Sask. Energy minister disappointed by pipeline chaos in U.S.

The last week of June and first week of July have been figurative chaos for pipelines in the United States, and some of that chaos has a direct impact on Canadian oil production and transportation. Minister of Energy and Resources Bronwyn Eyre responded to the numerous developments on July 7 by phone.

Two court rulings really upset the apple cart on Monday. The United States District Court for the District of Columbia ruled the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), which has been in operation for three years, was to shut down and be drained within 30 days. It found there hadn’t been adequate environmental assessment for its crossing of Lake Oahe, part of the Missouri River.

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Later that day, with no dissenting opinions and no reasons given, the United States Supreme Court refused to consider a ruling by Montana Judge Brian Morris which similarly found there had not been sufficient environmental oversight on the Keystone XL pipeline. Morris’ decision meant the shutdown of construction in the U.S. on that project, too, just as TC Energy began ramping up construction on the Alberta portion. (Saskatchewan construction in the very southwest corner of this province was not slated to start this year.)

On June 25, a Michigan judge had ordered the shutdown of Enbridge Line 5 where it crosses the Straits of Mackinac, between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. By July 1 he allowed one of two legs of that pipeline to resume operations.

And on July 5, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline was cancelled after years of legal battles with environmental groups.

But on the plus side, on July 2 the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the final appeal standing in the way of the Trans Mountain Expansion (TMX). But in the same time period, tankers began taking Alberta oil, shipped by pipeline to Burnaby, through the Panama Canal and delivering it to Irving Refinery in Saint John, N.B.

The Keystone XL and Line 5 decisions, in particular, impact Saskatchewan, whose government has been strongly advocating pipeline projects for over 10 years. From this province’s perspective, Eyre said, “Monday was not a good day. You read all the stories and it’s hard not to come to the conclusion the anti-pipeline forces are gaining an upper hand.”

She said we need to hold onto the positives, with Canada’s Supreme Court decision on TMX and the allowance of Line 5’s west leg to remain in operation. “We have to keep fighting the good fight and just advocating for pipelines, left, right and center and because the bottom line this is about livelihoods,” Eyre said.

With regards to DAPL, she said, “I can't imagine that there won't be an appeal, both political for sure, and judicial. This is an operational pipeline that is supposed to be shut in and emptied? It's very hard to believe that that can happen or will happen.”

Eyre pointed out that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has also taken a position against the Keystone XL pipeline, despite legislator and union support for the project.

“You would think Biden would need those blue collar votes. Apparently not,” she said. “Very, very disappointing setback on that.”

As for using tankers through the Panama Canal to get Alberta oil from the West Coast to the East Coast, Eyre said, “You can’t make this up. It sounds like good satire, except it actually isn't satire, which is the tragic thing about it.”

This begs the question of the necessity of an Energy East project revival, which would tie Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba oil production by pipeline to markets in Central and Eastern Canada, terminating at Saint John.

Eyre noted there would have to be a decision by the proponent, TC Energy, to undertake it again, but she gets the sense there isn’t a great deal of appetite to do so. Opposition to pipelines, particularly in Quebec, “is a huge factor.”

“The political view there is, as we know, pretty anti-pipeline, and pretty anti-Western Canadian energy. And that is such an enormous hurdle, with Energy East, because of their obvious placement in the middle of the pipeline route.”

Eyre is holding onto hope for Enbridge’s Line 3, TMX, and a better outcome on Keystone XL.