Notley hits right note in Calgary speech defending Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline

trans mountain expansion
Premier Rachel Notley addresses the Stampede Investment Forum in Calgary on Tuesday. (Justin Pennell/CBC).

With minority BC NDP government set to take power, Notley must lead fight to defend Trans Mountain Expansion

After a shaky start to her campaign to support Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline when it begins construction this fall, Alberta Premier Rachel Notley got it right in a speech to the Stampede Investment Forum in Calgary on Tuesday, putting the Climate Leadership Plan front and centre in her appeal to British Columbia, which will very shortly have an NDP minority government committed to fighting the Kinder Morgan project.

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“Albertans care about climate change .. and that’s exactly why our climate leadership plan is the most forward-looking and aggressive and fulsome anywhere in North America,” she told the audience, which occasionally broke into applause according to the CBC.

“We’re reducing methane. We’re phasing out harmful coal emissions. And we’ve capped oil sands emissions, which means — and this is really important — it means the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline will not lead to higher oil sands emissions.”

That last point is key because it’s frequently misunderstood and Notley needs to hammer it home every time she talks about the oil sands emissions cap, wherever she happens to be speechifying.

The 100 megatonne/year cap is intended to reduce the carbon-intensity of Alberta oil sands crude so that production can be increased without raising emissions from their current level of 70 megatonne/year.

Energy economist Kent Fellows from the University of Calgary says that industry continues to make improvements in its crude oil emissions intensity.

“One recent example is the development of paraffinic froth treatment [for oil sands mining] which has a very dramatic effect on emissions intensity. Every time a new development reduces emissions intensity, the effective cap on production increases,” Fellows said in response to emailed questions.

“If industry is able to reduce the intensity enough, they might never reach the emissions cap at all.”

Trans Mountain Expansion
2016 Vancouver protest against Trans Mountain Expansion. Photo: Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver

There is an idea – one commonly bandied about in Metro Vancouver, where opposition to Trans Mountain Expansion is strongest – that increased oil sands production is inconsistent with climate change concerns, Fellows says.

“While the two represent potentially conflicting values, there are by no means inconsistent. If intensity falls sufficiently, he emissions can be reduced relative to baseline and production can still increase,” he said.

Here is a point Notley didn’t make in her speech, but one she should begin including: If oil sands producers succeed in “taking the carbon out of the barrel,” then to the extent Alberta crude displaces heavy crude from Venezuela or Nigeria or the Middle East that has a much higher carbon-intensity, then there is a net carbon benefit.

Not “dirty oil” and not a “carbon bomb.” A benefit.

Not sure how that benefit gets calculated under Canada’s Paris Climate Accord commitments, but perhaps Notley should take that up with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while he’s flipping pancakes at the Calgary Stampede this week.

“Some say that to fight climate change, we have to leave our energy industry — and those working people who live in it — behind,” Notley noted in her speech.

“To them, I say any climate plan that ignores our energy needs and the working people associated with it is not a plan.”

Another key issue.

trans mountain expansion
Kearl oil sands plant.

A common talking point in Vancouver is that if Canada is going to meet its climate commitments, the oil sands have to be shut down.


The oil sands are certainly a big greenhouse gas emitter, representing just over nine per cent of Canadian emissions.

Without the Climate Leadership Plan, oil sands emissions would at a minimum hit the 100 MT cap by 2030, perhaps climbing as high as 115 MT, according to Environment Canada as reported by the Ottawa Citizen.

But the adoption of paraffinic froth treatment on the mining side and substitution of solvent for steam – created by natural gas – on the in situ side of oil sands production, combined with regulations to reduce emissions from conventional and tight oil/gas production (e.g. a 45 per cent reduction in fugitive methane emissions), will go a long way to meeting Alberta GHG emissions targets.

Without devastating the Alberta energy economy, which is a significant contributor to the GDP in BC, Ontario, and Quebec.

“That is why the twinning of this pipeline is so important, not only to our economy but also to our ability to generate the jobs and wealth we need to chart a better, greener, healthier future,” she said.

“I believe that is worth fighting for, and I am going to keep on fighting for it.”

I agree. Alberta agrees. And we all agree Premier Notley needs to be at the forefront of the fight – especially in British Columbia over the next six to 12 months as the anticipated ferocious opposition to Trans Mountain Expansion reaches a fever pitch.

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  1. The dirty, tar sands have to be refined/upgraded into synthetic crude, before transporting from the tar sands regions to create jobs and to prevent another Kalamazoo River disaster.

  2. As long as there is no way to clean up bitumen from the bottom of the ocean or ragging mountain rivers in BC,we don’t want your pipeline.To much risk for our coastline ,country side and the jobs and benefits to our economy that a bitumen spill threatens with the increase in mega tanker traffic along our coast with human error in play.

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