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‘In critical condition’

Green-NDP partnership strikes potential death blow to Trans Mountain pipeline

Anti-pipeline activists celebrate Green-NDP partnership

Anti-pipeline activists are celebrating an agreement between the Green and NDP parties in British Columbia, calling the partnership a potential death blow to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain expansion project, even as Canada’s Prime Minister stood by his decision to build it.

The TransMountain expansion project would pump nearly three times as much oil to storage facilities like this one on the BC coast.

“Regardless of a change in government in BC or anywhere, the facts and evidence do not change,” Justin Trudeau told reporters during a news conference in Rome on Tuesday. “We understand that growing strong economies for the future requires taking leadership on the environment and we have to do those two things together. That is what drives us and the choices we make and we stand by those choices.”

“Kinder Morgan may not be dead yet, but it’s definitely in critical condition,”

Green Party leader Andrew Weaver called consensus on the TransMountain pipeline “critical” to the agreement the two parties reached Monday, and the BC NDP confirmed to VICE News it has been researching what can be done to stop the $7.4 billion project.

The agreement between the two parties, made public late Tuesday, says the two parties will “immediately employ every tool available to the new government to stop expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.”

“Kinder Morgan may not be dead yet, but it’s definitely in critical condition,” 350.org’s Cam Fenton quipped in an email celebrating the news.

“It could absolutely stop the pipeline,” said Eugene Kung, lawyer for the Tsleil Waututh Nation, which is opposing the project in court. “They’re certainly in a lot of trouble.”

Burnaby resident John Murray Clarke at a protest in February 2016. He's worried there could be a fire at Kinder Morgan's tank farm near his home.

In November, Trudeau’s government approved the expansion project to increase the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline from 300,000 to 890,000 barrels per day. The new pipeline would pump crude oil from Edmonton to Burnaby on the coast. At the time, Christy Clark’s Liberals supported the project, but in the provincial election earlier this month, the Liberals won only 43 seats to the NDP’s 41, giving the Green’s the balance of power with three seats.

Undeterred, the company called Tuesday an “exciting day,” and said it still expected the pipeline to be completed in 2019.

Though the federal government has the final decision on whether to issue a certificate for pipelines that cross provincial or international boundaries, provinces also play a role in the approval process. The provincial and federal governments have a shared responsibility to conduct environmental assessments and Indigenous consultation, among other things. If the province wants to kill the project, the Tyee reports, it could order a new environmental assessment, introduce a new law targeting the project, or wait for existing lawsuits against the pipeline to potentially take it down.

The Green-NDP pledge to stop Trans Mountain comes at the worst possible time for Kinder Morgan, which debuted its Initial Public Offering Tuesday. The company’s new shares promptly fell to $15.75, below their initial price of $17. The company had hoped the shares would sell for $21 when it first announced the IPO. The shares settled at above $16 by midday Tuesday.

Undeterred, the company called Tuesday an “exciting day,” and said it still expected the pipeline to be completed in 2019.

However, in documents filed May 25 relating to its IPO, the company lists risk factors for the project, saying the pipeline is “subject to significant risk” and it may be “inhibited, delayed or stopped.”

“Failure by the Business to resolve issues relating to Aboriginal rights and title and the Crown’s duty to consult,” could halt the project, the company concedes. And loss of government support plus public opposition “may expose the Business to higher costs, delays or even project cancellations,” the company states. Kinder Morgan even mentions blockades and climate change, including storms and sea level rise, as threats to the project.

A warning on the fence at Kinder Morgan's storage facility in Burnaby, BC.

On Monday, ahead of the company’s IPO, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation in Burnaby called the project a “risky investment,” warning potential investors that even the company had said it might not be built.

Anti-pipeline activists and Indigenous leaders have vowed to stop any pipeline out of the oil sands, with some saying the opposition to Trans Mountain will be “the Standing Rock of the North.” Indigenous communities along the route are divided on the pipeline, with some supporting the project and some threatening to block construction on the ground and in the courts.

Cover: A girl holds a sign at a Burnaby protest against the TransMountain project in February 2016. Photos by Hilary Beaumont.

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