Canada Just Announced A Major Pipeline Reform

CREDIT: AP Photo/Michel Euler

Oil and gas pipelines now have a new hurdle to clear before they’re approved in Canada.

Pipelines and natural gas export terminals proposed in the country will now be subject to a climate test, which will seek to determine how the project will impact greenhouse gas emissions, Canadian officials announced Wednesday. That test will take into account the “upstream” impacts of a project — meaning the emissions from the extraction of the oil or gas that the pipeline would carry or the gas the terminal would store — as well as the emissions created from building and maintaining the project.

“The federal role is to put into place a process by which TransCanada and any other companies could demonstrate that their projects are in the public interest and could have public support,” Trudeau said Tuesday, ahead of the government’s official announcement. “What we are going to roll out very soon, as we promised in our election campaign, is to establish a clear process which will consider all the greenhouse gas emissions tied to a project, which will build on the work already done.”

The announcement, which covers projects already proposed in Canada, is good news for environmentalists and others who are concerned about increased fossil fuel production

“We were very, very excited to see this announcement,” said Lena Moffitt director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign. “It’s exactly the kind of analysis that should be conducted in reviewing any major energy project, and it’s exactly the kind of thing we’d like to see the Obama administration institute.”

In the United States, the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) has guidance on when agencies should consider climate change impacts in environmental reviews of energy projects. For major projects like Keystone XL, this guidance was followed: though its draft Environmental Impact Statements were criticized as being too conservative, the State Department did look into the climate impacts of Keystone — and ultimately decided it wasn’t in the country’s best interest.

But not all pipeline and export terminal projects in the United States are treated that way, Moffitt said. CEQ’s guidance, she said, “has been very inconsistently applied.” In many cases, agencies haven’t included upstream emissions in their analysis of a project’s climate impacts.

“We don’t have instances where FERC has ever adequately reviewed upstream impacts of gas pipeline,” she said.

If Obama — or the country’s next president — implemented a climate test for these projects, those problems would be solved, Moffitt said. At least one candidate has expressed openness to such an idea: in an October campaign event in New Hampshire, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said that FERC should be working in sync with the country’s climate goals.

“If we’re going to have a national commitment to do something about climate change, FERC needs to be part of that national commitment,” she said.

It’s notable that Canada — a country that for the past nine years, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been widely seen as a laggard on climate change — is leading on this issue. But Trudeau, as he promised on the campaign trail, has already committed to taking climate change more seriously than his predecessor. Soon after entering office, Trudeau issued a moratorium on oil tankers off the British Columbia coast, a campaign promise of his. He announced during the Paris climate talks that “Canada is back” and “here to help” the world achieve its climate goals.

Trudeau has been critical of some of the pipeline projects currently under review in Canada. He said during his campaign that he would reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to British Columbia’s coast. B.C.’s coast is “not the place” for a pipeline, he said in 2014.

But he hasn’t been as vocal on other major proposed Canadian pipelines, including Energy East, with would take tar sands oil east to New Brunswick and Quebec, or the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would carry it west to B.C. And during his campaign for prime minister, Trudeau remained a supporter of Keystone XL, maintaining that it was “an important energy infrastructure” project for the U.S. and Canada. The prime minister said he was “disappointed” by President Obama’s rejection of the project, but reiterated his willingness to work with Obama on multiple issues, including energy and the environment.

Moffitt said that, so far, she’s been happy with Trudeau’s environmental efforts.

“We have been very encouraged by the administration thus far,” she said. “I think this climate test is a critically important next step to meeting [Canada’s] climate goals and I think it is an indication of what he said in Paris, that Canada is back and they’re going to take climate change seriously.”

And whether Trudeau has endorsed them or not, these major Canadian pipelines have seen substantial opposition among Canadian mayors, First Nations, and environmentalists. Many of Canada’s conservative members of parliament, meanwhile, remain supportive of new pipelines that they say are crucial pieces of infrastructure to move Canadian tar sands oil to market.