The federal government says it’s delaying until June 18 its decision on a pipeline to pump crude from northern Alberta oil sands to an oil terminal on British Columbia’s Pacific Coast to allow for more time for consultations with Indigenous groups affected by the controversial expansion project.
“The government has consistently said that a decision would only be made on the project once we are satisfied that the duty to consult has been met. Through this process, Indigenous groups have told us that more time is needed,” Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi said in a statement Thursday.
“The government of Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to do things differently on [the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion], moving the process forward in the right way and following the guidance of the Federal Court of Appeal. This means ensuring that consultations are not only meaningful, but also open and transparent.”
The expansion of the 1,150-kilometre pipeline that currently carries about 300,000 barrels of oil per day from northern Alberta to the oil terminal in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, is seen as critical for Alberta’s and Canada’s economy but has run into stiff opposition from Indigenous and environmental groups, as well as the B.C. government.
In May 2018, the federal government paid $4.5 billion to purchase the Trans Mountain Pipeline (TMP) and the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMEP) to nearly triple its capacity in a desperate attempt to salvage the project.
But Ottawa’s plans hit another roadblock last summer when the Federal Court quashed its initial cabinet approval of the expansion project. The court decision forced Ottawa to start over on Indigenous consultation and marine-related environmental assessment.
In February, the National Energy Board (NEB) reiterated its approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, subject to 156 recommended conditions and 16 new, non-binding recommendations to the federal government designed to better protect marine life on the B.C. coast.
That gave Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet 90 days to respond to the NEB report, which concluded that the project is in the Canadian public interest and should be approved.
That is now being extended until mid-June.
“Our goal is to make a decision at the end of this period,” said Sohi. “This provides the time required to respond to what Indigenous groups are telling us and to conclude the Phase III Crown consultations before the Governor in Council decision.”
With files from CBC News