Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved one controversial pipeline from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast, but rejected another. He on Tuesday approved Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline to Burnaby, British Columbia, but rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, BC.
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These are the first major pipeline decisions for Trudeau, whose Liberal government is trying to balance the oil industry’s desire to tap new markets in Asia with environmentalists’ concerns.
“The project will triple our capacity to get Canadian energy resources to international markets beyond the United States,” Trudeau said at an Ottawa news conference.
“We took this decision today because we believe it is in the best interests of Canada.” He added that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion “meets the strictest of environmental standards.”
Alberta, which has the world’s third largest oil reserves, needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. Approving Trans Mountain helps diversify Canada’s oil exports. Ninety-seven percent of Canadian oil exports now go to the US.
“We are getting a chance to sell to China and other new markets at better prices,” Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said. “And we’re getting a chance to reduce our dependence on one market and therefore be more economically independent.”
Houston-based Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to Vancouver Harbour in Burnaby will increase the capacity of an existing pipeline from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day.
But there remains opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, the birthplace of the Greenpeace environmental movement. There is no guarantee it will get built despite Trudeau’s approval as it faces strong opposition from environmentalists and indigenous leaders Vancouver, BC.
Mayor Gregor Robertson said he was profoundly disappointed by Trudeau’s decision and said it would bring seven times the number of oil tankers to Vancouver’s waters.
Interim federal opposition Conservative leader Rona Ambrose said she supports the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, but doubts it will be built because of the opposition.
Trudeau rejected the Northern Gateway project to northwest British Columbia which passes through the Great Bear Rainforest. Northern Gateway would have transported 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific to deliver oil to Asia, mainly energy-hungry China.
About 220 large oil tankers a year would have visited the Pacific coast town of Kitimat. The fear of oil spills is especially acute in the pristine corner of northwest British Columbia, with its snowcapped mountains and deep ocean inlets. Canadians living there still remember the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off an Alaska export hub. 1989.