Climate concerns are seen as increasingly likely to drive a spike into TransCanada Corporation’s proposal to build the Energy East diluted bitumen pipeline from Alberta to Canada’s Atlantic coast.
The National Energy Board confirmed last week that it will consider both upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions as it relaunches its review of the controversial pipeline. The Board’s first assessment of the proposed C$16-billion, 4,500-kilometre line ended in fiasco with the resignation of the review panel after it was revealed its members had improperly met with a lobbyist for the pipeline.
The decision to consider the environmental impact of burning the crude oil the pipeline would transport is consistent with the Liberal government’s direction. But it reverses a position the Board had maintained under the former Conservative government, for which it was heavily criticized in its approval last year of another pipeline proposal: U.S.-owned Kinder Morgan’s expansion of its Trans Mountain line from Alberta to Vancouver.
Now, however, both pro- and anti-pipeline voices say adding the new test to the NEB’s review may be more than the Energy East proposal can withstand.
“The politically savvy have been saying for a while that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wants the Alberta-to-New Brunswick project gone,” Alberta-based business columnist Claudia Cattaneo writes in the corporate-aligned Financial Post. Cattaneo cast the climate impact test as a political “fix” against the pipeline’s possible approval.
Agreed Steven Guilbeault, co-founder of Montreal’s Équiterre environmental group, in a statement to the National Observer: “If the NEB does what they say they’re going to do with any measure of rigour, this project is dead.”
But while Cattaneo and others frame the possible failure of TransCanada’s plans as a mortal wound to the country’s oil and gas industry and, even more dubiously, to national prosperity, their judgement simply confirms the view of industry critics that delivering more fossil energy to global markets is incompatible with Canada’s international climate commitments.
A U.S. court this month sent a proposal for a regional pipeline back to that country’s equivalent of the NEB, until a similar assessment of its climate impact can be done.
Meanwhile, the NEB reminded Kinder Morgan last week that it may not begin work on any part of the expansion of its western pipeline until it completely meets all 49 conditions that the board attached to its approval of planned modifications to the line’s Vancouver terminal. So far, 22 of those conditions remain unmet.