Is that Alberta bitumen still flowing?

It will never have the panache of “Bombs bursting in air” but someone in Alberta needs to write a patriotic song about the products of Alberta’s tar sands. The current battle between Alberta politicians and Montreal area mayors is on that grand a scale. In a battle between Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and TransCanada Pipelines over the Canada East pipeline project, we are betting on Coderre. And Justin Trudeau will be unable to keep his nose from being bloodied in the scrap.

There is no neutral ground for bystanders on piping Alberta bitumen across Canada. For Trudeau to say the responsibility rests with the Calgary-based National Energy Board (NEB) is just too facile. The board appointed by Stephen Harper is a joke. Its terms of engagement for hearings are weighted on the side of the pipeline companies. The Trudeau government has said they will do something about it. Nothing has happened yet. Until we have a National Energy Board we can trust—located on neutral turf—only the federal cabinet can rule on this one.

This is unlike Enbridge’s Line 9 that runs through heavily populated parts of southern Ontario such as Toronto. The approval for pumping bitumen to Quebec was given by the NEB at the end of last September. That 76-centimetre pipe is almost ready to start running bitumen to the Quebec refineries that are being forced to process bitumen into synthetic oil. And what those refineries are going to do with the huge residues of highly polluting bitumen slag is anyone’s guess.

Bear in mind that Enbridge’s Line 9 is a 39-year old pipeline that has been switched around a couple times now. Enbridge is still adding new pressure systems, tightening bolts and doing pressure tests with water. There is no rush at current prices of bitumen in turning on the bitumen taps. It is currently an exercise in losing money.

But when crude oil starts to sell for over $50 a barrel again, sometime in the next few years, Enbridge and TransCanada Pipelines want to be ready to cash in on the flow. The fact that there will only be a finite amount of time before there is a catastrophic blow-out of either line will be a problem for insurance companies.

It looks as though the British Columbia government, the indigenous peoples and the courts have put a stop to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion and the Northern Gateway pipeline plans on the West Coast. That will just mean more bitumen and money for the East Coast pipelines.

And if Denis Coderre and his legion of Quebec mayors can stop TransCanada, Enbridge might be the only pipeline player left.

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Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

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