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Who is really to blame for the Canadian pipeline building mess?

Ron Walter writes about the history of pipelines in Canada
Bizworld by Ron Walter

Finally, the federal Liberal cabinet made the decision to proceed with construction of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, twinned with an existing line from Alberta through B.C. to the West Coast.

Nobody is happy about the decision.

Environmentalists opposed to the line and oil production are ticked off. The oil companies are ticked off because they believe environmentalists’ court action will hold up construction for years.

Politicians on all sides are pointing fingers at each other.

Meanwhile thousands of jobs have been lost in the oil patch and related industry simply because we can only export oil to the United States. Governments have lost billions in royalty revenue.

Before oil companies and supporters throw too may rocks at the current government for not getting things built, they should look at their own history of mistakes.

When the first Canadian pipelines were built in the 1950s and 1960s, commercial progress, not the environment, was the main driver. Even so, regulators feared issues and demanded strict monitoring of the underground transport.

Over decades of operation without incidents and with better technology, regulators relented, allowed less monitoring and lower costs for the pipeline companies.

As the 21st Century arrived, aging, less monitored pipelines started bursting; major rivers, the Yellowstone and the Kalamazoo, were impacted, as were residential neighbourhoods.

Environmentalists and anti-oil interests who previously had no reason to doubt the safety of pipelines suddenly had ammunition to convince sympathetic courts, politicians and an uninformed fearful public that pipelines aren’t safe.

Meanwhile oil companies, following the example of Noah, invested billions of their shareholders’ money in oil developments on the mere hope Canada could build a pipeline by the time the oil flowed in five years or so.

When it appeared, their odds were long on their multi-billion dollar bets, the secretive federal Harper Conservative government changed the building process, fast tracking it and shutting some anti-pipeline advocates out of the process.

Whatever little trust environmentalists and the public had in the pipeline-building approval process was lost by this bullying procedure.

Trudeau was elected largely by supporters of science that tells us climate change is a real and immediate danger. Yet his government approved the pipeline only to have the courts insist on more consultation.

Trudeau also approved a bill that, according to the oil industry, makes any new pipeline project nearly impossible. Likely, he went overboard to compensate for Harper’s perceived gutting of the rules.

While he deserves criticism for his handling of the pipeline file, Trudeau is not alone in taking blame. Blame needs to be shared among greedy oil captains, lax regulators and the Harper government.

Ironically, some oil industry players and politicians and investors imply Trudeau should damn the torpedoes and just build it regardless of new court challenges, yet these people advocate and pursue provincial legal action against the Trudeau carbon tax What a double standard!

Ron Walter can be reached at

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.