A list of more than 100 Canadian economists and resource policy specialists that includes a former CEO of BC Hydro and Ontario Hydro is urging the federal government to reassess the viability of the Trans Mountain expansion project in light of rising project costs and plummeting oil demand, while a group of campaigners in British Columbia takes a victory lap for slowing down construction of the controversial pipeline.
“It is more important than ever that the government complete a benefit-cost study to assess the impact of these recent changes on the viability of Trans Mountain before putting any more taxpayer money at risk,” said former utility executive Mark Eliesen, in a release circulated yesterday by Simon Fraser University professor Thomas Gunton. “The project is still in its early stages and it is not too late to reassess the prudence of spending billions more.”
“At the same time that oil markets are weakening, and the private sector is cutting investment, your government is increasing investments in the oil sector by continuing construction of the Trans Mountain Expansion Project,” the group adds in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Environment and Climate Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, and Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan. “The cost of the project has more than doubled to C$12.6 billion, and the tolls approved by the Canadian Energy Regulator have not been adjusted to cover this higher capital cost. The taxpayer will therefore end up subsidizing a large proportion of the cost overruns.”
“Given the government’s climate change commitments, we expect the upcoming Throne Speech to focus on a green recovery strategy,” said Gunton, director of Simon Fraser’s Resource and Environmental Planning Program. “Investing $12.6 billion of taxpayer funds into a high-risk project when the private sector is cutting investments in oil projects does not make a lot of sense.”
While the federal Crown corporation behind Trans Mountain claims the project is on schedule, Gunton’s release says only about 62 kilometres of pipe, about 5% of the total along the 1,180-kilometre route, have been laid, meaning that “billions of dollars have yet to be spent and could be reallocated.”
A day before the letter was released, campaigners in Burnaby, B.C. said they had successfully pushed Trans Mountain’s completion date back to 2023, citing a sworn affidavit the pipeline builder filed with a court in May, CBC reports.
Renowned “tree-sitter”, public health researcher, and retired physician Tim Takaro recalled Trans Mountain’s claim at the time “that it needed to start construction in several areas around the Lower Mainland by September 15—including near Holmes Creek in Burnaby—in order to meet its deadline of being operational by December 2022,” CBC writes. “Takaro and others have been camping in and around trees near the creek that are slated to be felled to make way for the pipeline, but to date no work has begun.”
“This is the first place Trans Mountain has tried to work outside their fence in the Lower Mainland, and we’ve already set them back,” he said. Which means the statement in the affidavit and Trans Mountain CEO Ian Anderson’s claim that the project is advancing as expected can’t both be true.
“Either they were lying back in May, or they’re lying now, or maybe both,” Takaro told CBC.
The national broadcaster says Trans Mountain’s latest construction plan filed with the Canada Energy Regulator calls for no construction work on B.C.’s Lower Mainland until November, nor in the Holmes Creek area until 2021. Takaro called that a “tactical retreat”, adding that protesters are winterizing their cabins and laying plans to hold their position in Holmes Creek for another two years.