OTTAWA - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Sunday he has instructed his finance minister to begin talks with Kinder Morgan, to “remove the uncertainty” hanging over a controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project that would nearly triple the flow of oil from Canada’s oil sands to the Pacific Coast.
Trudeau also said legislation is coming that will “reassert and reinforce” the fact that the federal government is well within its power to approve the project and ensure it goes ahead.
Kinder Morgan has suspended all nonessential spending on the project pending reassurance from Ottawa that it will be able to move forward.
Trudeau met Sunday with British Columbia’s premier, who is blocking the project, and the premier of oil-rich Alberta, who desperately wants to see it go ahead.
“I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I don’t think we would be in this situation if the British Columbia government hadn’t continued to emphasize its opposition to the project,” Trudeau said.
The pipeline was approved in 2016 with the support of the former Liberal Party government in British Columbia, but is now opposed by the province’s leftist New Democrat government.
Trudeau has insisted the project should be completed but the British Columbia government has fought it in the courts.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion by the Canadian division of Texas-based Kinder Morgan would dramatically increase the number of oil tankers traveling the shared waters between Canada and Washington state. Trudeau approved the project in late 2016, saying it was in Canada’s best interests.
The project has drawn legal challenges and opposition from environmental groups and Native American tribes as well as from municipalities such as Vancouver and Burnaby. It’s also sparked a dispute between the provinces of Alberta, which has the world’s third-largest oil reserves, and British Columbia. About 200 people have been arrested near Kinder Morgan’s marine terminal in Burnaby during recent protests.
Canada needs infrastructure to export its growing oil sands production. Alberta is the United States’ largest supplier of foreign oil.
Trudeau’s government has been trying to balance the oil industry’s desire to tap new markets with environmentalists’ concerns. Though he approved Trans Mountain, he rejected Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline to Kitimat, British Columbia.