Edmonton

Trans Mountain pipeline expansion takes step forward with new construction phase

'This is good news and an important step forward,' Alberta premier says

Posted: December 03, 2019
Last Updated: December 03, 2019

The Trans Mountain pipeline moves crude to the British Columbia coast, where some shipments may reach Asian markets. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

The CEO of Trans Mountain says he's "a little greyer" than he was 10 years ago when planning began for an expansion of the Edmonton-to-Burnaby oil pipeline, but he's still proud to oversee the official launch of Alberta construction.

Ian Anderson, who switched employers when the pipeline and its proposed expansion were sold to the federal government in 2018 for $4.5 billion, repeated a vow Tuesday to have expansion project pipe in the ground before Christmas.

Speaking in a frosty field west of Edmonton, he said the project has been steadily improved as it was repeatedly delayed over the years and is now set to be the "best darn pipeline in the world" with enhanced leak detection and thicker pipe in key segments.

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The announcement  comes just two weeks before a court hearing in British Columbia could decide whether Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government can complete the project.

The proposal to nearly triple Trans Mountain's flow of crude to 890,000 barrels per day is one of three by the industry to expand pipelines to U.S. refineries from Alberta, where existing pipelines are congested.

TMX, as the project is known, moves crude to the British Columbia coast, where some shipments may reach Asian markets.

Canada is the world's fourth-largest crude producer, but struggles to get new export pipelines built due to opposition from environmental activists that has forced the Alberta government to curtail production and prompted an exodus of foreign investors.

Anderson said the pipeline will take 30 to 36 months to build, which means it could be completed in the second half of 2022, but he declined to update the last cost estimate of $7.4 billion because the schedule is not yet confirmed.

Federal and Alberta politicians on Tuesday marked the start of a new phase of construction near Edmonton, involving work along the pipeline's right-of-way.

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"Encouraged to finally see pipe going in the ground," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted. "There's a long way to go, but this is good news and an important step forward."

After a legal delay, work resumed in late summer near Edmonton and in Burnaby, B.C., where the pipeline ends, in hopes of putting the project in service by mid-2022.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage called Tuesday's development a "positive step forward" for the province and the country.

"Perseverance has got us to this point," Savage said Tuesday in a statement. "When others were criticizing our energy industry and the value of future pipelines, Albertans did not waver. That's why our government has been tireless in our advocacy for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project and why we'll continue to engage the federal government to discuss Alberta's priorities and challenges."

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, who opposes the project, said there is still substantial opposition to the TMX project.

"What we're witnessing is a lot of self-serving posturing," Phillip said.

The Federal Court of Appeal is scheduled to hold a three-day hearing in Vancouver starting on Dec. 16. The hearing will consider challenges by six indigenous groups who say the Canadian government did not sufficiently consult them on the project.

With files from The Canadian Press