British Columbia

'A bold statement': Trans Mountain pipeline pushes forward despite B.C.'s uncertain political future

B.C.'s uncertain political future isn't slowing down Kinder Morgan's efforts to push forward the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — but experts say the project will still have to navigate a political minefield.

A potentially hostile B.C. government and vocal public opposition have not slowed Kinder Morgan's efforts

During the campaign, the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Green parties vowed to kill the project if they formed government. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

B.C 's uncertain political future isn't slowing down Kinder Morgan's efforts to push forward the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — but experts say the project will still have to navigate a political minefield.

On Thursday, Kinder Morgan announced construction on the project will begin in the fall, as long as it secures the necessary funding through its initial public offering.

The company is currently aiming to raise $1.75 billion, offering 102.9 million shares for $17 each.

University of British Columbia professor George Hoberg said that given the current political climate, the announcement by Kinder Morgan is an audacious one.

"It's a pretty bold statement to make at this particular time, despite all that uncertainty, that they're still planning to plough ahead contingent on that IPO being successful," he said.​

But Kevin Hanna with UBC's geography department said the announcement should not come as a shock.

"They were probably waiting to ensure that they could get sufficient financing in place and customers lined up, and it seems that all of that is coming together, so this isn't surprising," he said. 

"It'll be interesting to see the kind of people who choose at the end of the day to put money in the project and what their expectations are and what their risk tolerance is."

Uncertain political waters ahead

During the campaign, the B.C. NDP and the B.C. Green parties vowed to kill the project if they formed a government.

The project is also currently tied up in 19 separate lawsuits from First Nations and environmentalist groups.

But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has given it a green light, and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has aggressively advocated for it.

Hanna said that while a B.C. government hostile to the project could try to delay it, it's unlikely they could stop it in the long run — and that the time required to decide lawsuits makes it unlikely that they will impact the project's start.

Hoberg said despite the federal government's power over the project, the provincial government has a number of mechanisms it could employ to throw the process off course.

"The provincial government could cancel its environmental assessment certificate and it could refuse to authorize permits, such as for harvesting trees that the company would need to proceed," he said. ​

"The federal government would probably be able to enforce its approval in court, but it would need to go to court to do that, which would slow the process down," he said.

Hoberg said the unknown factor is now whether B.C.'s uncertain political climate and the very public protests associated with the project will scare away potential investors.

Construction on the pipeline expansion is slated to begin in September, with the completion date set for 2019. 

With files from Farrah Merali