Indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline would safeguard the environment
Marine Ecology

Indigenous ownership of the Trans Mountain pipeline would safeguard the environment

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Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Harrie Vredenburg, University of Calgary

Construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has restarted following the reapproval of the project by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. Proponents of the pipeline, however, say it’s too early to celebrate because the pipeline continues to face environmental and Indigenous opposition.

As he announced the resumption, Trudeau stated that his government would be open to Indigenous ownership of the pipeline, ranging from a minority equity stake to a majority stake and all the way to 100 percent ownership.

Project Reconciliation, an Indigenous-led initiative, has submitted an unsolicited proposal to the government for the purchase of a 51 percent stake of the Trans Mountain pipeline. The government has responded to the proposal by assembling a committee of experts to advise it on selling a financial stake of the project to First Nations.

Project Reconciliation is a direct response to one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s calls that Indigenous communities “gain long-term sustainable benefits from economic development projects.”

I have been working since October 2018 with Project Reconciliation. Its plan would use the income generated from a stake in Trans Mountain to create an Indigenous sovereign wealth fund.

The $7.6 billion needed to acquire the stake in the project would come from a syndicated bond, essentially a loan, based on the pipeline assets and long-term contracts in place to ship oil from Alberta to the marine terminal in Burnaby, B.C.

It would involve neither taxpayer money nor place upfront costs on First Nations communities.

Progressive way forward

Some environmental and Indigenous groups continue to oppose Trans Mountain regardless of Indigenous ownership or environmental protection measures taken. But as the government works on developing a plan to divest Trans Mountain, Project Reconciliation is presenting a progressive, constructive way forward that addresses both Indigenous and environmental concerns.

It involves real economic, social and cultural reconciliation with Western Canada’s Indigenous people. It will help Canada lead the world in reducing carbon emissions from oil production and transport. And it will protect the British Columbia coastline using cutting-edge Western science and Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge.

Michelle Corfield, my co-author, is an Indigenous woman from the Ucluelet First Nation, part of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on Vancouver Island, and is Project Reconciliation’s British Columbia marine and environmental adviser. We come from different backgrounds but are committed to Project Reconciliation because we believe it is the right answer to the Western Canadian pipeline impasse.

Not only will Project Reconciliation help bring prosperity to Indigenous communities and preserve their cultural values, it is an environmentally sound plan. It will help establish Canada as an environmentally responsible leader as the globe transitions to lower carbon.

The Indigenous leadership of Project Reconciliation is committed to mitigating climate change.

As owners of Trans Mountain, Indigenous leadership would demand all shippers on the pipeline adhere to the highest emissions standards. It would press Canada’s oilsands industry to continue to develop new technologies to reduce emissions and to disseminate these technologies worldwide to mitigate global climate change.

All of this would create international Canadian business opportunities and jobs exporting technology and know-how.

Innovations in the Canadian oil industry

My colleagues and I at the University of Calgary and the State University of New York have studied how the Canadian oil industry, faced with economic competitive cost pressures and social pressures to reduce emissions, is innovating in research and development and achieving technological breakthroughs.

These studies, published in the journal Technovation , the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management and the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation show how the industry uses cutting-edge, open innovation approaches involving multiple energy companies —along with more conventional single firm research-and-development initiatives —to develop new technologies aimed at reducing emissions and costs.

These approaches focus on increasing the energy efficiency of oil extraction.

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