Brawl over expansion of Trans Mountain pipeline making project 'untenable,' says CEO

The CEO of Kinder Morgan Canada says internal Canadian political squabbles over the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline are signalling that the project may be "untenable."

'It's become clear this particular investment may be untenable for a private party to undertake'

Cedar George-Parker addresses the crowd as protesters against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline extension defy a court order and block an entrance to the company's property in Burnaby, B.C. on April 7. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The CEO of Kinder Morgan Canada says internal Canadian political squabbles over the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline are signalling that the project may be "untenable."

"It's become clear this particular investment may be untenable for a private party to undertake," Steve Kean, Kinder Morgan Canada's CEO, said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

"The events of the last ten days have confirmed those views."

Kean said that the significant differences between the the B.C. government — which is against the pipeline — and the Alberta and federal governments, which support it, are "outside of our ability to resolve." As a result, he said, the company will continue stakeholder discussions and see what happens between now and the May 31 deadline the company set recently.

Political instability around the pipeline expansion project prompted Kinder Morgan to suspend all non-essential spending on the project last week. The company has given the federal government until May 31 to deliver concrete assurances that the expanded line will get built. 

Kean said the suspension of spending will stand and that "under the current conditions, we would not be putting additional KML capital at risk."

Kean did say, however, that the dispute over the pipeline expansion would not dissuade his company from investing in Canada.

"We also said there's no read-through from this in terms of our willingness to invest in Canada," he said. "We have invested in Canada, in British Columbia as well as Alberta, and we expect to continue investing."

Hours before Kean spoke, the B.C. provincial government said it was filing a legal challenge in the provincial Court of Appeal to determine if it has jurisdiction over the Trans Mountain expansion project.

On Monday, the Alberta provincial government introduced Bill 12, titled Preserving Canada's Economic Prosperity Act, which would give Alberta the ability to retaliate against B.C. over any delays to the expansion by driving up gas prices or restricting shipments of other energy products.

Federal action

In an effort to get Trans Mountain's construction schedule back on track, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Sunday that he had ordered Finance Minister Bill Morneau to "initiate formal financial discussions with Kinder Morgan, the result of which will be to remove the uncertainty overhanging the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project."

Trudeau would not say whether that meant taking an ownership stake in the pipeline.

The prime minister also said he would take legislative action to push the pipeline forward — but offered no specifics on what that action might entail.

"I have also informed [Alberta Premier Rachel] Notley and [B.C. Premier John] Horgan today that we are actively pursuing legislative options that will assert and reinforce the government of Canada's jurisdiction in this matter, which we know we clearly have," he said.

No public negotiations: Notley

Notley said Wednesday Kinder Morgan may be engaging in some "public positioning" on the standoff.

"I am not going to engage in negotiations around that public positioning or respond to that public positioning because my objective and the objective of the government of Alberta is to come to a solution that will ensure that there is a pipeline constructed between Alberta and the port of Vancouver that ships our product," she said.

"And I believe that the people that need to be at the table to make that thing happen are now at the table, but I will not engage in public negotiations around what is happening at that table."

With files from the CBC's Michelle Bellefontaine

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