Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline (TMEP) is said to be in the national interest.
Canada’s National Energy Board justified their approval of the pipeline by referencing this same national interest. And a slew of politicians and media folk have echoed this sentiment. We keep hearing this over and over again: “it’s in the national interest.”
So it’s worth reflecting a moment on what exactly this means. What exactly is the national interest?
Seems obvious to me that what is in the nation’s interest is sustainable development. I think that the majority of Canadians would agree with this concept. The UN has set out 15 Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 7 is : Affordable and clean energy. And Canada’s on board.
When evaluating a project in the context of sustainability, there is always a triple bottom line. It’s a three dimensional concept. The dimensions are economic, environmental, and cultural. For a project to be considered as sustainable development and to be approved, it must satisfy minimum requirements in all three dimensions.
How does the Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline stack up when evaluated in this way?
Take the environment.
Pipelines always leak. There’s no way around this—unless you believe in the physics of a parallel universe where pressure differentials don’t induce mass transfer.
If you are transporting hydrocarbon gases and liquids under high pressure, you can’t seriously claim that leaks are impossible. Not if you’re an engineer. You can of course claim this if you’re a politician.
Data from the Alberta Energy Regulator show that from 1990 to 2012 there were over six thousand spills from pipelines. Six thousand.
In 2012 alone there were 234 liquid hydrocarbon releases .
The TMEP will add 980 km of new pipeline and reactivate 193 km of existing pipeline. The existing pipeline transports synthetic crude oil, and light crude oil with the capability to carry heavy crude oils. The new line, the TMEP, will carry heavier oils with the capability for transporting light crude oils .
So this will be two pipelines. Running side by side for almost 1000 km, the two pipelines will transport 890,000 barrels of oil a day under high pressure. Leaks and spills are inevitable.
So the project fails its environmental sustainability test. Miserably.
On the cultural side, the picture is clear. Most if not all of the First Nations that have territories across which the TMEP will pass are against it. In British Columbia, there have already been huge protests and demonstrations against the pipeline.
So that’s two strikes. That leaves the last criteria: the economic case.
The Kinder Morgan website states that “the project came about in response to requests from oil shippers to help them reach new markets…”.
So let’s be clear about this: the Trans Mountain Extension Pipeline is all about putting more money in the pockets of the oil companies and Kinder Morgan.
Is the way the ‘national interest’ is defined in Canada?
What about jobs? This is the fallback position of the oil companies when the risks to the environment become impossible for them to ignore. They claim that pipelines create jobs.
And they do.
But the labor statistics and data from numerous sources paint a different picture.
Take a look south of the border.
Last year’s Energy and Employment report from the US Department of Energy showed that in 2017 nearly 1 million Americans were working near- or full-time in the energy efficiency, solar, wind, and alternative energy sectors. This number of jobs is almost five times the current employment in the US fossil fuel electric industry-–which includes coal, gas and oil workers.
It’s the same in Canada—or it would be if provincial governments were not locked into a mindset that sees ‘energy’ as only oil, gas, and oil sands.
The irony is that Alberta has excellent solar energy resources. Back in the 1970s, the University of Calgary had lots of talented people looking into using solar energy. But it wasn’t the professors in the chemical or mechanical engineering departments: it was the architects. They understood the importance of using passive solar in building design and architecture in a climate where in winter it is extremely cold, but at the same time there is lots of sunshine.
The engineers weren’t interested: they were already bewitched by petroleum and the oil sands.
Canada has huge resources: minerals, water, land, hydropower, forests—and solar energy and wind power in abundance It’s a mistake to believe that solar energy is only cost-effective in more southern regions. Photovoltaics are now so inexpensive you just string more panels together until you get the output you need. The balance of systems costs stay the same; so do the ESS costs–the energy storage system.
So the idea that energy only comes from oil and gas, and that only the fossil fuel sector creates employment is nonsense.
The Alberta government is talking about de-risking the project. That’s a good one.
You cannot reduce the risk. You merely redistribute it among a different set of stakeholders. If Alberta takes on part of the risk and there is a major spill–like the Kalamazoo dilbit disaster which cost over a billion dollars to clean up—it’s the taxpayer that foots part of the bill.
So let’s recap:
The Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline is neither environmentally sound nor culturally acceptable—and it will not create significant full-time employment.
If the billion-dollar investment had been channeled into renewable energy and energy efficiency work, tens of thousands of young men and women in Alberta and British Columbia would have found full-time employment.
The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Extension pipeline is not in the national interest. It’s in the interest of the small group of people who will profit from the deal.
For more information:
 See Sean Kheraj’s article: The biggest oil pipeline spills in Canadian history, at http://activehistory.ca/2015/07/the-biggest-oil-pipeline-spills-in-canadian-history/
 See the Kinder Morgan website at https://www.kimdermorgan.com/pages/business/canada/tmep.aspx
 Kinder Morgan website cited above
 U.S. clean energy jobs surpass fossil fuel employment, accessed at : https://www.nrdc.org/experts/lara-ettenson/us-clean-energy-jobs-surpass-fossil-fuel-employment
 New price tag for Kalamazoo River oil spill cleanup: Enbridge says $1.21 billion. At: http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/11/2010_oil_spill_cost_enbridge_1.html