The gloves are off. Last week, after years of chatter about more export pipelines – pro and con – the real debate has begun.
As expected, U.S. President Donald Trump has given his approval of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline. Its purpose is to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands into the U.S. midwest, where it will be sent to refineries on the Gulf Coast.
Trump said he wants to renegotiate terms of the project with its proponent, TransCanada Pipelines, but Canadian officials don’t see that as a serious obstacle to the $8-billion project.
The Keystone announcement came less than two months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signalled his government’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s contentious Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. That project would triple capacity along the existing route to Vancouver, allowing Alberta to export crude oil to markets around the Pacific Rim.When construction on both – or even one – gets underway, it’s bound to create many jobs for Albertans. Longer term, the projects could also lead to further employment and investment in the province’s oilsands and other energy projects.
But without a doubt those approvals, regardless of their economic impact in Alberta and across the nation, will rekindle public debate. If Canadians are serious about reducing their carbon footprint, how can they support projects that seem certain to produce more greenhouse gases, here and in nations far away, for generations to come?
What about our commitments to green energy, to reducing our consumption, to saving the planet for our grandchildren and beyond?
What about our obligation to deal fairly with First Nations (Canadian and American) whose lands could be compromised by these projects? What are we offering in return?
And when there’s a pipeline failure or a serious spill – nothing works perfectly all the time – what social and environmental risks are we prepared to take? Really, how effectively can we prepare to deal with these crises? Who has the responsibility to respond immediately?
When we’re looking at major projects like these, all kinds of questions arise. At the same time, we see these projects’ benefits, now and in the future. But it’s not future generations who get to decide – it’s us!
And now the debate begins in earnest. We should be able to look for leadership from our provincial and federal governments.
But we’ll also be hearing from environment groups, aboriginal leaders, economists, property owners and of course “big business.”
Right here in southern Alberta, we have well-educated people who can address many of the questions we’ll be asking. But of course, Canadians in other parts of the nation will raise their issues and views as well.
Back in our nation’s pioneering days, few people asked questions about building rail lines across the Prairies and through the Rockies. Few spoke up to end the buffalo massacres. And who stood up to challenge the purpose of residential schools for First Nations children?
We live in different times today; we can all voice our concerns about major projects like these pipelines. Let us hope for the time and patience to hear each other out, and that we reach our decisions on the basis of respect, negotiation and agreement.