Why a Pragmatic Environmentalist supports the Trans Mountain Pipeline

I am a pragmatic environmentalist. I have worked in the environmental field for over twenty-five years. My area of professional expertise is the investigation and remediation of former industrial and commercial sites with a specialty in the assessment of petroleum hydrocarbon contamination and its effects on human and ecological health.

In my professional capacity I serve as a technical specialist in: industrial chemistry; the biodegradation of contaminants; the effects of contaminants on natural systems; and ecosystem restoration. I have no connection, financial or otherwise, to Kinder Morgan or the Trans Mountain pipeline but I have some strong opinions on the project which are based on my personal experience and specialized knowledge of this field. I have spent the last 16 years cleaning up the messes made by the generations before me. I have seen the consequences of oil spills and industrial activities first-hand and I recognize that all industrial activities have environmental consequences.

We live in a society that, like it or not, is dependent on oil (petroleum hydrocarbons) and petroleum hydrocarbon-based products. Our food is produced on farms that need heavy equipment to operate. That food is shipped around the world by air, water and rail, all of which rely on petroleum hydrocarbons to operate. Petroleum hydrocarbons also serve as the feedstock of the petrochemical industry, which forms the basis of all the things that make our modern world work. They are the building blocks of our plastics, our computers, the tools we need to keep us healthy and the drugs we take when we are sick.

In 2015 world leaders passed the Paris Agreement. As part of the process Canada agreed to drop our greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Irrespective of what many activists may claim, Canada did not commit to trashing our economy nor did we agree to abandon all fossil fuels. Canada certainly did not commit to achieving a fossil fuel-free status in less than two decades. I have read many recent articles written by activists who repeat ridiculous claims like: “new research shows that the fossil-fuel era could be over in as little as 10 years.” As I have demonstrated at this blog, the claim that we could eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels in the next 10 years does not even rise to the level of laughable. It is simply magical thinking. If we undertake herculean efforts and dedicate a historically unprecedented per cent of our national gross domestic product to the task we have a reasonable chance of weaning ourselves off fossil fuels in 30-50 years. Even then it is likely closer to the 50-year than the 30-year timeline. What this means is that Canada has, and will have, an ongoing need for fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

A point seldom discussed by activists is the costs. As I noted, the effort to wean ourselves off fossil fuels is going to be incredibly expensive. That money has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the Canadian tax base and the way to build that tax base is to take advantage of Canadian natural resources not to undercut them.

I know that the term “ethical oil” has some blemishes because of issues surrounding its origin, but I believe in the concept behind the term. As a Canadian I want my personal gasoline purchases to go towards subsidizing medicare and not subsidizing a despot or paying for a tyrant to bomb his neighbour. I want to know that the oil used in my car was not generated using slave labour in a country without a free press, and where environmental regulations are noted by their absence rather than their application. I want my oil being produced by well-paid Canadians in a country with a demonstrably free press, strong government oversight and a strong tradition of NGOs to watch over the regulator’s shoulder.

As a Canadian I will point out again that Canadian oil helps support Canadian jobs and Canadian institutions, and provides the funds to pay for our education and medical systems while subsidizing transfer payments. This brings us to the Trans Mountain Expansion proposal (TMX). The TMX has two major components:

  • Line 1 would consist of existing pipeline segments (with pump upgrades) and could transport 350,000 b/d of refined petroleum products and light crude. It has the capability to carry bitumen but at a much reduced volume per day. Notice that absent the heavier bitumen it can carry an extra 50,000 b/d. Line 1 is intended to help mitigate the supply bottleneck that has Vancouver drivers paying such high prices for gasoline and diesel.
  • The proposed Line 2 would have a capacity of 540,000 b/d and is allocated to the transportation of heavy crude oil. 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.

Freeing up Line 1 will allow the west coast to become less reliant on foreign imports and provide a means for the Sturgeon refinery to get its production to BC. Meanwhile, a big complaint is that much of the increased pipeline capacity is for “export”, but “export” can mean a lot of things. It is likely that a major “export” location for Trans Mountain oil will be the Puget Sound with most of that increase traveling along the existing upgraded pipeline. Much of the remaining export will be to California which is also suffering from a heavy oil shortage. Due to its proximity, tankers from Vancouver to California will be the cheapest way for California to get heavy fuel which means Albertans will get the best price for that oil (as there will not be a transportation premium).

As I wrote in my previous post the current pipeline capacity to the West Coast is inadequate to supply demand. The volume in excess of demand still needs to get here so where is it going to come from?

  • Absent the TMX we will be seeing more foreign tankers in Washington waters. Those tankers will not meet the stringent safety requirements that the NEB has imposed on the TMX ships but those tankers will be still sailing through the same “treacherous” waters. So we see a significantly higher risk from tanker spills.
  • Absent the TMX upgrade we will see a significant increase in oil-by-rail to the Puget Sound (Bakken oil transported along the Columbia River Valley).
  • Absent the TMX we will see continued movement of oil-by-rail to the Lower Mainland down the Thompson and Fraser River valleys. A spill on any of the rivers is more likely by rail than by pipeline and would cause untold damage to endangered fisheries.

So what are we looking at if the activists manage to stop the TMX? Certainly not a decrease in ecological risk. Rather we will see an increase in risk to our rivers and the marine environment…and at what cost? Any rent-seeker who thinks that blocking the pipeline will somehow help us fight climate change is barking up the wrong tree, because the countries that will serve as the replacement for Canadian oil (the Saudis, Nigerians and Algerians) are not paying into our federation; they are siphoning money out of it. If you want your bridges, roads and sewage plants built/repaired, then you are going to need money and blocking the Trans Mountain is exactly the wrong way to obtain those funds.

As I have written numerous times at my personal blog, we need to wean Canada off fossil fuels as our primary energy source. If we are to avoid the serious consequences of climate change, we will need to eliminate fossil fuels from our energy mix. However, contrary to what many say, the process of doing so will take decades, and in the meantime we will still need petroleum hydrocarbons.

So, the question that must be asked is: from whom do we want to source our needs? From Canadian provinces that pay into equalization or from foreign despots who use the money generated to fund wars and underwrite totalitarian regimes?

The reality is that you can’t have a legitimate discussion about the topic of oil without considering the ethics underlying our oil supply. Regardless of branding, ethical sourcing has to be part of the discussion. As a pragmatic environmentalist seeking only to ensure a healthy economy on a healthy planet, I would be remiss if I ignored this topic.

Some commentators say we should get out of the oil business and cede the field to the despots, the tyrants and the murderers. I disagree. I see a need to supply the Canadian market with Canadian oil, produced by Canadian workers who pay into the Canadian tax system and thus underwrite the costs of Canadian civil services, the Canadian way of life and the Canadian move away from fossil fuels.

Put simply, I want the funds generated by Canadian oil to help fund our Canadian transition away from our dependence on fossil fuels. The first step in that process is getting that oil to market in the safest, least environmentally harmful manner and that means via pipeline. Most importantly, blocking the pipeline is not going to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, rather it will simply redirect the crude to less safe means of transport while simultaneously reducing our economic ability to fight climate change. One might say we will end up with the worst of both worlds, a greater risk to the environment and less financial ability to finance the fight against climate change.

This entry was posted in Canadian Politics, Climate Change, Pipelines, Trans Mountain, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Why a Pragmatic Environmentalist supports the Trans Mountain Pipeline

  1. Bob says:

    Canada is done. The eco terrorists have just helped break the country up. Let’s focus on that instead of trying to save something that is dead. BC can be it’s own country and depend upon pixie dust. Quebec and Ontario could care less about anything outside of it unless it involves cash flow filling it’s government pockets. Let’s talk about something else.


  2. Don Chalmers says:

    Logical pragmatic thinking. Those who say ‘leave our oil in the ground’ simply do not consider these points. X


  3. Harvey says:

    Good comments and analysis. It is hard to watch the Kinder Morgan protesters wearing their polyester jackets protesting the pipeline. But the best event was yesterday when the protesters chained themselves to the entrance gate using plastic (polypropylene?) zip ties. Help me here – using a fossil fuel product to protest a fossil fuel pipeline. Irony abounds.


    • Andrew C Can says:

      i have photos showing protesters brought in gasoline to run their generators on site

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tina says:

      And the signs they use…um corrugated plastic. And the prostesters in the kayaks the other day! None there either. Theses people are looking at life through a peep hole. Look at the big picture people!!


    • Susan Tremblay says:

      Do you even know what the protests are about or are you simply looking for ways to divert attention from their (very real) concerns? Of course we all still use products made from fossil fuels. Can we use less? Yes. Should we? Absolutely. Should we be concerned about building a pipeline that is part of a plan to increase extraction and exports of raw fossil fuels? I would say so. This analysis is an opinion and makes some interesting points. There are very valid arguments against this as well and belittling people that are standing up for a cause and concern such as this is small-minded and pointless. IMHO.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bob says:

        yes, we know what the protests are about. They are about people who have nothing else to do who watch the media sensationalize something and feel compelled to get involved in something they think they understand but really have no understanding. Because a religion called climate alarmists are very well paid to brainwash people into doing their dirty work. Yes, we are quite aware of this. Without fossil fuels you would not live like you do. without fossil fuels, you will halt medical care for those less fortunate, without fossil fuels those who live without in poverty elsewhere in the world will continue to be less well off. We get it, you want those countries who do not have to be wiped out and starve and suffer. This is what this whole protest is about. The brainwashed by the Tides foundation and the Leadnow groups want you to believe you are doing something good and what can be wrong with doing something good, except when you really have no clue what you are talking about.

        However, the good news is, Canada will finally break up and you and your kind will be happy and so will all the rest.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Cyr says:

        But Susan does it make sense to ship oil by rail or a safe pipeline. The demand will not change for years. So u chose.


  4. Roger Meredith says:

    A great blog! The best alternative for Canda to to build the pipeline.
    I wonder at times if the environmentalists are funded to prevent oil development in Canada in favour of another country.


  5. John Fergus says:

    We must continue to build not only Kinder Morgan but also our LNG opportunities should continue to move forward and we currently have a polical government that doesn’t care about growth which is quite shocking as our system will run out of money at this pace, once again going from the strongest province to the highest unemployment rate very soon 😡


    • Robert Cyr says:

      People don’t realize how much oil field people contribute to society financially. Shut down oil field u really will shut down many other business. Think if it as oil worker taking it from the bigs and distributing amongst society.


  6. Ron Ritter says:

    Read the article from the chemist in Langley, then u will realize how stupid these protesters r. Most of these so called protesters have no idea what they r protesting.
    Oil will pour into B C with or with out a pipeline, by train, truck, ships etc.


  7. avra weinstein says:

    These are very complex times and issues. When you have fuel cells that are available to big industry, maybe now is the right time to make those changes. Maybe we need to be using fuel cells in tandem with what currently is being used as a segway to getting everyone working together. There needs to be collaboration between these poles in order to generate good will and symbiosis. Less smoldering smoking stacks piles and stacks on the horizon needs to be now!


    • Robert Cyr says:

      Sure it will work or help out to reduce emissions. There are numerous examples of steps taken to reduce carbon foot prints in the oil/gas sector. We don’t advertise it. We just do it for the good of the environment and health of our people. But were still painted with a dirty brush.


  8. avra weinstein says:

    These are very complex times and issues. When you have fuel cells that are available to big industry, maybe now is the right time to make those changes. Maybe we need to be using fuel cells in tandem with what currently is being used as a segway to getting everyone working together. There needs to be collaboration between these poles in order to generate good will and symbiosis. Less smoldering, smoking piles and stacks on the horizon needs to be now!


  9. Dave says:

    Great article for the most part. The only problem I have with it is your reference to the notion that our use of fossil fuels somehow contribute to global warming/climate change. That has never been successfully proven by real, unbiased science. It is the biggest scam perpetrated on this world.


    • Morgan McCallum says:

      Absolutely. The cause “global warming” had to change it’s title, to “climate change”, because “global warming” didn’t cover the possibility, it was wrong. “climate change” covers all the bases, from hurricanes, abnormal snow, abnormal temperatures etc, etc, etc.
      Don’t get me wrong. It is a well written post. And I agree with almost all of it.


  10. Joey says:

    A few things:
    1) The globe just ran an article about the realities of increased tanker traffic in the Straits including the pinch points etc. They also quote the risk of a major catastrophic spill being between 16% – 62 % I believe. It seems unethical to have to choose between the rivers and the oceans. To have to ear mark one over the other for destruction is not ethical.
    2) You state that increased pipeline capacity is required for California – not Canada – therefore we are going along with this plan, taking increased risk for the benefit of other countries, including the US as well as for the multinational companies
    3) I didn’t see economist or sociologist as one of your credentials – I assume you haven’t looked at the way the multinationals have run roughshod over the Albertans – forcing their economy into a boom and bust pattern that has effected the fabric of the it lives. No one talks about the workers quality of life – where family disconnection and drug abuse and overspending and not being prepared for bust times iis typical. No one also wants to mention the automation that is being planned for the oil fields and how that could cost thousands of jobs – like manufacturing.
    4) Why not keep it the way it is – keep some in the ground for later – why does it need to come out now? – probably because the price is high right now and the multinationals can maximize short term profits.. Multinationals aw soulless – they don’t care about Canadians or Canada – the more divided we are the more power they have.


    • Blair says:

      The Globe article has any number of flaws mostly that it ignores the changes required under the NEB permit. It makes most of the article moot as they talk about conditions that will not be in place when the pipeline is complete.


    • kim says:

      A lot of unanswered questions in this article like you say! I keep saying this oil and gas for the most part belongs now to Countries like China, Malaysia, Korea, Spain (4 I am positive of) and how many others thanks to dirty Politicians and the lies we are told! This is not our oil and gas that is going to go in these lines! I do not want to risk our mountains and coast for Foreign Countries to take trillions while giving us crumbs! This LNG plant they want tax breaks to build is not for Canada, Malaysia (Petronas Energy got that boat rolling and then found other influential partners to apply pressure to get it done! A little bit of digging will open some eyes here and some of you people opposed may just see the truth instead of the Bshit being fed us! This will only supply jobs until it is built and then the dollars will roll out of here until there is a disaster that we need to clean up! (just a matter of time)


  11. jason says:

    Good but the anarchists behind this only want destructin so no logic is considered.
    Missing is the real threat of a global energy war that is very near and looming; the global population is growing substantially daily, countries are moving from third world to developing nations, due to technology almost everyone on the globe is realizing the enequity in prosperity and energy consumption; add this all together and even if we harness every bit of energy from every conceivable source we will still be fortunate to avoid this looming civil global unrest; unless we find a new cheap limitless environmently freindly new source somewhere, or go nuclear.
    That’s the full context that the left never considers; comprehensive thinking isn’t even on their radar, as your point to increasing risk by opposing rather than their claimed goal.
    I’ve also been involved with Greenpeace in my naive younger year’s and believe that environmentalism has entered into religious fervor, this whorship of the earth is nothing new, just currently loud; the extremists veiw earth as a deity and humanity as its threat; but most of the group are just emotional reasoner’s vs logical thinkers, and mostly follow blindly their leadership, commonly called being indoctrinated, as a cult like occurence.
    There is a UN. esurvey called my world with over ten million responses so far and last on the list by a far margin is environmental action; it is just globally a non issue of importance, so why is it so daily prevalent in our media? agenda conspiracy wealth transfer global civil unrest unto destruction? U decide.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Willie Wambat. says:

    I think this blog was written or paid for by Kinder Morgen.


    • Blair says:

      and you would be wrong.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bob says:

        Interesting how you get attacked Blair when you provide too many facts and no fiction. Because what you write is too full of facts and it does not jive with what their paid terrorists have told them to think, they accuse you of being a paid shill for anything they disagree with. How convenient. Time to break up the country.

        Liked by 2 people

  13. Rod Hailey says:

    The radical environmental agenda is not accountable for truth or technical accuracy..unlike the oil and gas industry which is has a host of local and federal regulations and laws to follow, and full responsibility for cleanup remediation and compensation if there is an incident
    All the activists have is hysteria, lies and deception…everything is exaggerated and amplified. I once had an activist try to convince me that the Marshall and Mayflower spills were due to dilbit corrosion….!


  14. Susan Tremblay says:

    From an interview with Elizabeth May: “The National Energy Board said this was in the public interest and it gets parroted by everybody. They throw out extraordinary job creation numbers, while missing the reality that UNIFOR, the major union for oil sands workers, opposed the KM pipeline expansion, just as they opposed Keystone. That’s because shipping out raw bitumen in pipelines is shipping out Canadian jobs.

    We should have a solution that satisfies the economic needs of Alberta and the needs of B.C. We shouldn’t be pitting one province against another.
    We do export most of what gets produced out of the oil sands. It’s not locked up there waiting for pipeline approval. There are lots of pipelines already.

    But bitumen mixed with diluent is a particularly dangerous substance and can’t be cleaned up. John Horgan is absolutely right that that needs to be studied before we accept it crossing 800 different water courses from the Alberta and B.C. border before it gets to Burnaby and threatens the Salish Sea with a spill.”
    Thoughts on this?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Blair says:

      My thought is that she has been repeatedly directed to the research on diluted bitumen (see my post on the topic) and she has pretended that the research doesn’t exist. She ignores science that challenges her preferred narrative.


      • Susan Tremblay says:

        Clearly any oil spill is not a good thing and the less we transport the safer for our environment. Blair, I believe that you are well-versed in your field and are well-intentioned. I want to believe that we have the time you seem to think we have to reduce our global FF dependency (especially emissions) but that’s not clear and I’m not sure there is anyone who knows that for sure. So what about this? http://www.focusonvictoria.ca/focus-magazine-march-april-2018/math-and-ethics-argue-against-trans-mountain-r18/. What about vast increases in solar, geothermal, wind, etc. not just in Canada but in third-world countries? What about pushing harder for major shifts in attitudes about our “NEEDS” (vs what we’ve simply come to think as our entitlement, such as air travel, huge homes, imports and exports, etc.)? My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong) is that the vast majority of the dilbit that is to pass through this pipeline is being shipped out of Canada. How does that make sense? Help me out here.

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Brent Tilson says:

    Hopefully this was forwarded to John Horgan, individually; Andrew Weaver, individually; Justin Trudeau, individually, and to similar persons in positions at the Federal levels of government as well as to opposition leaders as well – since few come across blogs such as this.


  16. ALFRED says:

    Please consider this:

    -the average person on the street does not comprehend what a 100,000 Ton Vessel is…..(these vessels carry approx 1 million BBLS of oil when loaded

    -never in the history of Human being on this planet has there ever been a 100 percent clean up of an Oil Spill….hide it, sink it to the ocean bottom, chemical dispersants, burn it, but nothing has been totally successful.

    – the terminus of the KM Pipeline to the first point of salt water (burnaby) is I imagine for commercial cost considerations.

    -Burnaby will have 3 Berths built to accommodate 120,000 Tankers….in essence suggesting upwards for 30 to 40 vessels of this size per month to transit inland waters to sea

    -most parts of the world now have gone to offshore loading & discharge facilities for large Crude Carriers, i.e. …the Loop Offshore Loisiana, USA and in Saint John N.B. Canada, (Canaport).

    -for any politician to suggest that a study comes through stating the risks are “minimal”…..(I suggest in relation to that “report”, who has a financial gain in that report or paying for that said report).
    Some politicians are even gone as far as to say, that in todays world it is virtually impossible to have a spill due to a breach of a the vessels tanks.
    This I find very disturbing for any politician to say. the statistics says otherwise in other parts of the world, i.e., Singapore and associated Mallaca Straits, (as traffic increases, incidents increase)

    -fully understand that other things come into play as well, such as geographical areas of the nation, peoples concerned about the future of their employment and well being of their families.


  17. Dave Dieno says:

    Can someone help me understand the current bottlenecks? I can literally watch 600,00 barrels of oil leave the KM facility every few days. Doesn’t that suggest we have a surplus of oil in Vancouver?


  18. Jonathan Ratzlaff says:

    Why does California need Canadian oil if the US is self sufficient in oil at the moment? Why then is there no pipeline network from Canada to California? There are two issues with the Kinder Morgan pipeline. Their track record and the location of the Westbridge terminal. The geography of Burrard inlet dictates when tankers can traverse second narrows due to the draft of the ships and the height of the lift span coupled with the width of the channel. Just compare the terminal at Cherry point with the Westbridge terminal.
    One of the real issues is the lack of refining capacity in British Columbia. There used to be five refineries serving southern BC, now there is one and that one is worried about supply, even if the pipeline is twinned.


    • Blair says:

      The US is self-sufficient in light crude and needs to import heavy crude as the heavy oils have different properties and industrial uses. The California refineries tuned to heavy crude will import from Canada


  19. Pingback: On the Trans Mountain Pipeline – un-Denial

  20. Ales Ponec says:

    Simple questions: how many % of the oil form new pipeline is intended for domestic use,? If exporting are prices of gasoline, food, going to be cheaper in BC? Are we going to pay LESS TAXES and government fees? Is cost of living in Vancouver going to be less? I guess answer will be no, no, no and no. Somebody else is going to make money , not us.


  21. RDW says:

    Funny how eco minded fail to take into consideration the amount of oil currently being transported via RAIL . It’s coming one way or another , rail , truck or pipeline, get use to it unless you all want to focus your attention on creating an alternative fuel source for the 7 some billion folks currently occupying space on this planet .
    The last post about cost of living in Vancouver … this has and never will have anything to do transfer payments or received tax in your province . Cost of living in lower mainland is directly in relation to foreign real estate investment and the billions of dollars of Chinese mafia monies being laundered in your province .If you want a bandwagon to jump on maybe take up the cause that FINTRAC was design for but fail miserably at . Then you might possibly see your lifestyle change in the lower mainland.
    perhaps a tax on fentanyl imports from china at your ports will aid the rest of Canadians … BC needs to clean up it’s own back yard before hiding behind environmental issues in an attempt to punish the remaining provinces of this country that will actually benefit from the sale of fossil fuel products.

    Oil sucks , it’s dirty and messy , hard to clean up and basically hazardous , everyone knows that . But , it’s what we have right now and our commerce depends on it, not BC wine , fruit, lumber , fish or weed .
    Maybe an alternative route would be north to NWT then west through the Yukon and to port in Alaska. Then BC Residences could wave at the tankers going by and basking in the glory of the revenue your missing out on by being a port destination . Take a few fentanyl for your pain and wash it down with some wine …


  22. Pingback: Debunking another compilation of Trans Mountain pipeline myths | A Chemist in Langley

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