‘If it has to get ugly, it will get ugly’: Opponents of Trans Mountain get set to continue fight against pipeline

Opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project say they’re preparing for a prolonged battle on the land and water that they hope will remain non-violent but that could lead to clashes with police, said Will George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation.

“For the longest time, I’ve been from my elders under strict orders to do this in a peaceful way,” he said told the Canadian Press Wednesday. “Personally, I’m fed up. If it has to get ugly, it will get ugly.”

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation, Squamish Nation, Coldwater Indian Band and a coalition of seven Stó:lō villages filed court challenges after the federal government approved the project a second time last June.

These communities that oppose the project, including the B.C. government, suffered a legal blow at the Federal Court of Appeal when the panel ruled unanimously that Canada’s decision to ok the expansion was reasonable.

But the legal process is not yet over. The Tsleil-Waututh have sought leave to appeal a September ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada and the four groups also have 60 days to file leave in the latest decision.

If the high court declines to hear the cases, opponents will have few avenues left to stall construction other than civil disobedience.

Trans Mountain Corp. also faces some regulatory hurdles, including that most of the detailed pipeline route has not yet been approved in southern British Columbia.

George, whose previous actions against the project include interrupting speeches by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and being arrested for rappelling off a bridge.

There are no specific new demonstrations to announce yet, but he said he said expects more protesters to gather at existing sites in B.C. including a “watch house” outside a shipping terminal in Burnaby and a collection of tiny homes in the Interior.

Squamish Nation Coun. Khelsilem said there are several groups that continue to mobilize to stop the project including one that put out a call for B.C. residents who would be willing to face arrest.

“This whole legal battle has put a halt onto what otherwise would have been a confrontation much sooner. It’s delayed it in some ways. It depends on where the court battles continue,” he said.

“But I think at the end of the day there are a number of people who are willing to do a lot to defend this coast.”

Khelsilem noted B.C. has a long history of civil disobedience. More than 200 people were arrested at protests in Burnaby in spring of 2018, including Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and Kennedy Stewart, who was elected Vancouver mayor later that year.

Bev Manuel, who is part of a group called the Tiny House Warriors, said a handful of small homes have been built along the pipeline construction route in an effort to protect unceded Secwepemc territory in Blue River, B.C.

“We’ll do what we have to do to deter them,” she said, adding they have plans to build three additional homes and expect more opponents to join them in the coming weeks and months.

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion cost jumps 70 per cent to $12.6 billion

Trans Mountain

Delays and design changes have driven the cost to build the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion up by about 70 per cent to $12.6 billion from the $7.4 billion estimate made three years ago, the company says.

The project has cost about $2.5 billion to date, including the impact of delays and additional regulatory processes, leaving an additional $8.4 billion needed to complete construction, plus $1.7 billion of financial carrying costs, said president and CEO Ian Anderson on a conference call on Friday.

He said the project owned by the federal government is now expected to be in service by December 2022.

“It’s really important to know that the project that we’re all working on and building today is not the project that we originally envisioned and introduced early in 2012,” he said.

“Nor is it the one we last provided a cost estimate for in early 2017. It isn’t even the one we envisioned as early as 2018 when our ownership changed. It’s much, much more today.”

About half of the higher cost was caused by delays and the other half by scope changes such as adding thicker pipe in some areas and enhanced leak detection provisions, he said.

Anderson says the company is recommending that Ottawa, as owner and lender, set aside a further $600 million reserve for cost impacts beyond the control of Trans Mountain.

The estimate of $7.4 billion was made in 2017 by the previous owner, Houston-based Kinder Morgan, Inc., which sold the expansion project and existing pipeline to the federal government in 2018 for $4.5 billion amid doubts that it could be built in the face of opposition from the province of B.C.

Opponents have attacked the greenhouse gas emission and oil spill risks of the pipeline project but they’ve also charged it will be a money-loser trying to tap unproved markets in Asia and that it will fail financially and leave the public holding the bag.

The total cost of more than $17 billion is higher than feared and means it will be impossible for the federal government to sell it to a new owner as planned, said Sven Biggs, climate and energy campaigner for Stand.earth, in an interview on Friday.

“Any time a major project increases its cost by this much you have to hit the pause button and reconsider whether or not you’re still getting value for the taxpayer,” he said.

“My humble assessment is that, no, this project has never been in the interests of taxpayers. It was very difficult to justify it at $7 billion or $9 billion.”

But Anderson said it will be a money-maker right out of the gate.

“The cost of the project as you know is shared by Trans Mountain and our shippers and they will tell you that this continues to be a project they very much want and need, one that will bring benefits to all Canadians,” he said.

“The rate of return on this project is without question. The day we turn on the taps, it will start making money. It will make money every day through its contractual period of 20 years.”

He pointed out 80 per cent of the space on the pipeline is contracted for 20 years to 13 clients including domestic oilsands producers like Suncor Energy Inc. and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., as well as international firms such as Total S.A. and a subsidiary of PetroChina.

The federal government believes it is important to “make the necessary investments to open up new markets” for Canadian oil, said Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a statement on Friday.

“Safety and design enhancements have achieved a higher standard for environmental protection. It now supports more union jobs in B.C. and Alberta and is providing training opportunities. This is now a better project, moving forward in the right way,” he said.

Opponents of the pipeline expansion have vowed to do whatever it takes to stop the project despite losing a legal challenge before the Federal Court of Appeal earlier this week.

The four First Nations who lost the court challenge on Tuesday have 60 days to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The expansion project would triple the capacity of the existing pipeline between Edmonton and a shipping terminal in Burnaby, B.C. to about 890,000 barrels per day of diluted bitumen, lighter crudes and refined products.

Trans Mountain Corp. said in a statement that “expressions of opinions” about the project must respect the terms of an injunction against anyone blocking access to the Burnaby terminal.

“We respect the right to peacefully protest and there are many ways to express opinions in a safe and lawful manner,” it said.

The Federal Court of Appeal decision noted Canada invited 129 Indigenous groups to participate in consultations and, in the end, more than 120 either support the project or do not oppose it.

As well, 43 First Nations have signed benefits agreements with Trans Mountain.

Construction on the $4.5 billion federally owned project is underway at terminals and pump stations in B.C. and Alberta and pipe is being laid in the Greater Edmonton area.

However, the company cannot lay pipe in areas where the Canada Energy Regulator has not yet approved the detailed route.

Overall, 68 per cent of the route has been approved, but that figure drops to about 12 per cent in Metro Vancouver and no approvals have been given in the Fraser Valley.

Oral detailed route hearings kicked off last week in Spruce Grove, Alta., and others are scheduled later this month in Edmonton and Kamloops, B.C.

Hearings for the route stretching from south of Kamloops through to Burnaby are expected this spring and summer but dates have not yet been set.

The most recent construction schedule filed for the project spans through June. The work planned for B.C. includes pipeline construction in the Kamloops area as well as a crossing on the Fraser River in the Lower Mainland.

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