Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

A rally against Kinder Morgan's proposed pipeline expansion in 2014. (Photo: Mark Klotz/flickr/cc)

Will Canada's New 'Climate Test' for Pipelines Have Sharp Enough Teeth?

As pipeline approval process faces overhaul, new federal audit shows "systemic" failings within Canada's National Energy Board

Deirdre Fulton

On the same day a report from a federal watchdog found that Canada's national energy regulator is failing to properly ensure the safety of pipelines, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to subject the multi-billion dollar projects to a "climate test" that will determine their impact on Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The developments taken together provide more evidence that the National Energy Board (NEB), tasked with overseeing pipeline approvals and operation, requires significant reform—and that to do so, as Council of Canadians campaigner Andrea Harden-Donahue told Common Dreams on Tuesday, "the Trudeau government has a big job ahead of it."

Environmentalists and First Nations communities have long demanded a so-called "climate test" for proposed fossil fuel projects, which would assess not just the greenhouse gas emissions from a pending pipeline but also its "upstream" effects, meaning those from oil production. While the NEB has long refused to consider emissions impacts, Trudeau promised to implement such a review on the campaign trail.

In this context, Tuesday's news is a victory for "the thousands of people across Canada demanding climate tests on fossil fuel development in this country," said Cam Fenton,'s Canadian tar sands organizer.

"It's very encouraging news to hear that the federal government plans to unveil a climate test," Tim Pearson, communications director for Sierra Club BC, added in a statement to Common Dreams. "It's a critical tool that, if done right, can help Canada meet its commitment to keep global warming below 1.5°C."

But simply putting such an assessment in place is merely the first step, climate activists say.

"We need a climate test that combines scientific rigor with real teeth to deliver measurable progress on emissions reduction," said Pearson, pointing to his group's recent report, Blind Spot: the Failure to Consider Climate in British Columbia’s Environmental Assessments, which he said could serve as a model for a federal environmental review. 

Indeed, as Fenton noted, "any credible climate test that meets Canada's commitment to a 1.5°C limit on climate change should mean the end of projects like the Energy East and Kinder Morgan tar sands pipelines."

Meanwhile, Tuesday's report from Canada's Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development provided more fodder for pipeline opponents, pointing to what Harden-Donahue called "systemic" failings within the NEB.

The Globe and Mail reports:

In an audit released Tuesday, the commissioner, Julie Gelfand, said the Calgary-based federal regulator did not adequately track the implementation of conditions that the board itself required in approving pipelines, nor did it consistently follow up on deficiencies in companies’ overall regulatory compliance.

With the proposed expansion of oil-and-gas pipeline capacity, “it is clear that the National Energy Board needs to do more to keep pace with the rapidly changing context in which it is operating,” Ms. Gelfand said in a statement.

With $25 billion worth of pipeline megaprojects—such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion, and Northern Gateway—having been approved or currently under review by the regulator, these findings are troubling to say the least.

"The report's damning findings show that the NEB is failing to ensure that the safety conditions placed on energy projects like pipelines are met," said Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence. "In the past, the NEB has relied on these safety conditions to justify its approval of highly controversial pipeline projects."

He continued: "We are thankful that the federal government has committed to a complete overhaul of Canada’s regulatory laws for energy projects, including reforming the National Energy Board. But none of the pipeline projects currently being proposed can be reviewed under the old, deeply flawed system. All major energy projects must wait until the NEB is rebuilt before facing review."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Senate Dems Help Torpedo Resolution That Would Have Blocked $650 Million Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia

"My simple question is, why in the world would the United States reward a regime that has caused such pain in Yemen with more weapons," Sanders asked after the vote. "The answer is we should not."

Brett Wilkins ·

Amnesty Scorecard Finds Twitter Failing to Protect Women From Online Abuse

"As our world has become increasingly dependent on digital spaces during the Covid-19 pandemic, it's critical that Twitter meet this moment with demonstrated commitment to improving the online experiences of all users, regardless of their identity."

Jessica Corbett ·

Filibuster Reform for Debt Ceiling Fight But Not Voting Rights or Reproductive Freedom?

"If our senators are willing to suspend the filibuster to protect our economy, they should be willing to suspend it to protect our democracy and our freedom to vote."

Jessica Corbett ·

As Senate Holds Guantánamo Hearing, Biden Urged to 'Finally End This Chapter of Injustice'

"Guantánamo is a centerpiece of the forever wars. It is a shameful symbol of racial injustice, torture, and violations of the Constitution and international law."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Unbreakable Solidarity': Kellogg's Workers Reject Contract That Would Leave New Employees Out of Benefits

"We're not willing to sell our souls for our future employees that are going to work side by side with us but not get the same pay or benefits."

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo