Canada's Pipelines: Oil & Gas Projects

More than 840,000 kilometres of pipelines criss-cross Canada.1 They transport oil and natural gas from development areas to refineries, petrochemical plants, homes and businesses for use.2 Pipelines are the safest and most efficient way to move these fossil fuels in bulk.3 

Three additional major oil pipeline projects are proposed in Canada.4 However, they have all experienced delays due to environmental concerns.5 Building more pipelines would help the oil industry, namely Alberta’s oil sands, to expand.6 Critics oppose them because they would result in more carbon emissions and contribute to global warming.7

Current major pipelines in Canada

Enbridge Mainline

The largest extant pipeline in Canada is the Enbridge Mainline. It can deliver 2.5 million barrels of oil per day.8 Enbridge Mainline brings oil sands crude from Alberta to Wisconsin for refining.9

TC Energy Keystone

Similarly, the country’s second-largest pipeline, TC Energy Keystone, connects Alberta with Illinois refineries.10 98 per cent of Canada’s crude oil exports go to the US.11 This makes the industry heavily dependent on oil prices in the US. 

Pipeline projects in Canada

Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline

In recent years, new large-scale pipeline projects in Canada have a history of withdrawal or rejection from the federal government.12 For example, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was rejected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in 2016.13 It was intended to carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to Kitimat, a terminal on Canada’s Pacific coast.14 From there, oil tankers could export the bitumen to foreign markets.15 

The project was deemed not in the public interest. It would result in tankers transiting the sensitive ecosystem of the Douglas Channel.16 This would have threatened wildlife in the Great Bear Rainforest with oil spills.17 The tankers may have also disrupted diverse marine life, including whales, sea otters, dolphins, and sea lions.18

Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline

Keystone XL pipeline

Keystone XL is a proposed pipeline extension by energy infrastructure company TC Energy.19 It would greatly expand production in Alberta’s oil sands. The pipeline would transport 830,000 barrels of bitumen per day to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas.20

However, environmentalists and Native American groups have fought the project for over a decade.21 US President Biden cancelled permits for the pipeline, but it is not clear yet whether TC Energy will concede defeat.22

Keystone XL pipeline

Pipelines and the Canadian economy

Proponents of pipelines in Canada maintain that they provide desirable employment opportunities. For instance, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) describes them as “nation-building infrastructure projects that create good jobs for Canadians”.23

Pipelines and the Canadian economy

However, the oil industry can be highly volatile. The price of oil collapsed in 201424 and again in 2020.25 As a result of instability and low prices, the oil and gas sector in Canada cut 53,119 jobs between 2014 and 2019.26 An additional 50,000 jobs are likely to be lost in the fossil fuel industry over the next decade.27

In contrast, renewable energy overtook the oil sands industry for job opportunities in 2014.28 The clean energy sector is predicted to employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030. Investment in renewables will increase by 46 per cent by 2030.29 Fossil fuels investment is anticipated to increase by just 11 per cent.30 

The future of Canada’s pipelines

There is a strong incentive for the Canadian government to invest in clean energy. It will provide more jobs, such as insulating homes, manufacturing electric buses or maintaining wind farms.31 Renewables also create a zero-emissions industry that can provide power without compromising the environment. The cancellation of Keystone XL is merely the first step towards a nationwide transition away from dirty oil sands crude. 

The future of Canada’s pipelines

Sources

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