Aerial view of TransMountain pipeline construction in British Columbia
A bird's eye view of pipeline construction near Herrling Island, in the Rosedale area, between Bridal Falls and Laidlaw. TransCanada (Highway 1) is the roadway to the left. (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Befit­ting its nick­name of “the Great White North,” Cana­da has long been addict­ed to megapro­jects: huge hydro­elec­tric devel­op­ments in north­ern Que­bec, oil­fields in Alber­ta, off­shore drilling in rough waters near New­found­land, plus petro pipelines.

A mega-pipeline is cur­rent­ly under con­struc­tion in British Colum­bia, which will have poten­tial impacts on both sides of the 49th Par­al­lel. The 1,150-kilometer Trans­Moun­tain pipeline expan­sion will car­ry oil from Edmon­ton, Alber­ta through British Colum­bia to tankers in Burn­a­by, just east of Van­cou­ver. The project will triple pipeline capac­i­ty from 300,000 bar­rels a day to 890,000 barrels.

The pipeline route plows through Jasper Nation­al Park and Mount Rob­son Provin­cial Park, heads south down the Thomp­son Riv­er and Coqui­hal­la Rivers and even­tu­al­ly through the Fras­er Riv­er val­ley into B.C.’s pop­u­lous Low­er Mainland.

Andrew Vil­leneuve, NPI’s founder, wit­nessed the con­struc­tion while enroute to the Cana­di­an Rock­ies ear­li­er this month, and deliv­ered this observation:

View of the entrance to a TransMountain construction site
A Trans­Moun­tain con­struc­tion site entrance near Her­rling Island, in the Rosedale area. The first sign reads: “Trans Moun­tain Prop­er­ty — Any per­son who obstructs access to this site is in breach of an injunc­tion and may be sub­ject to imme­di­ate arrest and pros­e­cu­tion.” (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

“All along the high­ways of low­er British Colum­bia is evi­dence of Trans­Moun­tain Pipeline con­struc­tion. Felled trees, ugly bald hill­sides, pipeline sec­tions, rum­bling trucks, grav­el dri­ve­ways, orange cones… The beau­ty of my June 12th trip from Chill­i­wack to Hope and then up to Mer­ritt was spoiled by this ugli­ness and what it portends.”

What does it portend?

The oil is not for burn­ing in British Colum­bia, Cana­da or the North­west. It will be pumped onto tankers and shipped most­ly to Asia. The pipeline will mean a sev­en-fold increase in tanker traf­fic in and out of the pipeline terminus.

While our founder received an eye-lev­el view, I recent­ly had an ele­vat­ed per­spec­tive on poten­tial pipeline impacts.

A destroyed hillside near Hope, British Columbia
Evi­dence of pipeline con­struc­tion near Hope, British Colum­bia: A destroyed hill­side vis­i­ble from TransCanada/Highway 1 (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The view from Deer Park, in Olympic Nation­al Park, looks down a ver­ti­cal mile to waters of the Sal­ish Sea. The oil-laden tankers from TransMountain’s new oil port will head out through Bur­rard Inlet and Eng­lish Bay, and down through Haro Strait: The strait is bound­ary between our San Juans Islands and Canada’s Gulf Islands. The ships would then exit out the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The tankers will tra­verse the migra­tion routes of great sock­eye salmon runs that head up the Fras­er Riv­er to spawn in the Adams, Quesne, and Stu­art Riv­er sys­tems. They will trav­el past both U.S. (Olympic) and Cana­di­an (Pacif­ic Rim and Gulf Islands) nation­al parks, as well as nation­al mon­u­ments, state parks and provin­cial parks. The Sal­ish Sea is home to our crit­i­cal­ly endan­gered south­ern res­i­dent orca whales, as well a world-famous recre­ation destination.

Any oil spill, spread by pow­er­ful cur­rents, would be catastrophic.

A 231,000-gallon bunker oil spill in Decem­ber, 1988, off Ocean Shores, fouled beach­es in Olympic Nation­al Park with cur­rents car­ry­ing oil north to Long Beach in Pacif­ic Nation­al Park. Aware of poten­tial dan­ger, both then‑B.C. Pre­mier John Hor­gan and Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee opposed TransMountain.

But B.C.’s legal appeals were rebuffed by Canada’s Supreme Court.

Another hillside destroyed by pipeline construction
Anoth­er hill­side destroyed by pipeline con­struc­tion, locat­ed between Hope and Mer­ritt on the Coqui­hal­la High­way (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The wider impli­ca­tions go far beyond sen­si­tive marine waters of the Sal­ish Sea. Con­sid­er these words from Envi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Change Cana­da, an agency of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment: “Cana­da is warm­ing at twice the glob­al aver­age rate and at three times the rate, in the north.”

Cli­mate dam­age has lit­er­al­ly come to the doorstep of Canada’s car­bon econ­o­my. The main pro­duc­er of bitu­men crude oil car­ried by Trans­Moun­tain is the “oil patch” near Fort McMur­ray. North­ern Alber­ta has expe­ri­enced droughts and heat waves in recent years, gen­er­at­ing record wildfires.

A 1.5 mil­lion-acre fire in 2016 destroyed 2,400 hous­es and build­ings, forc­ing 88,000 peo­ple in and near Fort McMur­ray to flee their homes, the largest evac­u­a­tion in Cana­di­an his­to­ry. As of June 23rd, fires this year have con­sumed a half-mil­lion acres in the Fort McMur­ray for­est area.

Glob­al warm­ing has inten­si­fied storms off the Earth’s oceans. A record flow of “atmos­pher­ic rivers” came ashore off the Pacif­ic Ocean in Novem­ber of 2021, and trav­eled the route Andrew took this month. The low­er Fras­er Val­ley was iso­lat­ed. The Coqui­hal­la high­way was rup­tured near Mer­ritt. And for a time, Greater Van­cou­ver was cut off by land from the rest of Canada.

Pipeline segments near Hope, British Columbia
Seg­ments of pipeline sit in a Trans­Moun­tain stag­ing loca­tion near Hope, British Colum­bia (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

In words of Marc Lee, senior econ­o­mist with the Cana­di­an Cen­ter for Pol­i­cy Alter­na­tives, “TMX would facil­i­tate about 84 mil­lion (met­ric) tonnes per year of CO2 emis­sions (upstream and export­ed). At $200 per tonne, that’s $16.8 bil­lion (Cana­di­an) annu­al­ly in future dam­ages, mean­ing by every year TMX is in ser­vice, it could deliv­er a blow rough­ly equiv­a­lent to the $17 bil­lion in dam­age B.C. expe­ri­enced in 2021 due to extreme weather.

“The 84 mil­lion tonnes is sub­stan­tial­ly larg­er than B.C.’s cur­rent green­house gas emis­sions and equiv­a­lent to 11 per­cent of Canada’s annu­al emissions.”

“The catch? Most of those emis­sions will be in oth­er coun­tries, not con­nect­ed in Canada’s green­house gas inventory.”

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau is imple­ment­ing a con­tro­ver­sial pol­lu­tion tax, and has com­mit­ted to devel­op­ing what he calls a low car­bon econ­o­my for Canada.

At the same time, Trudeau is the chief polit­i­cal archi­tect of Trans­Moun­tain expan­sion. The Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment paid $4.5 bil­lion CAD (CAD = Cana­di­an Dol­lars) to pur­chase the pipeline in 2018 from Kinder Mor­gan when the Hous­ton-based firm was threat­en­ing to pull the plug on the project. The expan­sion was once pro­ject­ed to cost $7 bil­lion CAD to com­plete, but cost esti­mates soared to $21.9 bil­lion CAD in 2022 and have now reached $30 bil­lion CAD.

As sad­ly often hap­pens around the globe, near-term polit­i­cal and geopo­lit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions have tak­en prece­dent over pro­tect­ing the Earth.

The cur­rent prime min­is­ter and his father, the late Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau, have nev­er been pop­u­lar in West­ern Cana­da. The gov­ern­ing Lib­er­al Par­ty holds only two seats from Alber­ta in Canada’s House of Com­mons in Ottawa.

Trans­Moun­tain will guar­an­tee a glob­al mar­ket for Cana­di­an oil, par­tic­u­lar­ly now that Amer­i­can Pres­i­dents Oba­ma and Biden have forced the can­cel­la­tion of the Key­stone XL Pipeline. Hence, the project has been deemed in “Canada’s inter­ests” despite its envi­ron­men­tal impacts and cli­mate costs.

Wide angle view of a TransMountain construction site
Panoram­ic wide angle view of a Trans­Moun­tain con­struc­tion site near Her­rling Island, in the Rosedale area, between Bridal Falls and Laid­law. (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

The pipeline project is a holy grail in Alber­ta, the Wil­drose province, whose then-pre­mier threat­ened the B.C. gov­ern­ment with trade retaliation.

Trudeau has pre­vi­ous­ly argued that the pipeline gen­er­ates jobs, and that prof­its from Trans­Moun­tain will help pay for Canada’s tran­si­tion to a green, low pol­lu­tion econ­o­my. Yet, a report pub­lished only a few days ago by the Par­lia­men­tary Bud­get Offi­cer said the Cana­di­an government’s 2018 deci­sion “to acquire, expand, oper­ate, and even­tu­al­ly divest of the Trans­Moun­tain assets will result in a net loss for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.” The bot­tom line: “Trans­Moun­tain no longer con­tin­ues to be a prof­itable undertaking.”

In pre-Pleis­tocene times, giant wool­ly Mam­moths roamed the Great White North, but were ren­dered extinct by changes to the cli­mate and hunt­ing by ear­ly humans. With the Trans­Moun­tain expan­sion, today’s Cana­di­an gov­ern­ment may bring into being a new species of white ele­phant.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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2 replies on “Canada’s TransMountain pipeline expansion: A hideous crime against the climate”

  1. The tox­ic bitu­men has to be stopped at the BC/AB bor­der. Google and read, “Kala­ma­zoo Riv­er oil spill — Wikipedia.” What hap­pened to the Kala­ma­zoo Riv­er, we can­not let hap­pen to the Fras­er Riv­er. A tox­ic bitu­men spill into the Fras­er Riv­er will kill most of BC’s sport and com­mer­cial salmon industries.

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