about 200,000 people in jeopardy.
As well, a Simon Fraser University study found the number of short-term jobs expected from the TMX were over-estimated by Kinder Morgan and that the cost of a spill, including clean-up and damages to an urban environment like Vancouver or Burnaby, under-estimated.
Spills vs. Revenue
To go a little deeper into the chance of a spill, as Lynne Quarmby writes in the National Observer, there have been 13 spills along the Trans Mountain pipeline since 2005 and the Harper government relaxed rules since then, making spills even more likely. To make matters worse, there are still gaps in understanding how to clean-up diluted bitumen, which has toxic chemicals like flammable neurotoxins and carcinogens.
In the reconsideration, the NEB repeated a conclusion similar to this one several times in relation to spills: “environmental effects of a spill from a tanker would be highly dependent on the particular circumstances, such as the amount and the type of product(s) spilled, location of the spill, response time, the effectiveness of containment and clean up, the valued components that are impacted, and the weather and time of year of the spill.”8, Pg. 489 Generally, they were satisfied by the fact that there are initiatives in place to decrease spill risk and improve spill response.
Lynne details other great losses associated with expanding Canada’s tar sands industry, including the destruction of our Boreal forest. About half of oil sands development requires removing the ‘overburden” of Boreal Forest, which is the most efficient and cost-effective land-based carbon sink in the world.
As well, she explains, retrieving the bitumen requires vast quantities of water, a lot of which is from the Athabasca River, fed by a retreating glacier. Restoring the land, which is supposedly required, is not happening, leaving many toxic tailing ponds or grasslands that don’t provide much habitat. Finally, the proposal to “densify” oil tanks filled with flammable and volatile chemicals like neurotoxins, in an earthquake zone near a forest that is a fire hazard in summer, puts the environment and people of B.C. at risk.4
As for the revenue, aside from the risks to Vancouver’s economy, Canadian taxpayers are currently on the hook for the TMX, as much as 11 - 20 Billion not counting climate impacts estimated at up to 8.7 billion.
A 2018 Parkland Institute report uses a low carbon price of $50 tonne to assess the carbon liabilities of the big five oil companies and finds that not only do costs outweigh assets and stock values they are higher than Alberta’s whole GDP.6 These costs are externalized to the environment and members of the public in the form of consequences like extreme weather, reduced food production and health impacts.
Surprisingly, considering the often repeated belief that Canada depends on the oil sands economically, they only account for 2% of Canada’s economy. As well, the chance for future profits from the TMX as predicted can be questioned. For one thing, the NEB did not consider what happens to the tar sands if the world makes a successful effort to keep global temperature rise below 1.5°C. Projections do seem to count on us failing to adequately address climate change.
Markets vs. Climate
The TMX alone will emit 13-15MT within Canada and at least 80% more than that worldwide. The NEB, despite requests during the reconsideration process as well as a case put forward by west coast environmental law and stand.earth, deemed a full climate test for the TMX with consideration of upstream and downstream emissions outside of the scope of issues.
To put the repercussions of this decision into perspective, Canada is projected to fall short of its goal to keep global temperatures from warming more than 2°C. In fact, if everyone adopted Canada’s current policies, the world would warm an unimaginable 5°C. The biggest reason for this failure is the expansion of the oil and gas industry, mostly tar sands. At the same time, the science on climate change is clear: we must keep global warming below 1.5°C to avoid much greater threats, like apocalyptic weather, food and water scarcity, heat deaths and the end of a habitable planet. In order to do so, we simply can not expand the tar sands.
As Chief Judy Wilson says, “It doesn’t add up. To make that short-term investment to destruct the land versus saving our way of life. Not just for the Indigenous peoples, but for all of the residents in BC and across Canada.”3 Stand.earth Climate and Energy Campaigner Sven Biggs asserts, “this pipeline didn’t get a climate review for two reasons. First, the math simply doesn’t add up—we can’t build it and meet Canada’s climate goals. Second, the oil industry doesn’t want a climate review.”5
As for diverse markets for Canada’s tar sands bitumen - do they exist? Economists and researchers observe that international markets are not paying higher prices for the difficult to produce oil, it isn’t the lack of pipeline capacity that is keeping prices low, and that markets for it would shrink as the world decarbonizes.
In fact crude tanker shipments have already decreased 72% from their peak in 2010 with shipments to Asian markets dropping to almost zero. It seems unlikely, just because we increase the number of tankers, that the markets will simply reappear. European and Asian markets also typically pay less than current US markets for heavy oil. Also, many countries, including France, the UK and China are planning to ban the sale and manufacture of gas and diesel cars.7 Facts in this Paragraph As Chief Stewart Phillip says, “It’s a false economy. The fossil fuel industry, and all the propaganda that goes along with it, represents a false economy and Canadians deserve better.”3
According to Peter Erickson, in a Stockholm Environment Institute report, expanding the tar sands could also mean that Canada will contribute up to 150MT more to global pollution by 2030 and significantly slow the global transition away from carbon intensive energy sources. Not to mention that Canada, by continuing to focus on the oil and gas industry, could lose out on the full economic benefits of renewables!
Perhaps the shift won’t be entirely easy and we will definitely need to help those most vulnerable during the transition, including existing fossil fuel workers. As the environmental commissioner puts it in her report Climate Action in Ontario: What' Next:
“There will be challenging adjustments along the way, and we must all be willing to make some changes and some sacrifices. But the changes we need seem harder and scarier than they really are….energy efficiency and electrification could mean more money and better value… – in people’s pockets, in good jobs, in more competitive businesses, in attracting international investment, and in tax dollars going further, as well as better air quality and public health.”9
We could actually see more job creation in renewables per dollar invested, there are cost-competitive sources of renewable energy now - wind energy in Alberta, water-power from Quebec and solar is falling! Increased energy efficiency in Ontario could mean a net increase of 52,800 jobs/year and add $12.5 billion/year to the GDP. On a little darker note, perhaps decades of permanent jobs for oil workers could result from efforts to clean-up the existing tailings ponds (which, by the way, come at a staggering cost to taxpayers and may take over 300 years to manage). There are most definitely jobs and economic benefits in growing climate-friendly sectors!
Indigenous Rights vs. Extraction
The court ordered Indigenous re-consultation is now in process. Given that government has already asserted that the pipeline will be built, the effort still appears insincere and insufficient.
In the previous consultation, Kinder Morgan approached 133 First Nations of which 43 (or about 1/3) have signed mutual benefit agreements (including the 10 on reserve lands it passes through). These agreements cover reserve not treaty lands, including territories that are unceded. Many of the groups who signed are small as opposed to more powerful ones like the Lower Mainland Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, who oppose the pipeline.
Chief Judy Wilson, during the Stand.earth press release, suggested that the Nations who signed mutual benefit agreements are under duress and trying to support their communities. There is also the issue of the projects going ahead anyway without consent whether First Nations sign on and receive any benefit or just experience the downsides of more extractive projects in their communities. Many First Nations, including the Beaver Lake Cree already face polluted land, air and water.
To pull a quote by Cheam Chief Ernie Crey from a National Observer article by Sandy Garossino, “I sit up nights wondering what a spill into the Coquihalla River might look like. Even a small spill into the Coquihalla would devastate salmon in the Fraser River and plunge First Nations into utter destitution. Global trade, investment, jobs: I know those are important, but consider what could be lost.”10
Toronto350 stands with the First Nations and other communities in continued opposition to the TMX (and expansion of oil and gas infrastructure in general). Canada must adhere to its commitments under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and implement adequate nation-to-nation consultation.
A Continued Challenge
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip confirms: “In the aftermath of today’s so-called decision, we will be putting our heads together and deciding where we go from here, but clearly it will be a continuation of our deeply entrenched opposition to the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Nothing has changed in that regard.”3 There are more than 400 claims along the route of the pipeline that create liability and contingency issues for the project.
As International Program Director of Stand.Earth, Tzeporah Berman states, “if [government rushes] a decision once again, ignoring Indigenous rights and climate change, ignoring the threat to orcas, the city of Vancouver, the opposition from the city of Burnaby, and many other communities and Indigenous Nations, we will see you on the campaign trail this year. We will see you in the streets, and we’ll see you in the courts.”3
Toronto350 will be part of the resistance, supporting system change that leads to a greener economy and a safer climate. Join us in the movement toward a better future!
A few things we can do now:
1. Support First Nations on the frontlines:
- Sign up to receive updates at https://protecttheinlet.ca
- Donate at https://stopkmlegalfund.org or http://www.beaverlakecreenation.ca/Raven-Trust-JFK
- Explore the Unist’ot’en tool kit for actions you can take: http://unistoten.camp/supportertoolkit/
2. Tell your MP we need to see urgent climate action. This includes an end to fossil fuel exploration, approvals & infrastructure. This includes saying no to the TMX. Call or email your MP: https://www.ourcommons.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members
3. Come on out to a meeting and help us work for a post-carbon world! TO350 hold meetings most every Tuesday at Steelworkers Hall, 25 Cecil Street, 6:30-8:30.
4. Tell your Bank (or one of the big six) that you want them to stop investing in fossil fuels. https://www.ran.org/bankingonclimatechange2018/
5. Stay tuned for Toronto350’s letter template to send in response to the NEB recommendation.
- National Energy Board, Government of Canada, Introduction and Disposition (an excerpt from the Reconsideration Report) https://www.neb-one.gc.ca, b)the Conditions, Recommendations Overview https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/conditions/recommedations and c)the Reconsideration Report https://www.neb-one.gc.ca/report
- “Today’s approval of TMX sanctions probable extinction of the Southern Resident Killer Whales,” published on November 29, 2016, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, www.raincoast.org
- “Green party, NDP, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, West Coast Environmental Law, Stand.earth to respond to Trans Mountain Pipeline recommendation”, February 21, 2019 www.stand.earth, facebook.com/standearth
- “Eleven Reasons to oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion”, Lynne Quarmby, July 31, 2018, National Observer, nationalobserver.com
- “National Energy Board Refuses to Consider Climate Impacts of Trans Mountain Pipeline”, February 19, 2019, https://www.stand.earth
- “What the Paris Agreement Means for Alberta’s Oil Sands Majors,” David Janzen, Ian Hussey, Jan 31, 2018, https://www.parklandinstitute.ca
- “Only Fantasies, Desperation and Wishful Thinking Keep Pipeline Plans Alive,” Mitchell Anderson, February 23, 2018, thetyee.ca
- “Trans Mountain Pipeline ULC, Application for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, National Energy Board reconsideration of aspects of its OH-001-2014 Report as directed by Order in Council P.C. 2018-1177, MH-052-2018, February 2019,” https://apps.neb-one.gc.ca/REGDOCS/Item/View/3754555
- Climate Action in Ontario: 2018 Greenhouse Gas Progress Report, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Pg. 89, https://eco.on.ca/reports/2018-climate-action-in-ontario/
- "Canada's Climate Future, Trudeau's Toughest Challenge," National Observer, Sandy Garossino, February 29, 2018, https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/02/19/analysis/canadas-climate-future-trudeaus-toughest-challenge