Published: Mon, January 20, 2020
Global News | By Blake Casey

Ottawa to avoid selling Trans Mountain pipeline so long as risks remain

Ottawa to avoid selling Trans Mountain pipeline so long as risks remain

In a blow to the NDP government and environmental activists, the highest court in the country has dismissed the province's attempt to regulate heavy oil flowing through B.C.

The decision removed one of the remaining obstacles to the Trans Mountain expansion, which would double an existing pipeline between Edmonton and Burnaby.

No reasons were provided, as the court said only that the case was dismissed.

At various points throughout the day, the justices seemed to fluster lawyers intervening in the case by interrupting their arguments with pointed questions about the constitution, divisions of powers between provinces and the federal government and the intent of the B.C. reference case. When the Horgan government announced in 2017 that it would implement new environmental regulations that would allow the B.C. government to essentially freeze the volume of diluted bitumen that flows from Alberta through B.C., it resulted in a brief trade war, with Alberta boycotting B.C. wine imports. The province had then taken it to the Supreme Court.

"Caring about our land and water and our economy and the impacts of potential spills of not just bitumen but also potentially other substances that the province would want to regulate is critically important, and we'll certainly be doing what we can within our jurisdiction to protect our economy and our environment", David Eby said. The court also found while B.C. The attempt to present the legislation as a general change in environmental laws clearly aimed at expanding Trans Mountain, as this was the only project for which the changes would apply. Majority were part of the first successful challenge that halted construction in 2018 and argued in a December hearing that the second round of consultations was a smoke screen made by a federal government intending to re-approve the project.

Pipes in a Trans Mountain facility in Hope, B.C.

Though construction is underway, other barriers to the project include a legal dispute on the federal level from Indigenous communities who feel they were not properly consulted before the project's approval.

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The expansion, which would boost daily shipping capacity by 590,000 barrels to a total of 890,000 barrels, would be a boon for Canadian oil drillers that have suffered from a lack of pipeline space, a bottleneck that has weighed on local crude prices.

Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan welcomed the ruling, saying it is a core responsibility of the federal government to help get resources to market and support good, middle-class jobs. The Trudeau government salvaged the expansion project by buying the existing Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion, and agreeing to undertake the expansion, which is expected to cost $7.4 to $9.3 billion.

The B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in May 2019 that it could not, noting that would overstep the constitutional authority given to Ottawa.

A separate Federal Court of Appeals case on the project, which considers Indigenous issues, is still pending.

It intends to sell it back to the private sector after the expansion is complete.

Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney promptly contacted Twitter to thank Thursday's court decision. Kinder Morgan Canada said the political risk that the project would never get built was too much to bear and was planning to halt the expansion.

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