05 April 2012

Why is Prime Minister Stephen Harper Partial to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines Project?

Anyone relying on the recent words and deeds of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, and other federal officials might be excused for wrongly assuming that the shipment of Alberta oil sands crude to Canada’s west coast and thence to Asian markets depends entirely on the approval, construction and operation of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipelines.  With noteworthy consistency, their public advocacy of Enbridge’s proposed pipeline system avoids reference to another already in existence.

Kinder Morgan, one of Enbridge’s chief competitors, owns and operates the 1150 km long Trans Mountain Pipeline system, which moves crude oil and refined products from Edmonton, Alberta to the Lower Mainland of British Columbia and, by means of its branch Puget Sound Pipeline system, to northwestern Washington State. Trans Mountain has been in operation since the early 1950s. In recent years, 10 per cent of the tankers visiting Trans Mountain’s Port of Vancouver terminal have been bound for Asia.

But the Prime Minister and his federal colleagues portray Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project as vital not only to diversifying Canada’s crude oil market but also to accommodating Alberta’s accelerating oil sands production. As they see it, substantially increasing oil sands production is essential to securing Canada’s long-term economic growth and prosperity. Enbridge’s project fits into their grand scheme by adding significantly to the North American pipeline capacity required to move higher volumes of Alberta bitumen to market, and in particular to Asia. Anyone crediting their recent words and deeds would be hard pressed to conclude anything other than that Enbridge’s project is a national imperative.

No such treatment is accorded Kinder Morgan, despite actively pursuing a proposal to expand the capacity of its Trans Mountain system. Its current capacity to carry crude oil and