Tuesday is expected to be decision day, and central Alberta businesses are hoping the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will finally happen.
The project to twin the existing pipeline, that runs from Edmonton to Burnaby, B.C., has been on hold since last September, when the Federal Court of Appeal told government that more consultations with Indigenous communities were needed, as well as a deeper look at the impact on marine life off the B.C. coast.
Some people still wonder if pipeline approval, widely expected by the federal government Tuesday, is just one more tiny step in the Trans Mountain saga.
“Approval is one thing. When are the shovels going to be moving, and what roadblocks do we anticipate between now and the pipeline being online,” asked Peter Entz, vice-president of operations at Predator Drilling and an executive council member of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors.
Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager with the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said virtually all central Alberta businesses are impacted by the oil and gas sector, from home builders to restaurants to retailers.
“The wealth that industry injects into our economy, it’s hard to wrap our minds around really,” Warkentin said.
Pipeline advocates say increasing transportation capacity would mean more Canadian oil could be shipped to international markets other than the United States, and command a higher price.
“So long as we aren’t getting world prices for our assets, our industry is going to be non-competitive with our biggest trading partner, which is the United States, and we’re going to suffer seriously for it,” Warkentin said.
“There are very few companies that are able to turn a profit at these prices, and so we’re seeing very little drilling activity. As we see less activity, we see less parts needed from manufacturing, less people working in the service industry. It just goes on and on. It’s kind of a slow death.”
Entz said his Red Deer County company is certainly not supportive of Bill C-69, which overhauls how energy projects are approved, nor Bill C-48, which prohibits tankers carrying crude oil from loading or unloading at ports in northern British Columbia.
“That’s certainly hanging out there as well.”
Entz said he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the pipeline being approved, but believes there would be more momentum if it wasn’t for bills C-48 and C-69.
Warkentin agreed that Canada has an “incredibly scrutinous” regulatory system and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project deserves approval based on its own merit. But if Bill C-69 is passed by the federal government, approval is unlikely for any other pipelines, he fears.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get anything else approved until C-69 is repealed,” Warkentin said.
Richard Truscott, vice-president for Alberta and B.C. with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said a delay in pipeline construction would be a major setback for small business.
“If we continue down the same path, we’ll be hamstringing our economy in a serious way,” Truscott said.
He said Alberta entrepreneurs fundamentally understand that the oil and gas sector is very important to the economy, both locally and nationally.
“It’s certainly pretty clear that Alberta’s entrepreneurs have a very positive perception of the oil and gas sectors, and when there are delays in these mega projects and pipelines, it does have an impact ultimately on their business.
“Small business owners still understand on a basic level that the oil and gas sector is still the pump that primes the economy and keeps our province moving.”
He said the majority of small businesses, in both Alberta and Canada, that responded to a CFIB survey believe it is possible to grow the economy and protect the environment at the same time.
“The two goals are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they should work in tandem. It’s encouraging to see more Canadians connect the dots.”
But Alberta entrepreneurs wished more Canadians understood the importance of national pipelines projects, Truscott said.
— With files from The Canadian Press