Canada's Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Trans Mountain Pipeline Case—But the Fight Isn't Over

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In Canada, the push to expand a multibillion dollar oil pipeline just cleared another major legal hurdle.


The nation’s Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it won’t hear five challenges from five Indigenous and environmental organizations on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. That brings the planned pipeline the Canadian government bought last year to usher tar sands from Alberta to ports in British Columbia one step closer to fruition, endangering both the climate and the natural ecosystems the oil would pass through.

The challenges the court threw out came from BC Nature, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Living Oceans Society, the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, the Squamish First Nation, and a group of four teen climate activists. They cited the pipeline developers’—initially Kinder Morgan before they backed out in the face of indigenous and local oppositioninsufficient consultation with First Nations groups who live in and control areas the pipeline would cut through. The United Nations confirmed in January that was a concern as well.

The suit also alleged that there were potential violations of Canada’s laws that protect threatened species, particularly the risks shipping oil through Puget Sound posed to highly endangered southern resident killer whales. There are only 72 of these whales left.

Then there’s the climate risks. Canada’s Environment and Climate Change department estimates the pipeline would release 13 to 15 million more tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, and that doesn’t even cover the greenhouse gases released by using the oil the pipeline would transport.

Despite these dangers, the Supreme Court refused to take up the case. It did not give a reason, which the CBC said is customary for the court.


The decision comes as widespread movement against another fossil fuel pipeline has spread across Canada. In early February, Canada’s national police raided indigenous territory and arrested 28 people, enforcing a court order sought by the developers of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. In response, protestors have setup blockades in several Canadian provinces, shutting down train lines and halting traffic. Polls show that climate change is Canadians’ number one political concern.

The legal challenges facing the Trans Mountain Pipeline aren’t over yet. On Thursday, the Tsleil-Waututh Nation said that in the coming weeks, it will appeal another court decision that upheld government’s approval of the pipeline to the Supreme Court.


“This isn’t over by a long shot,“ Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson said in a statement. Let’s hope so.


Dense Non Aqueous Phase Liquid

It’s probably safe to assume the purpose of this pipeline is to ship Alberta tar sands bitumen to Asia directly instead of via the US, down to the Gulf Coast, out to along the Gulf of Mexico, through the Panama Canal and over the Pacific Ocean. Asia would include China, India, and well, other Asian countries with growing middle class populations that want heavy crudes.

Canada’s tar sands bitumen is a heavy crude that competes with Venezuela ultra heavy crude. The international oil refining business needs heavy crudes for production of heavy oils, waxes and greases, asphalts, etc. Funny thing is that US shale oil (Texas Permian) is light and getting too light. Almost as light as condensate, which is really light. It needs a supply of heavy stuff for mixing to get market price.

There are issues right now in Venezuela. Domestic politics, Trump admin et al...

Anyway, one way (a dumb way) to alleviate the Trans Mountain is to ramp up production of Venezuelan ultra heavy - essentially making the pipeline redundant in global markets. What’s going on with indigenous peoples down in Venezuela? Anything?

Switching Venezuelan ultra heavy with Canadian tar sand bitumen for Asia sales won’t solve climate change, but it may (or may not) take the heat off Trudeau.

eta: odd stuff, world oil and gas is.

eta even further: oil politics is odd and getting odder. Comment is for entertainment and play purposes only.