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Update I: Alberta

Albertans are expressing a pressing sense of urgency that a timely decision be made about the proposed twinning of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. Equally, however, most presenters speaking at the first three days of meetings with the Ministerial Panel on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion agreed that all voices should be heard and all relevant interests and issues canvassed fairly before the federal government commits itself on this complex and important question.

The Panel was created in May, 2016 by Minister of Natural Resources Jim Carr to identify gaps or omissions in the National Energy Board (NEB) process considering the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline to accommodate the shipping of diluted bitumen from Edmonton, Alberta to Burnaby, B.C. Minister Carr particularly requested that the three panelists engage with communities and Indigenous groups affected by the project and review all material that interested parties submit in person and online.

The TMX Panel conducted an opening round of public meetings in Calgary, Edmonton and Jasper, Alberta, on July 7, 8 and 9, with crowds ranging from a handful in Jasper to nearly 100 at the largest of three meetings in Edmonton. A total of 84 Albertans made presentations, and the report that follows is a high-level look at some of the issues they raised and some themes that may resonate as the Panel moves to other communities.

In general, a significant majority of Alberta presenters said they are proud of their biggest industry and especially proud of the environmental and social standards that prevail in their province. At the same time, many presenters posted concerns about the potential impact of the TMX project on First Nations and other communities and on the environment, locally and globally. Participants frequently registered their gratitude at having this opportunity to provide additional input, even as they expressed their eagerness to have a decision as soon as possible.

To that question (the timing of the ultimate decision), a frequent observation – sometimes couched as criticism – is that the Panel process has been rushed and that it lacks the formal structure that people expect from a federal review. These observations are accurate, but speak to issues that are partly inevitable and partly intentional.

Given the work and expense that went into the National Energy Board process, the federal government has a responsibility – to the proponent, to First Nations and to others who may be directly affected by the TMX project – to resolve the issue in a timely way. Accordingly, the Government has undertaken to deliver a final decision in December. At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has directed:

  • a further commitment to ongoing direct consultations with First Nations;
  • a review of upstream greenhouse gas emissions, to be conducted by Environment Canada; and
  • a large public engagement to be completed by the TMX Panel.

The latter is a considerable responsibility; with a November 1, 2016 deadline for a final report, it was necessary that the Panel set to work quickly.

As to the informal structure, the TMX Panel is not a statutory body. It is not mandated to call testimony or to issue formal recommendations. Rather, the three panelists have been asked to engage and to listen – to identify and bring to the Minister’s attention any issues that might have been missed in other processes. The Panel is operating on the assumption that the most effective way to achieve this goal is to limit roadblocks to participation and to keep the conversation as casual as the circumstances allow.

The Panel will continue to invite input from parties with a specific interest (such as First Nations) and will welcome members of the public to every open session – counting upon the public’s cooperation in maintaining order and in trying to hear from as many people as possible.

Those who prefer not to speak in public or who are unable to attend a public session are invited to fill out the questionnaire  and add any additional comments that you may have.

In reviewing the first week of public meetings – in Calgary, Edmonton and Jasper – six major themes emerged (N.B., these are grouped for ease of presentation, NOT in order of importance):

Economic Impacts – Presenters spoke to the costs and opportunities in jobs and economic potential associated with approving or rejecting pipeline construction.

Environmental Impacts – Presenters spoke generally to pipeline risks, on land and sea, and asked how a pipeline project might fit into provincial and federal climate change strategies.

Single Buyer Discount – Many Alberta presenters were concerned about the implications of having a single (U.S.) market for Canadian oil exports, arguing that Canada might be better able to demand a world price if it could deliver oil to tidewater.

Right Product? Right Route? – Among those who opposed the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, most in Alberta objected to the shipping of diluted bitumen (as opposed to upgraded crude oil) and to the terminal being located in the Vancouver harbor. Some suggested that the pipeline should be diverted from the Lower Mainland to the Cherry Point marine terminal in Washington State, to avoid dense populations on land and congested waterways at sea.

First Nations Impacts – First Nations raised many specific concerns about the quality and nature of consultation, saying that the National Energy Board processes have not met the high standards to which the federal government says it is now committed. First Nations also pointed out that their interests are economic as well as environmental, and that they are dealing with impacts that are cumulative.

The Public Interest – The National Energy Board recommended approval of the TMX project (with 157 conditions) on the basis that it found the project to be “in the public interest.” But the NEB offered no definition of that term. The panel was interested to hear significant early discussion about industry and public conceptions of the “public interest” or the “national interest.”


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