Canada’s recent decision to buy a western provinces pipeline
and oversee its controversial expansion has many in the IBEW’s First District
hoping for an increase in job opportunities for members in British Columbia and
|Canada’s recent purchase of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline could result in hundreds of good jobs becoming available for members of the IBEW and other building trades.
“A pipeline project this big is naturally going to be complicated,” said First District International Representative Laird Cronk. “A lot of interests are involved, but one positive result of the government’s purchase could be that hundreds of good jobs will become available for members of the IBEW and other building trades.”
Since 1953, the Trans Mountain pipeline has transported about 300,000 barrels of petroleum products per day along a roughly 700-mile journey through the Rockies from Edmonton to Vancouver. It would take around 1,400 tanker trucks to achieve the same results.
Alberta’s oil sands contain an estimated 165.4 billion barrels of crude oil, the third-largest reserves on Earth. Canada exports most of its energy products to the U.S., though, so it hopes that tripling the volume of pipeline-ready petroleum products from Alberta will help it access more lucrative international markets. While the federal government has jurisdiction over environmental and interprovincial concerns, provinces retain a say over how their resources get used.
In 2013, Houston-based Kinder Morgan applied for permission to proceed with a CA$7.4 billion expansion, the latest of several over the system’s history. At the time, the national and provincial governing bodies in play were led by political parties that have historically leaned pro-business.
Three years later, Canada’s National Energy Board approved the project, but by then, new leaders at the federal level and in British Columbia and Alberta had renewed concerns about the expansion’s impact on the environment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was challenged to reach a compromise that satisfied both provinces plus the goals of his 2016 climate action plan. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley eventually was persuaded to accept expansion, but B.C. Premier John Horgan remains concerned about the potential for spills and the effect of increased oil tanker traffic on Vancouver Harbour.
“Our government is determined to defend British Columbia’s interests within the rule of law and in the courts,” Horgan said. A number of local governments and groups representing some of Canada’s indigenous peoples also are challenging the project’s approval.
The controversies proved too hot for Kinder Morgan to handle, so the company announced on April 8 that it was walking away from the whole thing by the end of May unless Ottawa stepped in to smooth things over.
“Access to world markets for Canadian resources is a core national interest,” Trudeau responded on Twitter. “The Trans Mountain expansion will be built.”
On May 29, the federal government announced it would spend CA $4.5 billion to buy the line and its expansion from Kinder Morgan, while continuing to pay the company to manage operations and construction.
“This was a strategic short-term move to keep the pipeline open until the government can find another company to run things,” Cronk explained, adding that one effective way to allay British Columbia’s concerns would be to have the expansion safely built by skilled, unionized tradespeople.
“Now that it’s passed the legal hurdles and it appears it’s going to be built with federal funding,” he said, “the IBEW and the other building trade crafts need to be on it.”
While much of the current expansion work is taking place under unbreakable open-shop contracts, even temporary federal ownership could help the construction trades gain access to future work through negotiation of community benefit agreements.
“The government has a responsibility to craft CBAs with local labor, sustaining wages, and safety in mind,” Cronk noted. “The expansion project remains complicated, but with the right agreements, IBEW members could gain access to quality, long-term jobs at the pipeline’s pump stations and terminal.”