By Kenneth Green
In the wake of last month’s B.C. provincial election, which produced no clear winner, the NDP and Green Party have agreed to unite with an eye on forming the next government, raising serious questions about future energy policy in British Columbia.
During the campaign, the two parties were considerably more stringent on both energy and climate change than the incumbent BC Liberals. A key element of the Green/NDP coalition is their opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline, which was approved by the federal government last November after a review process that lasted nearly five years and imposed 157 additional requirements on the project. The new coalition pledged to use “every tool available” to stop the pipeline, including preventing additional tanker traffic off the coast of B.C.
In response, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley have expressed, in no uncertain terms, that they expect this pipeline to be built. The prime minister noted several relevant facts while maintaining his support.
First, he recognized that the pipeline project was rigorously assessed by the National Energy Board and that elections do not change the past. “Regardless of the change in government in British Columbia or anywhere,” he said, “the facts and evidence do not change.”
Premier Notley made two important observations about the pipeline, first noting that provinces do not have the right to negate projects that have received federal approval. And that providing such provincial rights would damage Canada’s overall national interest.
But there’s still another reason why the Kinder Morgan pipeline (and several other proposed pipelines) should be approved: to protect human health and the environment.
In 2015, the Fraser Institute analyzed data from the Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada, to assess the relative safety of moving oil by pipeline versus moving that same quantity by rail. The researchers found that while both modes of transport are overwhelmingly safe, delivering more than 99 percent of product to market without accident, pipelines were somewhat safer than rail.
Specifically, pipelines were found to be 4.5 times less likely to have an accident or incident than rail transport. Moreover, 70 percent of pipeline spills are tiny, releasing less than one cubic meter of oil. And pipeline spills mostly occur at facilities—in fact, only 17 percent of pipeline occurrences took place in the actual line pipe.
As for tankers off B.C., the Fraser Institute noted in a separate study (update pending) that tanker safety has vastly improved while oil shipped by tanker has increased markedly. There has been no major oil spill in Canadian waters in 20 years.
While all transport modes are needed and will continue to be used, the decision about which mode to use (after accounting for safety) should be more about economics and less about NIMBYism or environmental superstition. Pipelines aren’t only safer for moving oil; they’re cheaper—up to three times cheaper. Other studies have shown moving oil by pipeline is also safer for people—less workers are injured when moving a given quantity of oil by pipeline than by rail.
Whether you agree or disagree with their climate policies, you have to respect Prime Minister Trudeau’s and Premier Notley’s firm resolve in advancing this pipeline project, particularly in the face of strong opposition from their side of the political spectrum.
Of course, they not only should, but both have to stake their reputations—at home and internationally—on the idea that Canada’s implementation of stringent greenhouse gas policies would allow the building of pipelines and Canada’s oil resources to capture full value on hungry markets outside of the glutted U.S.
If nothing else, for the sake of showing the world (and its investors) that Canada can still manage to build vital national infrastructure, the PM and Premier should stay the course.
Kenneth Green is senior director of the Centre for Natural Resource Studies at the Fraser Institute.