Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline is seen underway in Kamloops, B.C., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. A new report from the parliamentary budget officer says the federal government could end up losing money on the Trans Mountain pipeline if it further tightens its climate policy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline is seen underway in Kamloops, B.C., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. A new report from the parliamentary budget officer says the federal government could end up losing money on the Trans Mountain pipeline if it further tightens its climate policy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Future value of Trans Mountain pipeline rests on Liberals’ climate plans, PBO says

The increased capacity wouldn’t come on line until the end of 2022

The federal government could end up losing money on the Trans Mountain pipeline if it further tightens its climate policy and decreasing demand for Canadian oil, the parliamentary budget officer says.

The federal government bought the pipeline, and the unfinished work to increase its capacity by twinning it, in August 2018 for $4.4 billion.

The Liberals haven’t been able to find a buyer for the pipeline from Alberta to the West Coast. They are instead paying for its expansion, which the most recent estimate says will cost $12.6 billion.

The increased capacity wouldn’t come on line until the end of 2022.

The budget officer said the pipeline remains profitable based on expected cash flows, estimating the government could make $600 million above its purchase price.

But Yves Giroux warned in his report Tuesday that everything could change based on circumstances both beyond and within the government’s control, including changes to climate policy that would reduce demand for the petroleum products the pipeline moves.

Giroux also provided a scenario for the Liberals’ promise to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, estimating that doing so could lead to a $1.5-billion loss on Trans Mountain.

And that estimate led environmental groups to argue the government should spend less on the pipeline and more on tackling climate change.

“This pipeline is only profitable in a worst-case climate scenario, where the world takes no new action on climate change,” said Keith Stewart with Greenpeace Canada. “That is not a future that we should be betting over $12 billion of public money on.”

The report Tuesday was an update on the PBO’s report from early 2019 that pegged the cost of the pipeline and planned expansion project at between $3.6 billion and $4.6 billion, meaning the government might have overpaid for the project two years ago.

READ MORE: Canada Energy Regulator projects there may be no need for Trans Mountain expansion

The Liberals have argued the costs were worth it to save a project that looked doomed when Kinder Morgan and its investors got cold feet in the face of legal opposition and political uncertainty.

Despite a series of legal wins to the pipeline’s construction, and government money going into it, a sale hasn’t happened.

It’s unlikely the Liberals will ever find a buyer because the PBO report adds to arguments that Trans Mountain isn’t economically viable, said NDP finance critic Peter Julian.

He called on the Liberals to shift spending from the pipeline to climate change projects like green energy infrastructure.

“It was a mistake for Mr. Trudeau in 24 hours to come up with ($4.4 billion) and throw that at the company,” he said during a virtual press conference.

“It would be a bigger mistake to … keep pouring money — taxpayers’ money — into this project, even though it is almost in all the scenarios that are realistic, it is going to be a money-loser.”

Giroux’s report last year estimated the government would lose upwards of $2.5 billion if the expansion didn’t go ahead.

In his report Tuesday, Giroux estimated that a one-year delay in getting the expansion online would translate into a $400 million loss. A 10 per cent drop in construction costs would put the profit margin at $1 billion, or $200 million if costs rise.

In a statement, Giroux said the precarity of the outlook lay with federal policy.

“The profitability of the assets is highly contingent on the climate policy stance of the federal government and on the future utilization rate of the pipeline,” he said.

Amara Possian, Canada campaign director for 350.org (named for a “safe” level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) said the PBO report makes clear the government now faces a clear choice.

“Acting on climate change and Trans Mountain don’t mix and we all need to be asking the prime minister what’s more important: saving this pipeline or tackling the climate crisis?”

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Climate changeLiberalsTrans Mountain pipeline

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Sarah Simpson
Sarah Simpson Column: Books open up a world of discovery

We try to eat dinner as a family every night. It happens… Continue reading

The Cowichan Tribes’ gymnasium at 5574 River Road is now operating as an extreme weather shelter. (Submitted photo)
New extreme weather shelter opens on River Road in Duncan

New facility should relieve some pressure on Warmland House

Dementia doesn’t just affect the person living with a diagnosis; it affects caregivers, family, friends and their community. (Submitted)
January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month

“Raise your voice: Dementia, long-term care and COVID-19” on Jan. 27

The firefighters at the Mesachie Lake fire hall could soon be working out of a new retrofitted building if the Cowichan V alley Regional District is successful with its application for a $350,000 federal grant to fund the project. (File photo)
Major retrofit planned for Mesachie Lake fire hall

CVRD applies for $350,000 federal grant

Dog owners, from left, Marlyn Briggs with Nayla, Marjory Sutherland with Effie and Mick, and Christina Godbolt with Conon walk their pets frequently at the Chemainus Ball Park but are growing increasingly concerned about drugs being found discarded in the area. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Puppy requires emergency treatment 3 times after ingesting drugs from Chemainus parks

Dog owners walking in Chemainus parks urged to take caution

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
Nanaimo transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Black Press file photo
Investigation at remote burned-out Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

Identity of victim not released, believed to be the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby

Angela Waldick is the new team photographer for the Nanaimo NightOwls. (Nanaimo NightOwls photo)
Half-blind photographer will help new Island baseball team look picture-perfect

Nanaimo NightOwls say legally blind team photographer is making history

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Most Read