Pipeline Observer

Rex Murphy: Clearly, it's all Kinder Morgan's fault. Those darn Texans

Published in June, 2018

How has it come to pass that our climate-change government in Ottawa is now in the pipeline-building business? How can it be that the world’s No. 1-ranking Paris summit champion against “carbon pollution” is about to get into the business of laying tubes to carry the dread product of the Alberta oilsands? As the melancholy Dane once phrased it: “This was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof.”

It’s all Kinder Morgan’s fault. It’s those damned Texans.

About two months ago — many eternities in political time — Kinder Morgan issued a statement that it was suspending work on the famous pipeline and that on May 31 it would declare whether or not it would stay with the project. Very many people, and they were all wrong, interpreted this as “an ultimatum.”

Donna Oleksiuk holds a sign bearing a photograph of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during a protest against the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in Vancouver on May 29, 2018. Darryl Dyck/CP

It was, actually, more along the lines of a medical report. K-M was in despair and exhausted. For six years it had run the obstacle course of permits and hearings and protests, the harassment and slurs of all the eco-brigades, ambivalence from the national government, and a full international campaign against its Canadian project. It needed a break.

It was a flag of despair. It had played by all the rules, the B.C. government had signed on (curious how little play this gets), the federal government had signed on, the NEB was satisfied, but every day of the fabled process there were newly invented challenges, and as soon as it began the work preliminary to construction, out came the absolutely predictable threats of greater protests, blockades, the Green leader and her allies defying a court injunction, and “all hell is going to break loose” calls along the line in B.C.

So when it issued the now legendary 31st of May deadline, the company, which for all those six years had been demonstrating how very much it wanted to build this pipeline, was really only announcing that it wanted — that it needed — the torments to end.

It wanted clarity that the sky was really blue and rain was really wet. More precisely, that a permit was a permit. That when the Canadian state said a company had earned the right to go ahead with a project, a company could go ahead with a project. That when B.C. said it was a go, then B.C. had given it a go. Simple really.

Most of all, its question was: Was the Liberal government really onside with the pipeline or not? Would the government back it, with full and unambiguous vigour, during the now most crucial stage — the actual construction of the damn thing? Or was the company expected to face intensifying opposition from the feverish enviros, more showdowns and blockades? Would it be with the company when the violence and dangerous confrontation loosely hinted at under the convenient umbrella of “civil disobedience” erupted during actual construction? Or would that be solely the company’s “problem?”

A protester is led away by RCMP officers at a protest against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in March. Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck

Was Kinder Morgan to face this, all on its own, while the federal government joyfully continued to waltz off with massive delegations to climate conferences, there to proclaim the evils of oil and carbon emissions and deplore those fiendish energy companies that kept insisting on supplying the world with the oil and gas the world depends on?

So Kinder Morgan hadn’t issued an “ultimatum.” Rather, it had declared instead a necessary “time out” to weigh this one question: Is it going to be much more of the same?

Unfortunately, we never got to hear the results of Kinder Morgan’s meditation. Because two days before the 31st the Liberal government stepped in to say it was buying the pipeline from the company. But no genius is required to deduce the conclusion the company had come to. It looked back at what it had already gone through, and looked ahead and saw vividly and to its horror it was only going to get worse.

Federal Green Party Leader Elizabeth May is arrested after joining a protest against Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, outside Kinder Morgan’s facility in Burnaby, B.C., on March 23, 2018. Darryl Dyck/CP

That the pipeline was going to be the target of massive and relentless eco-protest with all the theatrics and potential confrontation that implies, and that the entire burden of dealing with the propaganda war to be waged against the pipeline would be left entirely for the company to carry. That the Al Gores, David Suzukis, Elizabeth Mays, Neil Youngs, Leonardo DiCaprios, Jane Fondas, Bill Nyes and McKibbens, Naomi Kleins, Andrew Weavers, John Horgans and (now) Jagmeet Singhs, Greenpeace, Sierra, Tides and Rockefeller Foundation, every self-appointed and furiously righteous Alberta-is-killing-the-planet doomsday evangelist would be loosed in war against it and the pipeline. Was Kinder Morgan going to stay for that?

It wasn’t going to walk away from the project. It was going to flee for its life. Meantime the Liberals, having by one means or another reduced the entire capacity for Alberta to take its oil to markets other than the U.S. to one, and only one, pipeline, could not be seen to have that last one go, too. Straight-up revolt in Alberta, and establishing Canada as a pariah in the world’s capital markets, would be only two of the consequences that would ensue.

That the pipeline will actually be built … is an entirely separate issue

And so the government, under pressure, in political desperation, stitched together a princely Hudson’s Bay blanket of four and a half billion of our finest Canadian dollars to avoid the full storm that would have erupted on the 31st if Kinder Morgan were to say to Canada and the world what surely it would have said: that it had had enough! That Canada was the worst place in the world for oil and gas projects. That permits granted there were really useless. That the Canadian government — its prime minister had actually said so — would shut down the entire oil and gas industry tomorrow if it could. And that it only supported it to the degree, and reluctantly, that it absolutely had to. And finally, and without question, that the Canadian government was the most feeble and ambiguous partner any energy project could ever dread to see.

This is how and why we have got to where we are, that our climate-change government is in the pipeline-building business. That the pipeline will actually be built, that anything fundamental about the contest over whether it can be built, has changed, at all, is an entirely separate issue. I would argue that this “national project” is just as tentative as it ever has been. The storm has yet to begin.