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'Trump-Caliber' Deal: Reports Detail Coastal Threat and Budget Nightmare of Trudeau's Trans Mountain Purchase

"Canada is weakening its finances by taking on unlimited costs to buy an unneeded pipeline with an uncertain future and giving an unusual profit to a U.S. company."

Greenpeace boat

The Greenpeace Arctic Sunrise displays a banner protesting the Trans Moutain pipeline expansion project. (Photo: Greenpeace/Flickr)

Just a few weeks after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was widely condemned for announcing his government's plans to buy Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline for $4.5 billion, two reports released Tuesday detail the massive environmental and economic costs of a contentious expansion project that would extend the pipeline to the Pacific Coast.

"They should expect resistance from a united Pacific Coast coming together to protect our collective health and safety, as well as the sustainability of coastal economies, ocean life, and our climate."
—Mike Hudema, Greenpeace

Greenpeace's report, Tar Sands Tanker Superhighway Threatens Pacific Coast Waters, outlines the threats the project poses to marine life as well as the coastal communities and economies of Canada and the United States.

The expansion would lead to a nearly seven-fold increase in the number of tankers that depart from the company's terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia, "creating an oil tanker superhighway and ratcheting up the risk of a tar sands oil spill to unacceptably high levels," noted Mike Hudema of Greenpeace Canada.

Pointing to the 1989 Exxon Valdez and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disasters—and considering the heightened risk of a large oil spill or multiple smaller ones—the report warns of the high stakes for North American communities along the Pacific Coast that would accompany the spike in tanker traffic. Citing several studies, the report estimates that in additional to environmental impacts, a large spill would cost the U.S. and Canada several billion dollars and hundreds of thousands of fishing and tourism jobs.

Even without a catastrophic spill, "a seven-fold increase in tanker traffic will most certainly impact the entire coastal ecosystem of the area," concluded Dr. Lindy Weilgart, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University. "Marine life will struggle to cope with the underwater noise on top of the other risks and pollutants associated with shipping dirty oil, including spills, ship strikes killing whales, and emissions."

While opposition to the pipeline project has been strong enough to force Kinder Morgan to repeatedly slow or halt construction, Hudema added, "Should Prime Minister Trudeau nationalize this pipeline or sell it to any other buyer, they should expect resistance from a united Pacific Coast coming together to protect our collective health and safety, as well as the sustainability of coastal economies, ocean life, and our climate."

Greenpeace's new analysis comes as the group's Arctic Sunrise ship travels the route that oil tankers would take if the expansion project continues and is completed.

The second report, Canada's Folly (pdf) by the Ohio-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), focused primarily on the financial risks of Trudeau's purchase of the unfinished pipeline.

IEEFA researchers estimate that while Kinder Morgan will see a 637 percent return on its investment in the project, it will cost the Canadian government a full $6.5 billion for the transfer plus construction, which would increase the country's national deficit by 36 percent.

In other words, "Canada is weakening its finances by taking on unlimited costs to buy an unneeded pipeline with an uncertain future and giving an unusual profit to a U.S. company," explained Tom Sanzillo, IEEFA's director of finance and the former first deputy comptroller for New York State.

Responding to that report, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted, "That's Trump-caliber dealmaking!"

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