Canada Oil Pipeline: Trudeau Just Knocked Over the First Domino

Jerri-Lynn here:  This post reminds us that while we’ve all been fixating on US pipeline policy, both current– e.g. DAPL — and future– under president-elect Trump, the US has no monopoly on poor pipeline decisions that in the long-run will only exacerbate climate change. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to approve a major expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline has major international implications, as author Kevin Grandia spells out below.

And, just as the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is spearheading anti-DAPL efforts in the United States, so Grandia suggests that Canadian First Nations’ communities– which strongly oppose the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline– will follow through with anti-pipeline initiatives, including court proceedings.

Note that I provide only a short version of Grandia’s complete biography below. Interested readers can find a more complete version here.

By Kevin Grandia, who is a contributor and strategic adviser to DeSmogBlog and DeSmog Canada. He runs the digital marketing agency Spake Media House. Named a “Green Hero” by Rolling Stone Magazine and one of the “Top 50 Tweeters” on climate change and environment issues, Kevin has appeared in major news media outlets around the world. He was Senior Advisor to the Minister of State for Multiculturalism and a Special Assistant to the Minister of State for Asia Pacific, Foreign Affairs for the Government of Canada. Kevin also worked in various roles in the British Columbia provincial government in the Office of the Premier and the Ministry of Health. Follow him on Twitter @kgrandia. Originally published at DeSmogBlog.

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision this week to approve a major expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline has negative implications that go well beyond the borders of the Great White North.

Canada is currently the largest importer of oil to the United States. We import more oil than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Mexico combined. We are a secure, stable and reliable trading partner with the US for a product that can make or break their economy.

Right now, Canada has almost zero ability to transport its oil to anywhere other than the United States. There is no big spigot off of our east, west or north coasts that allows for overseas export to other markets, particularly in Asia.

Approving the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion changes all of that, and for the first time Canada might be capable of shipping significant amounts of oil to markets other than the United States (assuming the project is actually completed — a big question mark given ongoing First Nations’ legal challenges and resistance from British Columbians).

This fact has got to have the attention of the US government. Their stable, reliable and secure oil supply is now, for the first time in history, under threat of going to other markets.

What is President-elect Donald Trump Thinking About This?

I would bet this announcement is on President-elect Trump’s radar. Trump has promised to renegotiate or even terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico. Trump has also promised to restart the process of building the Keystone XL pipeline that would significantly expand transport capacity for tar sands oil from Canada to the United States and foreign export markets via the Gulf of Mexico.

While there is no doubt a benefit to Canada diversifying the customer base for its oil products, it may come at the expense of ticking off our biggest customer to the south. In the complicated world of geopolitics and oil, who knows where this could lead.

Trudeau Just Knocked Over the First Domino

Here is a graph showing the largest proposed oil and gas projects in the world, along with the carbon emissions they will put into our atmosphere:


According to a report earlier this year by Oil Change International, if these projects are built, we are toast. Burnt toast that is.

It is crucial to the earth’s climate that the projects represented in this graph are never built. Canada is in that top five as you can see, and you can also see that some not-too-cooperative countries are also in the top five, including Russia and Iran.

What kind of message does Trudeau’s approval of the  Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline project send to these other countries like Russia, Iran and Qatar?

I don’t think it is much of a stretch to say that if there was any inkling of hesitation amongst these other countries to not proceed with building their own new pipelines, that has all been thrown out the window with Trudeau’s decision.

In fact, it is most likely that many of the countries in this graph will speed up their timelines, so as to maintain a competitive edge in the oil market over us Canadians.

Oceans Have No Borders

The Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion will increase oil tanker traffic from around 60 tankers per year to more than 400. So instead of a massive oil tanker coming through Vancouver’s waterfront and the Burrard Inlet on average every couple of weeks, we will now see on average one a day.

Experts have always said that when it comes to oil tankers, spills are not a question of if, but when. We have been relatively lucky so far that the only major spill from the existing Trans Mountain pipeline happened on land. And no matter how prepared we could be for a spill in our Inner Harbor here in Vancouver (which history has shown not to be the case), the problem is likely not containable within our own borders.

According to media reports last year, the neighboring Washington State government is “worried about Canada’s ability to respond to oil spills.” And they should be considering that the US-Canada ocean border is only a few miles from where all these oil tankers would travel through. The US San Juan islands for instance is a major tourism destination and home to diverse marine life, and is in serious risk from any spill that happens just up the coast.


Image credit: Wilderness Committee

First Nations communities on both sides of the border are tied together in the Salish Sea, which predates any borders. The Coast Salish nations, along with many other First Nations’ communities, are strongly opposed to this pipeline and so we will see mounting opposition and court proceedings, with implications that will likely reach across the Canada-US border.

Our friends in the US take on a lot of risk from a potential oil spill, but see none of the economic benefits of Canada’s expanded oil export capabilities.

All risk and no reward is likely something that is not sitting too well with Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, who is a very vocal supporter of action on climate change.

What About the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement, negotiated late last year by 195 countries, commits the vast majority of world leaders to dealing with the issue of climate change by committing to significantly reducing their country’s greenhouse gas emissions over the coming decades.

At the time, newly-elected Prime Minister Trudeau and his Environment Minister Catherine McKenna were a breath of fresh air at the Paris climate talks. As much as we are a small country (by population), Canada is a significant player at these climate negotiations because per-capita we are historically a large emitter of greenhouse gas pollution. We also hold massive amounts of greenhouse gas reserves in our oil sands and other fossil fuel deposits. So to see Trudeau and McKenna step up at the Paris climate talks was a big deal.

The Paris Agreement is both a functional document and a symbolic one, and in many ways its symbolism is the more powerful of the two.

The Paris Agreement sent a resounding message to the world that business-as-usual is no longer acceptable. It made clear to the global business community that the days of paying lip service to concerns about climate change is no longer acceptable, and markets have reacted.

Speaking of lip service, did you hear about Prime Minister Trudeau approving a new expansion in oil sands pipelines that will lock in massive new amounts of carbon being pumped into our atmosphere?

Somehow Trudeau and his government think they can reconcile a commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change with the construction of a new pipeline that will greatly increase emissions of the very thing the agreement is trying to reduce.

On paper Trudeau might be able to make that case, but he is missing the real point of the Paris Agreement and that is the signal it sends out to the world.

With Trudeau approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, he and his government have just thrown a big bucket of sloppy crude onto that clear and resounding signal the Paris Agreement sent out to the world.

Between domestic unrest and the international ramifications, this pipeline decision will likely come to define much of Trudeau’s time in government, which quite honestly I think is something this Prime Minister really didn’t think through that well.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Cry Shop

    Trudeau is another Obama, with the advantage of being able to hide his vacuous morals behind the brand his father built up.

    1. jawbone

      I am so sick and tired of pols who seem to one of the good guys or gals, then seeing their true Corporatist Colors Shining Through. Well, at least visible through the oncoming smog Trudeau’s creating….

    2. Synapsid

      Cry Shop, oh, jawbone,

      Read bun’s comment below, and think about it.

      bun’s comment, you see, provides information, and context; there is a noticeable lack of spouting off.

      Then re-read your own comments, do. It’s not too late to begin learning; others have.

    3. Temporarily Sane

      That’s what my inlaws who live deep inside Soviet Canuckistan say too. Trudeau is relatively young and telegenic, socia media savvy, a skilled bullshitter and his administration follows a decade of Conservative party rule under PM Stephen Harper, Canada’s version of Bush 43’s neocon cabal.

      Like Obama before him milking his status as “not Bush” to the max, Trudeau is deified by the liberal media (in the US and UK more than in Canada) and gets a pass simply because he is “not Harper”.

      But with Obama on the way out, conservatives in office in the UK and Australia and Europe rejecting neoliberalism Trudeau’s stint as neoliberal poster boy may be short lived.

  2. The Trumpening

    Surely this sentence should read: Canada is currently the largest EXporter of oil to the United States. We EXport more oil than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Mexico combined.

    So Canada has approved the Trans Mountain expansion AND the Line 3 pipeline replacement (doubling the existing pipeline’s volume) but they did reject the Northern Gateway project. But with these two pipeline expansions set to go, the real question is: does the Keystone XL project make any sense anymore from the oil industry’s point of view?

    This is a great example of how important Justin Trudeau’s incessant Virtue Signalling is to corporate Canada. Trudeau has built up considerable political capital among Western progressives with all his gender and immigrant based virtue signalling that so often appears, for example, on Facebook. All this worthless posturing builds Trudeau a huge pile of political capital chips that he can cash in from time to time for his corporate masters; like in approving this pipeline. Native leaders will be quietly told by liberals to hush up on this one since Trudeau is one of the “good-guys” and if he is attacked too hard a Canadian “Trump” might be the result.

    1. rjs

      you’re right, this will probably kill the Keystone XL, despite Trump…all the tar sands expansion projects that had been proposed early in the decade have since been cancelled because of low oil prices, and the takeaway needs for current tar sands production is already being met by existing pipelines…

      tar sands is some of the most expensive oil on earth…we’d have to see a big jump in oil prices before the oil companies will go back there…

    2. carl

      Surely this sentence should read: Canada is currently the largest EXporter of oil to the United States. We EXport more oil than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Mexico combined.

      I thought the same thing.

  3. divadab

    It’s not all negative news – there are four refineries in Northwest Washington State, 2 in Whatcom County, and two in Skagit County. These are currently supplied by tanker carrying oil from Alaska’s north slope (almost played out), and by rail from the Bakken and the tar sands. Much of this feed will be replaced by oil carried on the Kinder Morgan pipeline from Alberta. And this will reduce tanker traffic in the Salish Sea, and pretty much eliminate bomb trains delivering oil. So given that the refineries are not going away anytime soon (I mean, I drive a car because I live in a rural area and what choice do I have? I buy groceries at the store that have a huge carbon content, etc. etc – we are stuck in a system not of our creation) – surely it’s better to deliver their feedstock by a safer method than tankers and bomb trains but rather by pipeline?

    Yes we need to get off the oil. Yes we need to change the entire basis of our economy to a sustainable basis, a huge project, generational, which will put everyone to work. But in the meantime, mitigation seems to me to be better than not doing anything.

    1. Brad

      If we kept it in the ground, there would be no question of bomb trains vs pipelines.

      Strange that capitalists don’t use their precious market to raise the price of petro by restricting supply. They do it with cheese, why not oil?

      Mitigation ultimately has to involve reduction of waste in consumption. The US is the world’s #1 per capita culprit in this regard. Blame America First.

      1. divadab

        All you say is true except point #2 – the oil producers are using supply control to LOWER the price and so get more economies addicted to the stuff.

    2. bob

      “eliminate bomb trains delivering oil”

      I’d like that in writing.

      Train cars are STORAGE for oil, that can be moved. Pipelines are transport only.

      The belief that pipelines will stop trains with oil is not founded in reality. Pipelines and trains serve two very different purposes. While there is a shortage of storage, train cars will still be used.

    3. Synapsid


      Those four refineries in NW Washington State receive crude from the Alberta oil sands via a spur off the TransMountain pipeline, at Sumas. Bakken crude is railed in, as you say.

      1. divadab

        yup. And now more tar sands oil will be available to the refineries with the increase in pipeline capacity.

  4. rodney

    why not just build a bomb put a timer on and say there oh give all your money all the land sea and sky now mister trump and trudeau can wait like the rest of for the bomb to blow and see if all that what they took will help them survive the blast along with all the other greedy so and sos out there

  5. Brad

    Thanks. Was going to post a Bloomberg link on this Trudeau decision yesterday.

    I’ve noticed that the same mainstream commentary that ridicules right-wing science denial, falls completely silent both in the US and in Canada when it comes to concrete instances.

    So climate change is NEVER raised in the context of Standing Rock, for example.

    I need to find the Petro industry publications that make clear that they pursue a divide and conquer strategy to split off the native peoples from the Keep It In The Ground movement. The second is of course the “main enemy”.

  6. Oil Dusk

    Wow, a lot of analysis for some seriously flawed science. The days of paying “lip service” at all to climate change are hopefully behind us. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. For those of you that are apparently “science challenged” here is a link for your consideration:

    The U.S. should have readily accepted the Keystone pipeline when they had the chance; hopefully they still have a chance to get it done. They pay a fair price for this oil to Canada and it gives the U.S. a secure source for their oil consumption. What’s not to like?

    Rather than ruminate about various ways to attack the ability to transport oil, why not explore options on ways that we can individually reduce our oil consumption habits? Buy a bicycle and use it. Leave the gas at the gas station and they’ll stop producing so much. No one will ever complain about your personal decisions to use less. Why is it so important that you need to impose this preference on others?

    1. bob

      “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant”

      yes, and cigarettes don’t kill people. I hope you’re getting paid well, although I doubt it.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      “Why is it so important that you need to impose this preference on others?”

      Are you being deliberately obtuse here? Maybe take a look at a satellite photo (made with science!) and see how much ice is left in the Arctic and then a map of the world to see where the majority of the planet’s population is located and that might answer your question.

    3. Vatch

      I didn’t have time to view and listen to the whole thing, so I only have a couple of comments.

      1. He tells us that carbon dioxide levels were significantly higher during some past periods of Earth history. Yes, but solar luminosity was lower. In other words, the Earth was receiving less energy from the Sun, so greater concentrations of greenhouse gases were what kept the temperature at levels conducive to life. See:

      The faint young Sun paradox describes the apparent contradiction between observations of liquid water early in Earth’s history and the astrophysical expectation that the Sun’s output would be only 70 percent as intense during that epoch as it is during the modern epoch. The issue was raised by astronomers Carl Sagan and George Mullen in 1972.[1] Explanations of this paradox have taken into account greenhouse effects, astrophysical influences, or a combination of the two.

      2.There’s an interesting comment on the web site about an error that apparently occurs more than once in the video. I only saw the error once, but I did not view the whole video:

      9:44 Happer: “We just came out of the last Ice Age about 20 million years ago… 15 million years ago” … This was the last inter-glacial 120 million years ago”. So: not just a mistake, he repeated “millions” — THREE TIMES. Look at the damn plot: it only covers 800,000 years. This guy knows nothing about climate, or perhaps he’s just senile — you tell me.

      In reality, the last ice age ended about 15,000 years ago. That’s a difference of several orders of decimal magnitude. A huge factual error like this makes me suspicious.

  7. susan the other

    Trudeau is a disappointment. The beneficiary of the Kinder Morgan expansion is China. It was always Canada’s option #2. When Obama decided to break OPEC he gave our gas/oil companies all sorts of deals to drill and frack. Trump sounds like he will continue the policy. But in the fight to control the production of oil worldwide, the atmosphere – the very thing we are fighting for – is damaged beyond repair. The market should be used in a different manner than direct competition in the terminally filthy oil industry. We should build a new non-oil infrastructure for transportation. Trains and busses and trucks and town cars that do not run on oil-derived energy. Let us not forget that Nevada contains yuuge geothermal resources and only lacks water to be developed. Why not start there with a rationing of the Colorado so there is adequate water? There are so many things we could be doing. The question is why aren’t we doing them?

  8. Naca

    No matter how much politics you cite, the only legal and lawful way to do any business in the treaty territory is by acknowledging and honoring the treaties in the land of the treaty Indian .in this territory,only the United states President can make a decision based on the demands of the original hereditary chief and head men of each and every Nation.there are many,all distinct and unique,they have their language, culture and their sacred ways of life. They are real flesh and blood intrinsic people of a sovereign nation.the land they are on is their territory and no one can intrude. This is why any created government can not invade and apply any and all alien and foreign laws with out their explicit consent.their blood is what is sacred.full blood. The Lakota proved this in case settled law. Elk-vs-USA ,April 28,2009, The 1868 Ft. Laramie Treaty is a legal and binding document between two sovereign nations. What the MOTHER CORPORATION USA Is doing is using sub corporations;Federal,States,Counties,Tribes, COUNTY-TRIBES, Municipalities to intrude into a treaty with out the required easements and right of way which is art.12 3/4 adult male consent (full blood only) . That is why the full blood roll is a must and the O.M.B. Has to use it for Indian appropriations. How in the hell Did the federal government access Indian access Indian appropriations money using a genocidal federal policy.FRAUD!! Fraudulent conversion and conveyance.this is why all municipalities are illegal and unlawful. Who is going to enforce the law??creator knows and sees all.

  9. bun

    The article’s histrionics are not commensurate with what it going on. Life is a lot more complicated than oil = bad (which it is) and green=good (which it is). In my view Trudeau cut the baby in half and did the best he could politically to help Alberta, which is hurting bad economically, and help its government, leftwing with a progressive green agenda in a heretofore rock-solid conservative province, and keep his own green agenda from falling off the rails.

    First of all, in the same announcement the Liberals CANCELLED the Northern Gateway, a very large pipeline project from Alberta to Kitimat in the north of BC that similarly had industry backing and similarly was a priority for the Alberta government. Moreover, they recently banned tanker traffic on the northern coast so there will never be a pipeline up there, incidentally the shortest route to tidewater from Alberta. So the tenor of the article that the government simply sold out to pipeline interests doesn’t ring true.

    Second – You must realize that not everyone citizen was dead against the pipeline – down here in Vancouver Metro certainly, but it had big support e.g. in Alberta (obviously), the North-east of BC. The Alberta provincial government is the left-wing NDP (practically commie by US standards…) and they have a strong progressive, green agenda in an otherwise solid-blue conservative province. With the economy ailing from the oil price collapse, she needed *something* to help the economy *now*. She would have been skewered otherwise (see for an example of what she is up against.) If you read what Notley is trying to do there (think Sanders as governor of Texas) I think most NC readers will be on side with her policies.

    Trudeau has tabled a canada-wide carbon tax that will be imposed on provinces that do not come up with their own. Notley’s Alberta government has proposed their own carbon tax, and banning coal-fired electricity generation, but for political survival reasons, demanded that Trudeau approve at least one pipeline to tidewater to get her the aforementioned ‘win’ now, as a condition of her signing on to the federal government’s plan. That stance played well in Alberta, and helps her a lot politically against a virulent conservative opposition. (e.g. the federal Conservative leader, from Alberta, chastised Trudeau for cancelling Northern Gateway!) Without Alberta on board, the Liberals canada-wide green agenda would be for naught. She seems to be on board now, as will be touring BC to sell the plan.
    (See and

    !! Obviously, people down here in Vancouver see it rather differently. Personally it was a disappointment that he approved it in its current form – he could have told them to move the terminus to a less busy area down the coast a bit, and that may still happen as the battles have just begun. Commentators here have been saying for months that he was in a no win-win situation, and that he was going to piss somebody off. But realistically, its probably the best he could have done under the circumstances IMHO. Alberta and Canada can now pursue their green agendas with a little less vitriol from the right, so on balance the decision should come out net positive for the climate.

    we shall see.

    1. Synapsid


      Thanks for this.

      This is a clear and informative comment that provides information, and context within which to evaluate the material in the link.

      The comment is superior to the link.

  10. susan the other

    I’d prefer to see BC and Alberta manufacture non-fossil-fuel transportation vehicles, and export them to us. That could be good for them and us. Forget the oil, it would also be good because it would deprive China primarily, and they’d have to make do without it. Besides which, the thought of a tanker a day navigating the complexities of the San Juans makes me ill.

  11. Skeptic

    According to are study discussed in the Guardian

    “The internet releases around 300m tonnes of CO2 a year – as much as all the coal, oil and gas burned in Turkey or Poland, or more than half of the fossil fuels burned in the UK”

    And this does not include all the metals mined, the plastics made out of hydrocarbons and other products needed to create the wires, computers (which account for about 0.8% of all CO2)

    Internet data centres create more CO2 than the tar sands do on an annual basis.
    “data centres already account for around a quarter of the energy consumed (and the carbon emitted) by the information and communication technology (ICT) sector as a whole. In other words, around half a percent of global CO2 emissions.”

    The tar sands account for 0.13 of global emissions. So the internet and computers are ten times the tar sands emissions on an annual basis.

    So a guy who runs a business that capitalizes on increasing internet traffic is a climate crusader? I love hypocrites.

Comments are closed.