Suncor CEO encouraged by Trans Mountain pipeline, less sure of Keystone XL's completion

Suncor CEO Mark Little was encouraged about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which recently cleared a major court hurdle. About the prospects of Keystone XL, Little sounded less optimistic.

'I don't know': CEO chuckles as he sums up prospects for Keystone XL pipeline

Pipes intended for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline are shown in Gascoyne, N.D. in 2015. A U.S. court ruling blocking a key environmental permit earlier this month is just another setback for the controversial project first announced in 2008. (Alexander Panetta/The Canadian Press)

The chief executive of one of the country's largest energy companies has more faith in the federal government's Trans Mountain expansion project being completed, compared with the Keystone XL pipeline, which has Alberta government backing.

That's based on comments by Suncor Energy's Mark Little on Thursday morning during a conference call with the investment community about the plethora of pipeline developments recently, including regulatory and court decisions.

Little was encouraged about the Trans Mountain expansion project, which recently cleared a major court hurdle when the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by First Nations in B.C. Construction in Alberta and British Columbia continues on the pipeline, which will transport oil from Edmonton to the Vancouver area.

"Trans Mountain is looking better than it ever has," he said. "They're talking about it being on in late 2022. If it's 2022 or out to mid-2023, it's in good shape."

About the prospects of Keystone XL, Little sounded less optimistic.

Earlier this month, a U.S. Supreme Court decision supported a lower court ruling that blocked a key environmental permit for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — a decision that will continue to delay large portions of construction on the 1,947-kilometre project that stretches from Alberta to the U.S. gulf coast.

Asked by an analyst during the conference call to assess various pipeline projects, Little chuckled as he brought up Keystone XL.

"And then Keystone XL," he laughed. "I don't know, seems like it's becoming a significant part of the discussion on the politics side."

Listen to the analyst's question followed by Mark Little's response about recent pipeline developments:

The latest court ruling is just another setback for the project, which was first announced in 2008 and is being built by Calgary-based TC Energy Corp. 

"[TC Energy is] working through these latest court rulings, so it's delaying any of the construction across the waterways, but I think if you go talk to TC, they're still plowing ahead and working hard to make this thing happen, so there's lots of resolve there to keep going," Little said.

Some experts have said there is less than a 50 per cent chance the project is actually completed, especially considering the U.S. presidential election later this year.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order to advance construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington on Jan. 24, 2017. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

U.S. President Donald Trump has been a strong supporter of the Keystone XL project, but his opponent, Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has said he would tear up Trump's approval of the pipeline if he wins the White House. 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has praised the project for the potential job creation in the province and the additional export capacity it would provide to oil producers.

The Alberta government has invested $1.5 billion in the Keystone XL pipeline, plus $6 billion in loan guarantees.

TC Energy has said it will continue building the Canadian leg of the project while fighting the legal battle south of the border.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney marked the start of construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in the town of Oyen earlier this month. (Flickr/Alberta Government)

The federal government purchased the Trans Mountain project in 2018, as developer Kinder Morgan said it faced too much uncertainty with the proposal.

Before the sale, the company had temporarily halted work as opposition escalated, particularly from the British Columbia government.

Suncor has committed to using both pipelines to ship oil out of Alberta. 



Kyle Bakx

Business reporter

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with the network business unit at CBC News. He files stories from across the country and internationally for web, radio, TV and social media platforms. You can email story ideas to


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