The Canada Energy Regulator has decided to grant a request by the operator of the Trans Mountain pipeline to protect the identity of its insurers in its regulatory filings.
In a ruling yesterday, the federal regulator says it accepts Trans Mountain’s argument that identifying its insurers could be expected to make it harder to get insurance at a reasonable price and prejudice its competitive position, The Canadian Press reports.
It says the decision applies only to the existing pipeline, not its expansion project now under construction, and says the decision is consistent with other requests from other companies for confidential treatment of insurance information.
After Trans Mountain made its request earlier this year, two insurance industry veterans said the Crown corporation responsible for running the pipeline and building the expansion project was diverting attention from its own shoddy safety culture by blaming campaigners for its rising insurance premiums, while trying to conceal information on its operations that properly belongs in the public domain. On top of a general tightening of insurance markets driven partly by climate risk, “a 68-year-old pipeline is a huge insurance risk,” and “it’s only getting older every year,” Robyn Allan, an independent economist and former president and CEO of the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia, told The Energy Mix at the time.
After a series of workplace accidents forced the company to shut down construction operations for a couple of months of retraining, she added, “you’ve got this situation where Trans Mountain is showing that they’re a huge safety risk, and any insurer would be worried about that.”
While Trans Mountain is within its rights to hold back proprietary contractual details that “would normally be considered private commercial activities,” said Angus Ross, a mostly retired reinsurance executive and former member of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, “I think it will probably be in the public interest to put those names out there,” because businesses and investors will want the information.
CER’s ruling means the regulator “is expanding Trans Mountain’s culture of secrecy when it should be doing the opposite, especially for a government-owned company during a climate crisis,” said Charlene Aleck, spokesperson for Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust Initiative, in a release issued by Insure Our Future. “By making the certificate of insurance confidential and removing a layer of transparency, the CER has reduced the options for Tsleil-Waututh Nation to assert our inherent and constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights and fulfill our sacred obligation to protect and steward our territory.”
In the ruling, CP reports, the regulator says 30 letters were received during a comment period in March, with 17 opposed to granting Trans Mountain’s request and 13 in favour.
One of the letters, from Green MP Elizabeth May, argues Canada should never have bought the pipeline but that as a wholly publicly-owned enterprise it has an obligation for transparency. “Citizens of this country have a right to know who our insurer is,” she said.
Trans Mountain said it saw a significant reduction in available insurance capacity in 2020 and, when it found partial replacement policies, it had to pay a significantly higher cost. Its CER request in February came days after Indigenous youth in Vancouver blocked the entrances of buildings housing insurance companies to demand they stop insuring the pipeline.
“These insurers can’t hide,” said Kanahus Manuel, a Secwepemc and Ktunaxa land defender with the Tiny House Warriors, in the Insure Our Future release. “Any company that refuses to rule out insuring tar sands extraction and pipeline projects is complicit in Indigenous rights violations.”
The main body of this report was first published by The Canadian Press April 29, 2021.