Kinder Morgan pause on pipeline expansion met with claims of victory and warnings of financial disaster

On April 8, Kinder Morgan Canada issued a lengthy statement declaring it was “suspending all non-essential activities and related spending on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project”

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      Environmental groups are cheering Kinder Morgan’s decision to pause spending on the expansion of a pipeline that runs from Alberta to British Columbia's coastal waters.

      “Clearly, investors have lost confidence in this project and are waking up to the reality that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline will never be built,” said energy and climate campaigner Sven Biggs quoted in a media release. “We have known for a while now that the opposition to this pipeline from Indigenous leadership, protesters, and the province of British Columbia is just too strong for it to ever to become a reality, and now even Kinder Morgan has had to admit that.”

      On April 8, Kinder Morgan Canada Ltd, a subsidiary of Texas-based Kinder Morgan Inc., issued a lengthy statement declaring it was “suspending all non-essential activities and related spending on the Trans Mountain Expansion Project”.

      For the first time, the company issued a deadline for progress.

      “If we cannot reach agreement by May 31st, it is difficult to conceive of any scenario in which we would proceed with the Project,” the statement reads.

      Mike Hudema, an Edmonton-based climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said it was evidence that activists’ efforts focused on Burnaby Mountain were producing results.

      “The writing is on the wall, and even Kinder Morgan can read it,” he said quoted in a media release. “Investors should note that the opposition to this project is strong, deep and gets bigger by the day. This announcement shows that this widespread opposition has reached critical mass. British Columbians' desire to protect clean water, safeguard the environment and stand behind Indigenous communities cannot be ignored or swept under the rug.”

      The environmental group Dogwood B.C. wrote on Twitter that pressure from activists would continue. "We will continue to stand strong to defend our communities from oil tanker expansion," the message there reads.

      Since a new phase of intensified protests began in March 2018, the RCMP has arrested more than 100 people for protesting against Kinder Morgan, including Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May and Burnaby South NDP MP Kennedy Stewart.

      Indigenous groups such as the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) have also taken part in the protests.

      They’ve also reacted positively to Kinder Morgan pausing most work on the pipeline’s expansion.

      "I'm greatly encouraged by this news," the UBCIC’s grand chief Stewart Phillip told CBC News. "In many ways I think this is the first time Kinder Morgan has appreciated the intensity and the reality of the broad-based and deeply entrenched opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project here in British Columbia."

      The project, which is largely funded by the Texas-based corporation Kinder Morgan Inc., involves twinning an oil pipeline that runs from Edmonton—where it receives diluted bitumen from the Alberta tarsands—to a port in Burnaby. Upon completion, it would triple the amount of bitumen transported to the Lower Mainland, increasing the number of oil tankers moving through Burrard Inlet from some 60 ships per year to more than 400.

      The possibility of such a significant increase in volume has raised concerns for oil spills in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet as well as along the pipe’s route through southern B.C.

      NDP MP Kennedy Stewart and Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May are among those who have been arrested for protesting Kinder Morgan's pipeline project.
      Green Party of Canada

      An April 8 statement attributed to B.C. premier John Horgan doesn’t celebrate Kinder Morgan’s decision but doesn’t express disappointment, either.

      "British Columbians expect their government to stand up for their interests and our coast, and to do everything we can to protect our land and waters, our coastal communities and our local economies,” Horgan said in a media release. "The federal process failed to consider B.C.'s interests and the risk to our province. We joined the federal challenge, started by others, to make that point."

      Pro-business groups described the development as a catastrophe of biblical proportions.

      “The implications here are seismic: if we can’t build this project it will show the world that government approvals and rule of law count for nothing in Canada—we can’t let this happen,” B.C. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Val Litwin said quoted in a media release.

      Perhaps the most dramatic reaction came from the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA). According to its media release, the entire “Canadian economy hangs on [the] future” of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline expansion.

      “ICBA is floored by today’s [April 8’s] news that Kinder Morgan is close to pulling the plug on this vital national project because of the interference of the B.C. Government,” it reads.

      ICBA president Chris Gardner is quoted there arguing that B.C.’s entire economy is under threat.

      “This decision will send a simple chilling message to businesses looking to start or expand major projects here—stay away from B.C. because you cannot rely on the government to honour its commitments or follow the law,” he said.

      Canada’s federal government appears to have immediately taken a position in support of Kinder Morgan.

      “Canada is a country of the rule of law, and the federal government will act in the national interest,” reads a statement issued the evening of April 8 on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Twitter account. “Access to world markets for Canadian resources is a core national interest. The Trans Mountain expansion will be built.”

      Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr responded by applying pressure on the B.C. government.

      “The Government of Canada calls on Premier Horgan and the B.C. government to end all threats of delay to the Trans Mountain expansion,” he said in a statement published on the ministry’s website. “His government's actions stand to harm the entire Canadian economy. At a time of great global trade uncertainty, the importance of Canada's role in the global energy market is bigger than individual projects and provinces.

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