OPINION: Canada Should Abandon the Trans Mountain Expansion

Pipeline protesters in BC demand a stop to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion

The Trans Mountain expansion project (TMX) has been at the forefront of contemporary Canadian political debate; dividing the country and escalating disputes between Provinces. The controversy surrounding the project, which was proposed in December 2013, highlights the electorate’s growing emphasis on balancing environmental and economic concerns. Does the TMX achieve this balance? Definitely not.

Primarily, opposition to the TMX is based on the negative effect the project would have on Canada’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Climate Accord, Canada has agreed to reduce the 2005 carbon emission levels by 30% by 2030 (Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, 2019). This equates to bringing Canada’s emissions down to 517 megatonnes, which seems highly unlikely to be accomplished, due to the pace at which emissions are currently being reduced. The Climate Action Tracker, frequently cited by the United Nations, says Canada’s current emission reduction plans are “highly insufficient” towards meeting our targets (Climate Action Tracker, 2019). The TMX is expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 13-15 megatonnes annually, meaning Canada would have to significantly strengthen the current climate plan to meet our 2030 targets. However, the elimination of the cap and trade system in Ontario, the Provincial court challenges regarding federally enforced carbon pricing, and the approval of a 40 billion-dollar liquified natural gas project (LNG) in British Columbia, all show signs of regression on climate action. The new LNG project is expected to undermine British Columbia’s attempts to meet the Federal climate goals. Developing new fossil fuel infrastructure, such as the TMX or the LNG project, demonstrates Canada’s lackluster commitment to the Paris climate targets, and to the preservation of the world’s environment. Keep Canada Working, an initiative introduced by the Albertan NDP government, claims the TMX was considered by the National Energy Board (NEB) with the Paris climate targets in mind, and that it will help fund green investments. However, these claims are directly disputed by the David Suzuki Foundation, who commented that they were apart of a “misleading ad campaign” (Suzuki, 2019). A quick look on the NEB’s website regarding the approval of the TMX shows that climate change was not factored into the decision.

Biodiversity in recent years has been collapsing, with scientists using the phrase “biological annihilation” to describe the sixth and current mass extinction (Soltis, 2018). Loss of habitat, climate change, and environmental pollutants are some of the major causes behind the tremendous loss of biodiversity, and the TMX exemplifies all three issues. The construction of the pipeline expansion would add 980 km to the project, crossing more than 500 streams and requiring the clearing of forests along the way (Logan, Scott, MacDuffee, 2018). Each of these streams presents an opportunity for environmental damage as a result of spilled bitumen – a mix of solid or semi-solid tar/asphalt, diluted so it can flow through the pipeline. These streams also cross many municipalities, raising transboundary water concerns, as discussed in the textbook The Canadian Environment in a Political Context (Olive, 2016). The Fraser River, one of the world’s most productive salmon rivers, and a key economic driver for indigenous groups and British Columbia’s fisheries, highlights the threats these rivers face from the expansion project. The high levels of salinity and sediment make it more likely that spilled bitumen would be absorbed into the river bed, causing permanent damage to the ecosystems (Logan et al., 2018). There is also the threat of a spill off the coast of British Columbia, specifically Vancouver waters, where oil tankers load. The completion of the TMX would see an expected seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic, which is particularly threatening to the endangered Southern killer whales, which are already suffering declining birth rates and an inability to find food. (Ghoussoub, 2018). The noise emitted by tanker traffic interferes with the whale pod’s ability to communicate and track prey. This noise is considered one of the primary stressors on the whale’s population (The Canadian Press, 2016). In an attempt to assure Canadian’s that the pipeline expansion is safe for coastal waters, the Federal Liberal government developed the Ocean Protection Plan (OPP). Pro-pipeline advocates will point to the OPP and claim that a compromise can be made between developing fossil fuel infrastructure and protecting biodiversity. The OPP allocates nearly all of its 1.5 billion in funding for disaster response and relief. The rest of the funding exists to provide research grants for “studies on underwater environmental stressors” (Snyder, 2018). However, there are no new regulations or funding aimed at the prevention and risk reduction of oil spills, meaning biodiversity off of British Columbia’s coast is still being put at risk.

The economic benefit of the Trans Mountain expansion has long been touted as the primary reason the Federal, and certain Provincial governments have aggressively pursued the project. Unfortunately, in the Liberal government’s pursuit to rush construction of the project, there has been little attention paid to accurately representing the facts. The Liberals claim that 4.5 billion dollars is a fair price to pay for the project, but forget to mention that the 4.5 billion-dollar price tag only buys them the rights to the project. The full cost of the project is expected to reach between 15-20 billion dollars (Allan et al., 2018). Justin Trudeau and Alberta’s Premier, Rachel Notley, also claim that Canada will lose 15 billion dollars annually if we do not build the project. These figures are based on a report released by Scotia Bank in early 2018; however, nowhere in the report is 15 billion cited as the potential losses of not building the pipeline. Scotia Bank’s report quotes 7 billion dollars in losses, meaning the economic losses of not building the pipeline have been exaggerated by 8 billion dollars. It is also worth mentioning that when Kinder Morgan, the company that the Liberals bought the TMX from, went public in May of 2017, Scotia Bank purchased 224 million dollars in shares. This is a staggering conflict of interest to be left undisclosed in the report (Allan, 2018). There have also been misleading claims surrounding the number of jobs the project will create. Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley are frequently on record touting the “15,000” middle-class jobs the TMX will create. However, they fail to mention that these are temporary jobs, and that the project will only create 90 new permanent jobs: 40 in Alberta, and 50 in British Columbia (Derochie, 2018). While there is no denying the expansion project will create jobs and provide an economic stimulus, it is worth analyzing how efficiently these goals are being accomplished. According to a journal published in Science Direct, per every 1 million dollars invested in fossil fuels, roughly 2.65 permanent jobs are created. This is well below the 7.72 permanent jobs created per 1 million dollars invested in renewable energy (Peltier, 2017).

The Trans Mountain expansion project has been plagued with misinformation, overstated benefits and understated costs since it was announced. It would be a lie to claim that the project will provide Canada with zero benefits; however, the benefits the TMX offers can be achieved more efficiently. A modest proposal is to invest the money set out for the Trans Mountain expansion in stimulating the renewable energy market. This way greater benefits are achieved while protecting the planet’s climate and biodiversity.


Allan, R. (2018, March 05). Scotiabank’s oil report a work of fiction. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/robyn-allan-scotiabanks-oil-report-a-work-of-fiction

Allan, R., Allan, Meyer, C., Sharp, A., Meyer, C., Watts, J., . . . Allan, R. (2018, May 29). Kinder Morgan bailout to cost north of $15 billion. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.nationalobserver.com/2018/05/29/analysis/kinder-morgan-bailout-cost-north-15-billion

Allan, R. (2018, May 31). Robyn Allan: Debunking the $15 billion benefit myth around the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://theprovince.com/opinion/op-ed/robyn-allan-debunking-the-15-billion-benefit-myth-around-the-trans-mountain-pipeline-expansion

Alini, E. (2018, April 30). Trans Mountain pipeline: Some of the main arguments for and against it. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://globalnews.ca/news/4149689/trans-mountain-pipeline-arguments-pro-against/

Canada. (2018, November 30). Retrieved March 09, 2000, from https://climateactiontracker.org/countries/canada/

Climate Change Canada. (2019, January 30). Progress towards Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction target. Retrieved March 09, 2019, from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/environmental-indicators/progress-towards-canada-greenhouse-gas-emissions-reduction-target.html

Derochie, P. (2018, November 06). Deceptive Trans Mountain Pipeline ads leave Alberta taxpayers on the hook for $10 million. Retrieved March 12, 2018, from https://environmentaldefence.ca/2018/10/31/deceptive-trans-mountain-pipeline-ads-leave-alberta-taxpayers-hook-10-million/

Garrett-Peltier, H. (2017). Green versus brown: Comparing the employment impacts of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and fossil fuels using an input-output model. Economic Modelling, 61, 439-447. doi: 10.1016/j.econmod.2016.11.012

Ghoussoub, M. (2018, August 30). How the killer whale became the Achilles heel of Trans Mountain pipeline approval | CBC News. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/how-the-killer-whale-became-the-achilles-heel-of-trans-mountain-pipeline-approval-1.4804932

Kats, G. (2016, December 05). How many jobs does clean energy create? Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-many-jobs-does-clean-energy-create

Logan, K., Scott, D., & MacDuffee, M. (2018, July). Trans Mountain Project. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.raincoast.org/trans-mountain-pipeline/

Olive, A. (2016). The Canadian environment in political context. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ottawa trying to limit impact of tanker traffic noise on endangered whales | CBC News. (2016, December 20). Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/pipelines-whales-british-columbia-study-1.3904435

Soltis, D. (2018). Faculty of 1000 evaluation for Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines. F1000 – Post-publication Peer Review of the Biomedical Literature. doi:10.3410/f.727799915.793541653

Snyder, J. (2018, September 25). A closer look at the Oceans Protection Plan, the Liberals’ $1.5B bid to bolster the Trans Mountain pipeline. Retrieved March 12, 2019, from https://nationalpost.com/news/a-closer-look-at-the-oceans-protection-plan-the-liberals-1-5b-bid-to-bolster-the-trans-mountain-pipeline

2 thoughts on “OPINION: Canada Should Abandon the Trans Mountain Expansion

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