When anti-pipeline activist pretend that facts don’t matter

In my last post I bemoaned the lack of intellectual rigour among the activists fighting pipeline expansion in BC, Ontario and Quebec. I thought I had presented three pretty solid examples where the opponents of the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX) and the Energy East Project were demonstrating their lack of insight/intellectual rigour. Well in the last few days I have come to realize that I have not come close to plumbing the depths of this topic. This week it has become clear that for some of these anti-pipeline activists it is not just a case of them making honest mistakes; instead it appears that for many of these activists the facts don’t even appear to matter.

The basis for this post started with a tweet from the Dogwood Initiative:

Can you believe the bias of this panel member reviewing #KinderMorgan? Bitumen exports don’t fuel BC cars. #cdnpoli

The tweet included an embedded video of a question posed by one of the TMX Ministerial Project panelists to the people making presentations at a Public Open House. This started a discussion between myself and Will Horter of the Dogwood Initiative that concluded with him reiterating a “fact” that I had repeatedly shown to be wrong. This was subsequently followed by another conversation, this one with a representative from PipeUpNetwork, that ended the same way. These incidents make it clear that many of the people on the “anti-” side of the pipeline debate are so lackadaisical that they can’t even be bothered to become informed about the project they are fighting.

To explain, let’s start with the Dogwood Initiative tweet. In the video embedded in the tweet Mr. Penikett, one of the three panelists, asks “how many of them [the activists] own motor vehicles?” The Dogwood Initiative representative was outraged because “bitumen exports don’t fuel BC cars” and likened the question to one posed repeatedly by noted rabble-rouser Ezra Levant, who likes to ask anti-pipeline people whether they drive an automobile? The intention of Mr. Levant’s question is to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the protestors by pointing out that they rely daily on the product against which they are protesting. Mr. Penikett’s question was a bit more nuanced and addresses a common misconception about the Trans Mountain upgrade: that the pipeline upgrade is only about bitumen and only about overseas exports, both of which are demonstrably untrue.

That misconception was highlighted in a brief Twitter exchange I had with Will Horter from the Dogwood Initiative where I sought clarification about the tweet. On Monday, Mr. Horton retweeted the Dogwood Initiative tweet with the comment:

 I was disturbed that Trudeau appointed #KinderMorgan panelist would ask such an irrelevant question! #StopKM #bcpoli

I replied by noting the obvious fact that the TMX includes an expansion of the capacity of the system for refined fuels that would indeed “fuel BC’s cars“:

.@willhorter probably because people ignoring that Line 1 of @TransMtn is primarily for refined fuels which do run West Coast autos #cdnpoli

His reply represents complete befuddlement. He simply did not know that the TMX expansion included the existing pipeline:

.@BlairKing_ca  Sorry, but hearings r about @TransMtn expansion not existing line 1/2 #cdnpoli #StopKM #KinderMorgan

 My reply was to explain that it was all in the National Energy Board (NEB) filings:

.@willhorter you are kidding aren’t you? The plan is integrated and includes both lines. This is in the filings @TransMtn

This discussion pretty much sums up the state of the debate on the TMX project. The people fighting the project literally do not know what the project they are fighting entails! To explain, the Trans-Mountain expansion has two proposed lines: Line 1 would consist of additions and improvement on the existing pipeline which will allow it to transport 350,000 b/d of refined petroleum products and light crude with almost no heavy crude.

The filings make it clear that Line 1 is intended to be primarily for refined products and light crude. Line 1 has the possibility of helping to mitigate the supply bottleneck that has Vancouver drivers paying such high prices for gasoline and diesel and leaves us high and dry when a refinery in California has a failure or an unplanned shutdown happens in the Puget Sound. Ironically for the people who claim we should “refine bitumen in Canada”, Line 1 will make it possible for the new Sturgeon Refinery to get the liquids fuels, it refines from bitumen, to market. The Sturgeon refinery is exactly what the activists are asking for: a refinery that turns bitumen into refined products in Canada, but it has one difficulty; it lacks access to markets for that refined fuel. Here we could refine bitumen in Canada and sell the refined product in Canada, if only we have the capacity to transport that material to market?…and the activists are fighting the project that would make it happen?

The proposed Line 2 would have a capacity of 540,000 b/d and is allocated to the transportation of heavy crude and bitumen to Vancouver for export but, apparently unbeknownst to the activists, those “foreign exports” include supplying the Sumas pipeline to the Puget Sound. This will reduce the amount of crude that has to travel to the Puget Sound by rail or via tanker (you know the tankers that the activists do not realize have been shipping up to 600,000 b/d of Alaskan crude have down the coast of B.C., in tankers, and into the Puget Sound for the last 20 years). The Puget Sound refineries supply much of the coast with its current refined fuel needs.

This new pipeline and configuration setup would, add 590,000 b/d to the existing system for a total capacity of 890,000 b/d. If you only listened to the activists, as demonstrated by Mr. Horter’s comments, you would think that the project only involved Line 2 and Line 2 was 100% dedicated to bitumen exports overseas, both of which are demonstrably not true.

Now to be clear here, I am not quoting from “top secret” documents that Russian hackers pulled off of a well-defended server somewhere. I am quoting from the regulatory filings for the Trans Mountain project. Yet the project lead from one of the biggest, best-funded and loudest groups fighting the pipeline expansion apparently does not know this information?

Now if you think this is simply a one-off you would be wrong. I had a similar discussion with Michael Hale from PipeUpNetwork where he made the same error.

@BlairKing_ca @dogwoodbc: Who told you that, Blair. Not Kinder Morgan. They are very clear. The line will transport diluted bitumen. #StopKM

As with my previous discussion I sent him to the NEB filings which demonstrated that his claim did not hold water:

@Sunfolk the Trans Mountain filings told me http://transmountain.s3.amazonaws.com/application14/V2_PROJ_OVERVIEW/042.html …  or look here

He proceeded to sidestep, ignoring what the filings actually say, and changed the topic to discuss the Chevron facility in Vancouver and exports to Puget Sound. We had a long discussion where I pointed out that much of our current “exports” actually consist of oil shipped via the Sumas pipeline to the Puget Sound and is then re-imported to BC to meet our refined fuels needs. These exports via the Sumas line have actually resulted in a severe reduction of the marine exports of oil from Vancouver. So having shown him how the export of bitumen actually ends up serving the BC market what was Mr Hale’s conclusion?

@BlairKing_ca The pipeline will supply our needs? Not the bitumen, which is all for export. The crude, increasingly is refined in the U.S.

So after an hour of discussion, the representative of a major activist organization, fighting the pipeline, continues to repeat errors that have been thoroughly debunked by the actual documents  in the NEB filings.

Now if it were simply a couple activists it wouldn’t be a big deal, but these misconceptions about the pipeline expansion are widely held; as I pointed out in my previous post about the Langley Open House. You can imagine Mr. Penikett’s frustration at this point. He has to sit there day-after-day listening to people who talk endlessly about their opposition to a project that only exists in their fevered imaginations. They talk and talk about massive bitumen exports to China while ignoring the fact that, according to the NEB filings, much of the pipeline capacity will be used to feed the Puget Sound and California refineries that supply British Columbia with much of its liquid fuels. These people have no clue about the real TMX project and instead are fighting a bogeyman created for them, whole cloth, by the activist community. These activists, meanwhile, appear not to have even bothered to read the submissions for the project they oppose. Instead these activists appear to be just making things up and seem totally okay with that idea. Is there any question why Mr.Penikett asked that question? Frankly I don’t know how he keeps from screaming “read the NEB submission” at least a dozen times a day?


This entry was posted in Energy East, Oil Sands, Pipelines, Trans Mountain. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to When anti-pipeline activist pretend that facts don’t matter

  1. CriticalThought says:

    Overall an interesting read, though it could do with a little less hearsay, and little more fact. My major issue stems from a somewhat tangential argument that is often sighted by ultra conservative, right-wing nut bags who can’t think beyond their own noses, ie. Mr. Levant and the like.

    >”The intention of Mr. Levant’s question is to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the protestors by pointing out that they rely daily on the product against which they are protesting.”

    This is quite literally one of the more stupid lines of argument I have the misfortune of coming across. It’s not hypocrisy to desire a change to the status quo. In our current era, everyone is born into a world dependent on oil, and its derivatives – no ifs, ands, or buts. If reasonable choices were there, they would take them in a heartbeat to be less dependent on oil. It’s that simple. Vested interest, however, has continuously slowed and blocked the development of these options: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/20/oil-company-records-exxon-co2-emission-reduction-patents

    Point being – you’re better than that argument, and it serves you no good to tout that line of shear ignorance.

    As for pointing out the failing of Hale and Horter to look at the NEB details on Line 1 and 2, I absolutely agree. Well done. That is nothing but stupidity on their end. That being said, your continued discussion with Hale appears to be hear say at best with regard to where the crude will be refined. Then again, however, so does much of his talk as well.

    All-in-all I am excited to see news with regard to the Sturgeon Refinery, I was unaware of this previously so thank you for bringing it to light.


    • Blair says:

      I agree that Mr. Levant’s argument is incredibly simplistic and is intended to shame while not really adding to the quality of the discussion. That is why I tried to clearly distinguish it from Mr. Penikett’s argument which is much more subtle and nuanced. As for ignoring the discussion altogether, since the tweet that started the entire discussion included that video clip, I couldn’t really just ignore it, that would not have been intellectually consistent.

      Regarding your comment about hearsay, I’m a bit confused. The intention of the post was to describe what the activists are saying and to do that I need to quote them. I then provide primary references that demonstrate that what they say is in direct contradiction to the NEB filings that serve as the basis for the project.

      Thanks for tour comments


    • Michelle Stirling says:

      Vested interests on the part of renewables investors and geopolitics of fossil fuels are more at play than any vested interests by “Big Oil” – “Big Climate” is a $1.5 trillion business a year. In 2007 the World Bank and a private fund made $1.2 billion in 23 minutes trading carbon through the Clean Development Mechanism….literally turning pollution in China into gold! $1.2 billion in 23 minutes with no overhead, no Ph.D. engineering/geosciences staff (that oil co’s must employ). No need to reclaim – in fact the purpose is to UP emissions to make more money as noted by INTERPOL”S “A Guide to Carbon Trading Crime.” You mistakenly think that electric cars would not require fossil fuels, but everything is made from fossil fuels. Electric cars are plugged into coal plants and due to the rare materials they use, are far more polluting in the end than regular cars where emissions standards and mileage/efficiency steadily improve.
      Everyone, since time began, has been born into a world that uses fossil fuels – even our cavepeople ancestors used wood…coal is just compressed wood; oil is just compressed plants – so really the world runs on vegan.
      The use of these materials is not causing any climate catastrophe and the money spent on CO2 reduction should be applied to cleaning up real pollution – like the sewage in Rio for instance.


  2. Scott alexander says:

    In the face of activist distortions of reality, it is incumbent on industry to step up and engage. Unfortunately, it does not, at least not commensurate with the hugely negative impact that emotion and identity politics can/is and will have on their reputations. Saw the same thing as an insider during the hysterical distortions applied to forest mgmt on the BC Coast. They prompted a chief forester at MacMillan Bloedel to lament: “I don’t mind the criticism, I just wish they would criticize us for the right reasons.”


  3. Leslie says:

    It should be shown, the next time an activist in bc claims bitumen does not drive his car, is that bc gets 80% of its oil from Alberta. The vast majority of this is heavy oil, and mostly via existing pipelines.


  4. Pingback: A layman’s guide to the behaviour of diluted bitumen in a marine spill | A Chemist in Langley

  5. N. Wayne Liston says:

    The vision of clouds of activists jetting off from YVR to Copenhagen, Rio, Paris (COP 22 is this November in Marrakech…Oh wow man! http://www.cop22.ma/en) burning tonnes of fuel tankered down the BC coast from Alaska or from Singapore, then trucked up I5 from the US, warms my heart.

    At least the Tsleil-Waututh had the decency to sell their band owned Alpha bitumen plant on Sumas Mtn just before beginning the Sacred Trust campaign to kill Kinder Morgan… which presumably supplied their bitumen feedstock. Kept the partnership with Imperial Paving though.



    I don’t think it is possible to get the anti-pipeline groups to actually look at and acknowledge the facts. They think of pipelines and oil as morally wrong. This is what makes it evil. You are dealing with people who have a belief system similar to religion. Their fears always go to the absolutely worst possible that they can think of rather than the actual low possibility of reality. They become experts in shipping and marine navigation without any experience or training. They also do not trust experts that disagree with them and believe that companies will cut corners to make profit and that inspectors will not do their jobs so the pipeline will be built in a shoddy fashion.


  7. Pingback: On those proposed Northwest refineries, neatbit and the Trans Mountain expansion project | A Chemist in Langley

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