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‘Really bad news for Alberta’: Court loss for Trans Mountain ripples across oil country

Metro News logo Metro News 2018-08-30 Kieran Leavitt - StarMetro Edmonton

a group of people standing in the dirt: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Enoch Cree Nation Chief Bill Morin among other dignitaries pose during a ground breaking ceremony at the Trans Mountain stockpile site in Edmonton on July 27. A court decision has now thrown the future of the controversial project into doubt. © JASON FRANSON Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and Enoch Cree Nation Chief Bill Morin among other dignitaries pose during a ground breaking ceremony at the Trans Mountain stockpile site in Edmonton on July 27. A court decision has now thrown the future of the controversial project into doubt.

EDMONTON—In a decision that was heard across the heart of Canada’s oil country Thursday, the Federal Court of Appeals has squashed the Trans Mountain expansion approval, throwing the future of the controversial project into doubt.

In what is being called a major win for environmentalists and First Nations, the decision means the National Energy Board will have to redo its review of Kinder Morgan Canada’s project.

“It’s really bad news for Alberta, (I’m) very much disappointed,” said Richard Masson, an executive fellow of the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

The court found that the NEB did not do enough to consult Indigenous peoples in their review of the pipeline expansion. Furthermore, the court found that the board “unjustifiably defined the scope of the Project under review not to include Project-related tanker traffic.”

The consultation aspect could be remedied by the federal government, according to Masson, however he was unsure how the government will address the issue raised by the court around tanker traffic.

“There was all kinds of work done to make sure that shipping would be safe and to (mitigate effects) on the environment and those types of things,” he said.

More delays in the process mean more time and money spent trying to remedy the issues outlined in court, and less money for Alberta’s economy without the benefit of additional oil exports the pipeline would have facilitated.

“This pipeline is in the national interest and it should get built,” Masson said.

The decision was also met with mixed feelings among those whose livelihoods depend on oil; among them Robbie Picard, a pro-oil activist and former heavy-hauler driver for Suncor.

“This should be a slam dunk. Canada needs this pipeline,” he said, speaking Thursday morning.

He said there was so much confidence that the decision would be upheld that the pro-oil groups he’s involved with, including Oil Sands Strong and Rally for Resources, had started shifting their efforts to promoting the Energy East pipeline.

“I feel really bad for everyone who’s worked on this right now,” Picard said.

In his view, Alberta’s relationship with the rest of Canada is “very abusive”. He slammed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government for failing to push the pipeline through, although the Federal Court of Appeal’s decisions aren’t controlled by the federal government. And he called for Alberta Premier Rachel Notley to go through on a threat she issued last March.

“I think Alberta needs to cut off the supply of oil to British Columbia – today,” he said.

The decision was released on the same day Kinder Morgan shareholders voted to finalize the sale of the pipeline to the Canadian government for $4.5 billion.

The judgment could still be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The planned expansion of the existing 1,100-kilometre pipeline would triple the flow of diluted bitumen and other oil products, sending 890,000 barrels a day from Alberta’s oilsands to Burnaby, B.C., and increase tanker traffic sevenfold through B.C.’s Burrard Inlet.

The $7.4-billion expansion sparked years of conflict.

Alberta’s NDP, the federal Liberal government, and oil and construction workers have been proponents, while B.C.’s NDP government, along with Vancouver, Burnaby, numerous First Nations and environmental organizations, have stood opposed to the expansion.

Just outside Edmonton, residents of Sherwood Park, Alta., have a ringside seat to the pipeline debate: The existing Trans Mountain pipeline was built here in the 1950s.

Tracy Pounder works at Willy’s Restaurant and Lounge in town, a restaurant she says is basically a hangout for oil workers. She has a nephew who “works at one of the rigs.”

“I think they should have gone through with it,” she said. “It’s going to affect everybody, but it’s not going to be for the better now. It’s still going to be the same thing, you still have your (oil-transporting) boats and everything. What, they don’t leak?”

Trans Mountain has maintained its pipeline and associated oil tankers will meet world-class safety standards and that First Nations were consulted, with dozens even signing benefit agreements for it to proceed.

But B.C. government officials say the risk is too high of a catastrophic oil spill that would devastate the province’s economy and environment.

The court cases were brought by more than two dozen First Nations, municipal governments and environmental groups seeking to overturn the federal government’s decision.

With files from The Canadian Press, Brennan Doherty and Anya Zoledziowski

Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt

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