Thursday, December 1, 2016

Liberal Dualism: Canadian Climate Leadership is at Odds with Ramping Up Fossil Fuels

The ruling federal Liberals have canceled one pipeline and approved two others. It is but the most recent example of Canada's one step forward two steps back approach to climate action.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has the laudable goal of wanting to be a climate champion and an economic leader. However, this balancing act is completely undermined when you add increased fossil fuel production to the equation. Canada was criticized at COP22 for expanding its fossil fuel production and now they have compounded the problem by adding a couple of pipelines to the mix.

Contradictory climate and energy policies

Canadian government energy and environmental policy is a checkerboard of seemingly opposing policy positions. The government announced a carbon tax then followed that up with a massive liquefied natural gas (LNG) project. To further illustrate the two faces of this government, they banned tanker traffic off the coast of northern BC while increasing traffic to the south. Most recently they rejected some pipelines while approving others.

Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change has indicated that she is working towards a nation-wide coal phase-out by 2030 and the National Energy Board is being overhauled. The announcement most welcomed by environmentalists was the news that the government has rejected Enbridge's 1,177-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline that would have carried oil from Bruderheim, Alta., to an export terminal in Kitimat, B.C..

However as with other recent federal announcements the victory was blunted by the approval of the $6.8-billion, 1,150-kilometre Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project that will ferry 890,000 barrels of oil from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.

This pipeline along with the approval of Line 3 will ferry a million barrels of oil a day to global markets. According to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency the new capacity will generate up 26 megatonnes of emissions annually when fully operational.


The duality of this government is further revealed in its contradictory ocean tanker policies. The Canadian government is investing in a $1.5-billion ocean protection plan to improve responses to tanker and fuel spills in the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans. But they are also increasing the need for such planning by expanding tanker traffic.

The government announced that it will ban crude oil tankers along B.C.'s North Coast, but further south the Kinder Morgan will increase tanker traffic from approximately five to 34 a month. A spill in this ecologically sensitive area will be devastating.

As reported by the Suzuki Foundation this pipeline will result in a seven fold Increase in tanker traffic and push the already fragile population of 80 resident orcas off of B.C.'s south coast to the brink of extinction. It will also Increase greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100 million tonnes each year and threaten the health of communities along B.C.'s coast. There have been some disastrous tanker oil spills and there is no reason to believe that this new tanker traffic will be any different.


The government announced that it has also approved Enbridge's 1,659-kilometre, $7.5-billion, Line 3 pipeline, that will ferry oil from a terminal near Hardisty, Alberta, through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin. This is the largest pipeline project that Enbridge has ever built. The NEB signed off on a new Line 3 in April, but with 89 conditions The pipeline will double the amount of oil transported by the pipeline to 760,000 barrels a day. This will mean that Enbridge's mainline system will collectively carry three million barrels a day into the US. The existing line has leaked many times and rather than focus on maintenance Enbridge is focusing on expanding the pipeline's capacity.

As stated by the Suzuki Foundation, "Oil spills will happen and research proves there is no technology to effectively clean them up." We know that these pipelines will leak, such spills are a statistical certainty for all fossil fuel pipelines.

All you need to do is look at the litany of oil spill in Alberta to see just how common spills are. We have seen 25 massive oil spills (over 1000 tons) in the last decade.  In 2015 alone there were dozens of spills.  Transporting fossil fuels poses a very real danger to the public. The repeated spills reveal the fossil fuel industry's soulless disregard for public safety.

New regulations

To address the serious environmental risks associated with an inevitable spill the government has announced a long list of federal requirements that are designed to act as safeguards. While these efforts may minimize the risk of an incident and maximize preparedness when such a spill occurs, it will not prevent a spill nor can it completely clean them up.

The NEB has a list of 157 conditions that must be met and BC has its list of five preconditions. The premiere of BC recently said that the federal government is "very close" to fulfilling their preconditions. Alberta says it plans to cap greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the oil patch at 100 megatonnes a year.

Government's logic

Prime Minister Trudeau argued that pipelines have lower emissions profiles, are less dangerous and less expansive than rail transport in tanker cars. As reported by the CBC, Trudeau said

"The decision we took today is the one that is in the best interests of Canada...It is a major win for Canadian workers, for Canadian families and the Canadian economy, now and into the future."

The logic for supporting the pipelines comes down to jobs and revenue. According to Kinder Morgan 15,000 jobs will be created during construction, and a further 37,000 direct and indirect jobs will be added when the project is operational. The pipelines will generate $46.7 billion for all levels of government over the next 2 decades.

However many have criticized this logic in Patrick DeRochie, the director of Environmental Defence:

"The approvals raise grave doubts how these and additional pipelines, including Keystone XL and Energy East, can fit with Canada's commitment to the Paris climate agreement," And Media Placeholder added, "much bigger cuts in other emission sources must be made to compensate for more oil-based emissions."

The fight continues

Protests will continue and so will legal challenges. The Kinder Morgan project threatens a BC First Nation near the project's route, other First Nations, including 39 in BC and Alberta, have signed "mutual benefit agreements" with Kinder Morgan who also claims it has reached agreements with First Nations communities where the pipeline crosses a reserve. Nonetheless, with only one third of First Nations approving the pipeline other First Nations say they are ready for a long battle to stop the pipeline.

Mike Hudema, a campaigner for Greenpeace, said in a recent statement:
"Apparently Justin Trudeau's sunny ways mean dark days ahead for climate action and Indigenous reconciliation in Canada. With this announcement, Prime Minister Trudeau has broken his climate commitments, broken his commitments to Indigenous rights, and has declared war on B.C.,". Media placeholder added "If Prime Minister Trudeau wanted to bring Standing Rock-like protests to Canada, he succeeded."
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said she would be "willing to go to jail" to stop the Kinder Morgan. More court challenges are also expected. As reported by the CBC, "There have already been 11 judicial reviews launched over the NEB review, and more court challenges are expected in the coming days."

Take away

The damage to our climate, our water, our land and our air far outweigh the jobs and revenues associated with pipeline projects.

The election of the Liberal party offered hope and signaled the dawn of a new day for climate action in Canada. The Liberals were a major improvement over the Conservatives on energy and environmental matters. The party's commitment to climate action was reiterated in a throne speech and in a mandate letter to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. Shortly after coming to power the Liberals reversed the policies of their Conservative predecessors and showed climate leadership at COP21. They also unmuzzled scientists. They have improved the nation's climate and energy policy and along with provincial leaders Canada is making significant progress on crafting a nationwide renewable energy policy.

The decision to move forward with the pipelines has disappointed may Liberal supporters as it breaks Trudeau's campaign promises. The Liberals appear to be oblivious to the fact that you cannot simultaneously claim to be a climate leader while increasing your production of fossil fuels.

Trudeau campaigned on a climate action platform and while he and his government have made some bold moves to combat climate change he has also significantly increased fossil fuel infrastructure.

Just as pipelines consistently spill, politicians consistently make promises they can't keep.

The Energy East Pipeline is as Good as Dead
The Dakota Access and Protest that Kills Pipelines
Enbridge: If We Can't Build Pipelines we Will Buy Them
Two Down and Two to Go: Half of Canada's Proposed Tar Sands Pipelines Stymied

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